Mining is the process of extracting rocks and solid MINERALS of economic value from the earth. These products include metallic ores (eg, IRON, COPPER, LEAD, ZINC), industrial minerals (eg, LIMESTONE, rock SALT, POTASH, GYPSUM), native metals (principally GOLD and SILVER), COAL, oil sands, URANIUM ores and precious stones. Excavation of SAND AND GRAVEL is a mining activity, as is QUARRYING for building and monument stone. However, the production of liquids and gases, as in the PETROLEUM INDUSTRY, is not usually considered mining.

Mining is a major primary industry, as are agriculture, forestry and fisheries, but it differs in that minerals and rocks, once removed and used, cannot be replaced or regenerated. However, metals have a unique characteristic: when recycled they retain their original elemental properties. Some minerals and metals can be reused and recycled many times over. Since metal mining in Canada began 150 years ago, less than 0.03% of Canada's landmass has been used for mining. Of a total area of 1.01 billion ha, fewer than 0.4 million ha (less than half the size of PEI), are used for mining. Modern mining represents a temporary use of the land; once the ore deposit is depleted, the land is reclaimed for other uses, often recreation.

Mining touches every aspect of our lives. Without mined products, all that would be left of your home is the mortgage. Foundations are made of minerals, including limestone, sand and gravel. Bricks and tiles are made of clay; gypsum is used in drywall; windows contain silica; and paint contains barium, manganese, titanium pigments and talc. Linoleum contains calcium carbonate and lime is found in carpets. Copper pipes carry water and copper wiring carries electricity through the home.

Imagine work or school without the mined products that go into furniture, tools, electricity, computers, telephones, cars, buses or trains. Even our recreational activities depend on mining. Golfers improve their scores with graphite drivers, baseball players swing for the fences with aluminum bats, skaters skim over the ice on blades made of complex alloys and hockey players pass and shoot with graphite sticks. When we play outdoors we wear sunscreen that contains zinc and when we take photos of our favourite activities we need the silver that is a major component of developing and printing pictures.


Mining has been practised since the prehistoric age, when people began to dig for stones to make weapons and pigments and tools. They collected loose pieces of native copper, gold, silver and gemstones from streams or the ground. Quarrying was widely practised when Stonehenge and the Pyramids were built.

Advances in technology and civilization, indicated by the terms "Stone Age,""Copper Age,""Bronze Age" and "Iron Age," required quantities of materials obtainable only by mining. To retrieve the materials they needed, people had to dig trenches, caves and pits; operations later extended to the excavation of shafts, tunnels and underground chambers. Ancient operations were restricted by the TECHNOLOGY available and by dependence on human labour as the main energy source. The difficulty of removing water prevented deep mining in wet places, and hard ores could be broken only by hammering or wedging, or by heating and dousing with water.

By the Middle Ages (c 1000-1453), advances had been made in mining and METALLURGY, although they remained highly labour-intensive. The use of explosives in mining, which began around 1627, eliminated much of the arduous work needed to break rocks. Steam was first applied for industrial power around 1700 in Cornwall, England, for working mine pumps. The invention of steam railway locomotives and mine hoists followed a few years later.

In the western hemisphere, no underground hard-rock mining was done before the arrival of the Spanish. Mining had been limited to placer work, chiefly for gold and silver, and to quarrying building stones and digging native copper, flints and obsidian from outcrops. The search for gold was a principal objective of the voyages of many explorers and of the campaigns of the conquistadors. The plundering of the natives' collections was followed by placer mining (retrieval of particles from stream beds), then by mining of lode deposits of gold, silver, tin, lead, mercury and copper, often using forced labour.

In North America, Master Simon, a mining engineer with Samuel de CHAMPLAIN, reported the discovery of silver and iron in Acadia in 1604. Early sailors and settlers were aware of coal outcrops along the shores of Cape Breton Island. In 1643 a shipment of coal was reported to have been sent from Grand Lake, NB, to New England. In 1672 Nicolas DENYS prepared a report on the coal resources of the Maritimes for Louis XIV.

Mining and metallurgical operations began in eastern North America as settlement proceeded. Small ore bodies of lead (for bullets) and of copper were opened; iron deposits were also mined. By the early 1700s, several iron foundries were in operation in the eastern states and at FORGES SAINT-MAURICE at Trois-Rivières, Qué.

As the fur traders moved west, they noted that copper ornaments and small tools were widely traded by natives of the Lake Superior district. This copper was obtained from loose pieces and surface outcrops of rocks containing native metal. Traders sought the sources of the metal but did not establish productive mines. Samuel HEARNE journeyed to the Coppermine River (1771) hoping to locate the source of copper carried by northern Indians, but found only small amounts of ore. The first significant mines in northern North America were opened about 1845 to exploit the Michigan copper ore bodies near Lake Superior.

The discovery of placer gold near Sacramento in 1848 triggered the 1849 California Gold Rush. The flow of miners to the goldfields spilled over into other parts of the western US and north into Canada, leading to the discovery of many other mineral deposits and the subsequent opening of important mines in BC. The discovery of placer gold in the Fraser River in 1858 caused a GOLD RUSH in interior BC. In 1896, gold was discovered in the Yukon Territory, setting off the exciting and turbulent KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH.

When BC joined Confederation, a transcontinental railway connection was promised. In 1883, during the construction of the CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY, nickel-copper ore was discovered near SUDBURY, Ont. Prospectors flocking to the district soon staked many of the deposits there. Shortly after the turn of the century, the discovery of the rich silver veins at COBALT, Ont, marked the real beginnings of mining in Canada. This mining camp provided the financing and incentive for the discovery and development of the gold veins of the Porcupine and KIRKLAND LAKE areas. PROSPECTING continued into Québec, leading to the discovery of copper and lead-zinc ore bodies of ROUYN-NORANDA and Val-d'Or.

Coal has been mined in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick since the early days of settlement. In western Canada, although coal was first noted at Drumheller, Alta, in 1793, coal mining didn't begin until the 1830s, when the Vancouver Island coal seams were opened near Nanaimo to serve coastal trade. As railways brought settlers into the Prairies, plains coal seams were mined to provide fuel for local use, and foothill and mountain seams were opened to serve both railways and settlers. Petroleum development (1947-60) caused severe losses of coal markets, forcing many western mines to close. However, recent growth in export markets, particularly in Japan, and in the use of coal for ELECTRIC-POWER GENERATION have revived the industry. It now comprises fewer but larger mines, with over 90% of production from surface operations.

Canadian Mining

Mining takes place in all Canadian provinces and territories. Canada's mining industry produces about 60 mineral commodities, including 26 metals, 22 nonmetals and 5 industrial mineral commodities, from some 250 mines and 3000 stone, sand and gravel operations. Canada is the world's largest producer of zinc and uranium and a world leader in the production of many other mineral commodities, including potash, uranium, cadmium, elemental sulphur and nickel; it ranks third in aluminum (primary metal), titanium concentrates, cobalt, molybdenum, gold and lead.

Canada has an established and effective metal recycling industry comprising over 1000 companies employing approximately 20 000 people. Additionally, mined products are often used to protect the earth. Lime is used to treat industrial wastewater and control air pollution. Water is purified by manganese and activated carbon. Canada is the world's largest exporter of peat, which is used to condition soil. Our efforts at reclaiming mined-out areas include a veritable Eden of roses, orchids, tomatoes and a variety of trees in a depleted zine-copper mine 365 m underground in Manitoba.

Mining's Economic Importance

Mining is the major source of economic activity in over 115 Canadian communities. Mining tends to be in areas of the country where other economic activities are less well developed. Every job in the mining industry indirectly creates more than one other job in the Canadian economy. Because of Canada's relatively small population, almost 80% of Canada's mineral production is exported.

Yukon Territory

In the Yukon Territory, placer mining still contributes significantly to the territorial economy. The Dawson City district, where placer gold mines have operated since the late 1800s, is the Yukon's major mining centre. The principal minerals and metals produced in the Yukon are gold, zinc, lead, silver and sand and gravel.

Northwest Territories

In the Northwest Territories the famous ELDORADO mine, beside Great Bear Lake, was operating by 1933 for the silver and radium in its ores. Operations were suspended in 1940, then resumed in 1942 to meet wartime demands for uranium. It was closed in 1960 and reopened in 1964 as a silver mine, finally closing in 1981.

The first major gold discovery in the Northwest Territories was in 1935 at the Con-Rycon mine. This ore deposit, on the west side of Yellowknife Bay, is still the site of an operating mine. The discovery of diamonds in the Northwest Territories by Dia Met Minerals Ltd in 1991 started one of the largest staking rushes in recent Canadian history. Canada's first diamond mine, the Ekati mine near Lac de Gras, began production in October 1998. Most of the diamond production is exported, but a small percentage is reserved for cutting in Canada. Annual production began at 5 million carats per year.


The Polaris lead-zinc mine on Little Cornwallis Island, over 1000 km inside the Arctic Circle, is the most northerly base-metal mine in the world. The Lupin mine on Contwoyto Lake, about 89 km south of the Arctic Circle, is the most northerly gold mine in the world, outside of Russia. It mills approximately one million tonnes of ore each year at a grade of 12% zinc and 3.5% lead.

British Columbia

BC is a major producer of base and precious metals, coal and industrial minerals. Copper and molybdenum ores are obtained from several big open-pit mines, the largest being the Highland Valley operation near Kamloops. The underground Sullivan lead-zinc-silver mine at Kimberley, in production since 1909, has been one of the world's largest producers. The Eskay Creek mine, which opened in 1995, is one of the highest-grade gold and silver deposits in North America. Coal is mined from large open pits in the Crowsnest and Tumbler Ridge areas.


Coal and bituminous sand are the principal outputs of mines in Alberta, and nearly half of Canada's coal production is mined in the province. Except for one small underground mine, the coal is produced from about 7 large strip mines in the plains and 5 open pit mines in the foothills west of Edmonton. The bituminous sand is mined from 2 huge surface mines in the Fort McMurry area of northeastern Alberta. Other products include limestone, clay, and sand and gravel.


Saskatchewan is the world's largest producer of uranium. Key Lake is the world's largest high-grade uranium milling operation, with an annual production capacity of approximately 8.2 million kg. Rabbit Lake is the world's second largest milling operation, with a capacity of about 5.5 million kg. Although Cluff Lake was expected to close in 2000, operations were extended through 2001. The McClean Lake and McArthur River mines began production in 1999. McArthur River is the world's largest high-grade uranium deposit, with proven and probable reserves greater than 215 million kg. A mine at Cigar Lake is expected to begin production in 2005 and should have a production life of 30-40 years. Canada is the world's largest producer of potash and Saskatchewan is Canada's largest producer. Deep mines in the central part of the province produce about 30% of the world's potash. Coal mining, which started in the province before 1900, is one of Saskatchewan's oldest industries. Today, coal is produced by strip-mining at several mines in the southern part of the province, chiefly for use in power generation.


Large-scale mining began in Manitoba in 1930 when a copper-zinc mine at Flin Flon on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border went into production. Since then, Thompson, Lynn Lake, The Pas and Leaf Rapids have become major mining centres for copper, zinc, nickel and precious metals. Nickel from the huge Thompson nickel belt, where production began in 1960, accounts for nearly 40% of the value of Manitoba's mineral production, with copper and zinc each accounting for 18%.


Ontario is a major producer of base metals, gold and precious metals. The Sudbury district, where ore bodies were first discovered in 1883-85, is the world's most important nickel mining and smelting area. The Creighton nickel and copper mine in Sudbury, Ont, is the deepest mine in Canada, reaching a depth of about 2.2 km. Large amounts of copper and other valuable metals are also produced in the region. The Kidd Creek copper-zinc-lead-silver mine near Timmins is the largest mine in northern Ontario. Gold mines in the Timmins and Kirkland Lake districts, where gold mining began in the early years of the 20th century, have passed peak production, but important discoveries have made up the loss. The most striking of these discoveries is the huge Hemlo deposit, which, in 1982-83, was discovered literally underneath the Trans-Canada Highway near Marathon in northern Ontario.


Mines in northwestern Québec have been important contributors to the mineral wealth of the nation since 1926, when the Noranda copper mine went into production. While some of the earliest-discovered ore bodies have been depleted, others have sustained production. Besides copper, large amounts of zinc, lead and other metals are produced in the area. Open-pit mines at Thetford Mines and Asbestos, in the southern part of the province, produce about one-fifth of the world's ASBESTOS. Québec produces about 42% of Canada's iron ore tonnage and has the only titanium mine in Canada. Québec has the only titanium mine in Canada and is the world's third-largest producer of titanium oxide slag. Titanium pigments are used in high-quality paints and plastics.

New Brunswick

In New Brunswick, the principal minerals and metals produced are zinc, potash, silver, lead, peat, copper and coal. The major areas of mineral production are Bathurst, Sussex, Minto and the North Shore. The Bathurst mining camp recorded mineral production as early as 1837, although most production from the area has resulted from the opening of the Heath Steele mine in the late 1950s and the Brunswick No. 6 and Brunswick No. 12 mines in the 1960s. The Brunswick No. 12 is one of the largest base-metal deposits in the world. With its 2 potash mines, New Brunswick ranks as the world's sixth-largest potash producer.

Nova Scotia

Coal mining has been an important industry on Cape Breton Island for over 200 years. Two underground mines, extending under the ocean, produce about 2.6 million tonnes per year. In a mining museum at GLACE BAY, visitors can descend into part of an old coal mine. The Cape Breton Coal Research Laboratory, located in Sydney, was created by the Canadian government in 1981. Working closely with industry, the laboratory carries out research and investigates ways of improving the health and safety of underground miners. In addition to coal, gypsum, salt, mineral aggregates, crude petroleum and cement are important mineral commodities in the province.

Prince Edward Island

Sand and gravel production makes a significant contribution to PEI's economy. Peat and natural gas are also important resources.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Iron ore production from open pits in Labrador makes up the majority of the province's mineral production. The province accounts for about 57% of Canada's iron ore production. Other important mineral products are nonmetals and structural materials such as slate, cement, asbestos, stone and clay products. The Hope Brook mine on the southwest coast of the province is a major gold producer. In 1994, Labrador was the site of the Voisey Bay discovery, the richest nickel-copper-cobalt deposit in the world. After Diamond Fields Resources Inc announced the find in November 1994, a staking rush ensued, with nearly 250 000 claims being registered in the vicinity of the discovery.