Mining in B.C. ? A Proud History, A Proud Future

Mining Week is a time to celebrate the contribution of mining to our province and our communities and, during this 150th anniversary of B.C., it?s a time to look back at how mining contributed to the building of our province and how it will continue to do so for the next 150 years.

Mining is inextricably tied to our history. It was back in 1835 that a member of the Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka?wakw) nation from northern Vancouver Island discovered coal on his people?s land. Mining for coal in B.C. soon followed.

Gold was first discovered in B.C. in 1850 in the Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlottes) and several years later First Nations peoples began trading gold found in the rock crevices along the Thompson River. By 1857, rumors and tales of riches were in full steam and the Fraser Gold Rush was on.

In fact, it was concern regarding the influx of gold-seeking Americans that spurred the British government in London to pass legislation establishing the Colony of New Caledonia (the name was changed to British Columbia by Queen Victoria) on November 19, 1858.

Since that time, mining has been inextricably linked to the future and fortune of B.C. The size of the Le Roi mine in Rossland in the West Kootenays led to the creation of the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Communities across B.C. from Cumberland to Ainsworth to Fort Steele to Logan Lake all owe their origins to mining in our province.

Today, mining represents over $8 billion in economic activity in the province with almost double that amount in economic spin-offs. Some 7,300 people are directly employed directly in mining and almost 30,000 more are indirectly employed.

And mining continues to have direct relevance to our every day lives. For example, this past year British Columbians have been able to recycle old computers and televisions thanks to a mining company.

Teck Cominco?s smelter in Trail, B.C. melts down and recycles used electronic equipment.

Mining has a proud and exciting history, but it is not without blemishes. Today, mining can be proud of its record in addressing past issues.

Our sector is at the forefront of the remediation of old and abandoned mine sites. Most recently, the mining industry partnered with government to clean up the Tsolum River near Mount Washington. A copper mine, which operated in the mid-1960s, had contributed to the severe damage of the river.

Despite the responsible company having long since disappeared, B.C.?s mining sector assisted the government with this project. The remediation of Britannia Mine is another example of forward looking stewardship.

Mining employs more First Nations people than any other private sector industry in Canada. Only government employs more First Nations people.

Joint ventures and partnerships are becoming common in B.C. as mining companies work with First Nations to ensure the benefits of mining operations flow to local communities first and foremost.

Looking forward the next 150 years, mining has a crucial role to play in environmental technologies.

Copper has been called the green metal since most new environmental energy technologies require it.

An electric bus needs over 5,000 feet of copper wire while 90 per cent of solar panels require silver as a component (silver is highly efficient at absorbing solar energy). Run of river turbines and wind mills are all primarily composed of smelted metal. And hybrid cars, with their specialized batteries, require many more pounds of copper and nickel than regular vehicles. Future technologies will inevitably require metal as a primary component.

First Nations will continue to remain critical to mining in our province. It was First Nations who first mined this province and it was First Nations people who made the first coal and gold discoveries.

Partnerships and new relationships will form the basis of mining in B.C. going forward.

Finally, safety and worker health has become imbedded in the culture of mining in B.C. The mining industry is the safest heavy industry in the province. Today, B.C. companies are exporting their expertise in safety and health to countries with developing mining sectors such as China. Our commitment to safety has become an internationally marketable service.

British Columbia can reflect with fondness on 150 years of mining history, but more importantly they can count on mining to be a positive contributor to the next 150 years of our great province.

Byng Giraud is the Vice-President, Policy and Communications for the Mining Association of British Columbia (MABC). The MABC speaks on behalf of mineral producers and advanced development companies involved in the exploration, development and smelting of minerals in B.C. Mining Week in B.C.

is May 11-17, 2008.