Wednesday, November 12, 2008

From Nanisivik to Mary River

This morning as I was straightening up a book shelf in my class I came across a small article on the former Nanisivik Mine (a lead/zinc mine that closed in 2002). Nanisivik (Inuktitut for "a place where something is found") was not just a mine, but a community as well (population about 350). It is connected to Arctic Bay by a road about 30km in length - the longest road in the territory actually. I was never able to visit Nanisivik while it was a functioning community though I know a number of people from town here who of course have been there or lived there (including a fellow blogger). I moved to Nunavut in 2003 and by the time I transferred here a great many of the buildings had been torn down.

If you look carefully at the above photo you'll spot a big white pyramid-shaped structure. This "pyramid", was the Borsato Dome and the only time I was there was during my very first day after transferring here. The mine was being de-commissioned and the workers would gather there for their meals as they did while the mine was still in operation. Anyhow, I had been picked up at the airport by one of the RCMP members from town and he drove me here for a much-needed meal before taking me into Arctic Bay.

The large building in the middle was the community complex, housing government offices, a library, recreation facilities, the RCMP (there was no station at Arctic Bay yet as I understand it), and even a school (Allurut School). The small yellow church is one of the few buildings that still exists. It was brought into Arctic Bay over the sea ice and was attached to the Anglican Church over by the school.

I'm no geologist (though my mother's cousin is!) but to me, the ore body seemed an impressive size, measuring 3km long by 100-150 wide by 20m high. Claims were staked here as early as 1937, but the area was so remote and the conditions so challenging that is wasn't until the 1970's that mining the area became economically feasible. Nanisivik Mine opened in 1977 and ran until 2002. (From the mine's beginning until the above article was published in 1989, Nanisivik produced up to 2% of the Western world's zinc.)

Anyhow, one of the points I wanted to make was that, at the time, the mine was touted as a great northern success story. A mine this far north was considered by naysayers to be the height of fancy. I was curious to see that the article mentioned that the Government of Canada had an 18% share in the profits. I'm very curious to know how much of that money was funneled back into the territory but I'm sure they wouldn't want THAT little detail to become public. I'll hazard a guess. I'm thinking of a round-shaped number. It needs to be pointed out though that this was during the pre-Nunavut era back when this land was still part of the Northwest Territories.

The mining hype in our little corner of the territory now focuses on the proposed Mary River Mine which I was fortunate enough to visit last June. Unlike with Nanisivik, Inuit are now in a position to negotiate for employment and royalties as this new mine site lies on Inuit-owned land under the Nunavut Land Claim Treaty. This might not seem that important, and I can't seem to recall the royalty percentages off the top of my head, but in a territory struggling to create an economic base, mining, if done properly, could go a long way to make this happen. The projected life of Mary River is estimated to be about 100 years. (Wow, that's a lot of iron ore!)

This new mine, coupled with the new port facilities the federal government promises to build out at the Nanisivik dock, means Arctic Bay is sitting on a lot of potential. And yes I know, government promises aren't always worth the paper they are written on, but these two stories are of great interest to me and I continue to follow them closely.