A High Arctic Experiment: Mining at Nanisivik

In 1976 a new mine began production on the northern tip of Baffin Island in the Canadian High Arctic – a location that experiences complete martingale method binary options darkness from late November until early February and an average temperature of -29C in January. Located 750km north of the Arctic Circle, the Nanisivik lead-zinc mine was the first Arctic mine and northernmost mine in Canada at the time of its establishment in 1976. Opened by Mineral Resources International (MRI), the Nanisivik venture was supported by the government in the hope that this pioneer project would pave the way for mining across Canada’s northern resource frontier. The mine typically employed 200 people during its operation, and a purpose built town site including a school, church, post office, recreational centre, dining hall and housing was constructed to support those who worked at the mine. Understanding the establishment and impact of this unique venture has been one of the foci of my research over the past year.
Historical and contemporary documents reveal the captivating way in which Nanisivik was cast as an experiment to test the feasibility of operating in the Arctic. Jean Chrétien, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, described Nanisivik as a “pilot Arctic mining venture involving many new concepts” and hailed Nanisivik as “a model for future mineral developments in the Arctic” that sought to ground- proof new technologies, fine tune Arctic operations and introduce Inuit to an industrial lifestyle (Gibson 1978, 51). In particular, this venture provided an opportunity to develop Canadian shipping in the Arctic, and through rigorous scientific study become a working model of technological innovation and engineering triumph (Yates 1975). The government envisaged Nanisivik as prompting an industrial revolution in the Baffin Region (Hickling Partners Inc 1981) but also as a “method of maintaining Canadian sovereignty and security in the North” (LAC archival files). To ensure that the legacies of this Arctic experiment were positive, the government and MRI formed the Strathcona Agreement under which MRI pledged compliance with the government’s social, environmental and economic objectives for the North (Indian Affairs and Northern Development 1976).
This experiment proved successful: the Nanisivik mine profitably operated for twenty- six years until its closure in 2002. Nanisivik’s closure renewed the importance of the mine as a pilot project amid efforts to ensure that Nanisivik left only positive legacies. Reclamation has been completed and monitoring is currently on-going, but contamination has resulted in demolition of the townsite and no new economic activity has developed at Nanisivik. Current research is investigating how the historic legacies of mining have been dealt with after the closure of this pioneering High Arctic mine – stay posted for updates!


Scott Midgley

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New paper explores legacies of Pine Point Mine

Hot off the press: in the latest issue of the international journal Environment and History, abandoned mines researchers Arn Keeling and John Sandlos critically examine the failures and contradictions of mega-project resource development in the Canadian North, through the case of the Pine Point Mine in the Northwest Territories. Based on archival research and our own exploration of the Pine Point landscape, we write that “while the mine and planned town built to service it flourished for nearly a quarter century, the larger goals of modernisation, industrial development and Aboriginal assimilation were unrealised.”

Operating from 1964 to 1989, the Pine Point mine provides important touchstones for contemporary debates about northern resource development, economic stability, and environmental sustainability. At the time of construction, the mine was heralded as a catalyst for an economically depressed region, and the federal government poured nearly $100 million in direct subsidies for infrastructure to support the mine. This included construction of the Great Slave Lake Railway from northern Alberta to the southern shores of Great Slave Lake, to transport ore from Pine Point to the Cominco smelter in Trail, B.C.

An street in the abandoned town of Pine Point (J. Sandlos)

Today, the abandoned mine and town at Pine Point present a remarkable landscape: shorn of all buildings, all that remains the former town of 2,000 are cracked streets and sidewalks. Similarly, the mine operation has been dismantled, leaving behind a lone powerline and an extensive landscape of open pits, waste piles and haul roads. The once productive landscape is derelict, slowly being recolonized by vegetation and animals. (The social history of the former town has been explored in an imaginative recent multimedia exhibit hosted by the National Film Board, “Welcome to Pine Point.”)

In the article, we examine the rationale behind the mine’s development and its impact on local First Nations communities. Our interpretation of this history draws from political ecology to argue that “the forces of mega-project development joined with modern mining’s technologies of ‘mass destruction’ to produce a deeply scarred and problematic landscape that ultimately failed in its quest to bring modern industrialism to the Canadian sub-Arctic.”

John Sandlos and Arn Keeling, “Claiming the New North: Development and Colonialism at the Pine Point Mine, Northwest Territories, Canada,” Environment and History 18, 1 (Feb. 2012): 5-34. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/whp/eh/2012/00000018/00000001/art00003

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Northern Gateway Pipeline Inquiry and Joe Oliver’s Media Frenzy

by Hereward Longley

Recent comments from Joe Oliver are damaging to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline hearings not as much from persuasiveness but from distraction. Like the ethical oil argument, Oliver’s accusations about foreign puppeteering of Canadian environmental groups has distracted from the more important points of debate (tanker traffic, energy security, manufacturing jobs, pipeline ruptures, climate change etc.) and occupied the media spotlight on the opening of the hearings.

Much time was wasted and ink was spilled (including this piece) in discussion of Oliver’s letter. News sources across Canada were clogged with coverage and discussion. The executive director of the Sierra club, John Bennet, made likely his most watched T.V. appearance, hopelessly debated Kathryn Marshall from the Ethical Oil Institute, a display reminiscent of the 2000 presidential debates between Al Gore and George Bush.

The comments polarize Canadians over the incredibly complex issues of economy, energy security, and environmental protection by saying that if you’re against the gateway you’re against Canada. As a piece of PR it was really quite brilliant but absolutely terrible for the tone and quality of political debate in Canada.

The debate about foreign influence on oil sands policy is an important, though not paramount in the pipeline inquiry. Terry Glavin wrote a great article on the scale and significance of foreign investment in oil sands development. However this article is testament to the power of Oliver’s comments in distracting from more important issues.

One of best direct responses to Oliver’s letter, was from Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party. Her letter seeks re-frame the debate to issues of energy security, environmental protection, climate change, and the economy.

But more significantly, May’s letter reveals the power of the aggression of the rhetoric Harper government, as her letter takes remarkably centrist position on environmental policy for a Green Party MP. She does not mention climate change until her last sentence, and her discussion of the need to build refineries in Canada to bolster Canadian energy security and jobs is structured in much the same terms as was former Conservative Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed’s statements in a November interview with the CBC opposing the Keystone XL pipeline.

Yet there are some noteworthy exceptions from Oliver’s media frenzy that deserve much more attention.

Nathan Vanderklippe wrote an article about how the courts and parliament will play the defining role in the Northern Gateway decision, in spite of whatever outcome emerges from the inquiry.

The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline route. Map by Google.

A feature by Ian Brown drawing connections from J.B. Tyrell’s 19th Century surveys of the Athabasca region to Thomas Berger’s 1970s Mackenzie Valley pipeline inquiry and how this legacy can be applied to the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings.

A report published in November, by David Hughes, a geologist who worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources for over 30 years, presents a scathing set of arguments about the Enbridge proposal and the urgent pressures to expand bitumen export infrastructure. He argues that current infrastructure can export the existing and planned production, that the Northern Gateway is unnecessary. Further, he posits that Enbridge figures of projected growth of oil sands production are misleading and speculative, and we are rapidly liquidating the richest surface reserves, meaning bitumen extraction will get significantly more energy intensive and expensive as the resource is developed. The life spans of oil sands leases are relatively short, with the newly approved $9bn Joslyn North project only to last 20 years. Reports such as this hint that Canadian taxpayers may in the next few decades be left absorbing the costs of a collapsing Fort McMurray and festering abandoned oil sands leases amidst a domestic oil shortage.

This report received some publicity from news outlets towards the end of 2011. Despite being far from an environmentalist himself, comments on the Globe and Mail’s coverage of the article suggests that many have written off Hughes’s report as environmentalist propaganda, as the report was commissioned by Forest Ethics. This week, Andrew Nikiforuk again covered the report in The Tyee. Unfortunately, this is one of the only media mentions of the Hughes report, and being a smaller paper, The Tyee does not generate the web traffic of bigger Canadian news agencies and it is unlikely the article was widely read.

Hereward Longley is an MA student in history, working with the Abandoned Mines project on the history of oil sands development.

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Opportunity for Graduate Study

Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Arn Keeling, Department of Geography, and John Sandlos, Department of History at Memorial University are seeking one graduate student at the PhD level to work on the historical geography and environmental history of resource development in the Circumpolar Arctic, starting Fall 2012.

The successful candidate should maintain a strong interest in resource development issues in the Arctic, particularly the social, environmental, and economic impacts of development on local communities. This student will join a dynamic and diverse graduate program at Memorial, including students working on the Abandoned Mines in Northern Canada Project (www.abandonedminesnc.com).

Comprehensive funding packages (including funding for research expenses) are available pending the outcome of current grant applications. There will be opportunities to augment the fellowship amounts through scholarships or Graduate Assistantships.

 Memorial University of Newfoundland is one of Canada’s leading comprehensive research institutions. It hosts the largest library in Atlantic Canada in addition to specialized research centres such as the Maritime History Archive and the Centre for Newfoundland Studies. The university is located in St. John’s, a unique and culturally vibrant city set within stunning natural beauty.

Interested applicants should contact:

Arn Keeling akeeling@mun.ca or John Sandlos jsandlos@mun.ca

Although the funding packages are tied to the researchers, prospective students must follow the formal application process for graduate school at Memorial University of Newfoundland. For more information on the School of Graduate Studies go to http://www.mun.ca/sgs/home/. Find out more about the Department of Geography at http://www.mun.ca/geog/graduate/.

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Uncovering Inuit Voices: Interviewing Elders in Rankin Inlet

by Patricia Boulter

Although Inuit voices, experiences and actions can be accessed (to a certain extent) from archival documents and anthropological reports, it became central to our research to understand first hand how the mine has been memorialized and remembered in the minds of Inuit. As a result our research team conducted 10 interviews with elders (men and women) who had either worked in the mine or had lived in the community while the mine was operative. From these interviews we heard an array of personal stories and histories associated with Rankin Inlet’s mining history and the many socio-economic and cultural upheavals that were occurring simultaneously. The stories ranged from being celebratory and nostalgic to cautionary and tragic. Many people  had fond recollections of the “good old days” and stressed the important role the mine had played in their lives and the continued importance of mining in Arctic communities. Others, however, referenced the hardships faced when they relocated/migrated from other regions in the eastern Arctic to Rankin Inlet, the poverty experienced by many upon arrival and the difficulties adjusting to life in a settled community.


Trish interviews a Rankin elder, with the help of translator Peter Irniq and cameraman Jordan Konek.

By the time the last interview was conducted I realized that a connecting theme, adaptation and survival, had weaved its way through each individual interview. As Peter Irniq and many others stressed through the telling of their own stories Inuit were and are a highly adaptive people. As I began to process what each individual had shared in their interview, it struck me that we had spoken with members of a generation of Inuit who had been born into a world that no longer existed except in their own memories. Each elder we interviewed, to a certain degree, had experienced and survived (either personally or collectively) famine, relocation, residential schools, TB clinics, government directed settlement, insufficient community infrastructure, poverty and other upheavals. Although the transition for many Inuit from igloo to mineshaft was difficult and emotionally fraught, these past realities did not saturate their memories of those times. Despite the fact many Inuit had come to Rankin Inlet solely to find work in order to make a living after the collapse of the fur trade and caribou herds, the community (for many) very quickly had become their home. Even after the mine closed in 1962 many Inuit (more than half) decided to remain in the community. When asked during our interviews, elders were extremely proud of the role Inuit played in the opening of the mine and ultimate survival of the community (now the second largest in Nunavut). It was a humbling experience to hear their stories, for in their minds the feelings of surviving and adapting as a community were the most cherished.

Although certain individuals’ perceptions of Rankin Inlet’s mining era had shifted toward the nostalgic, when compared with interviews conducted in the early 1970s, the way the mine was remembered became the most fascinating aspect of conducting oral history research. Oral history is not about collecting facts and figures, it is meant to capture how individuals perceive and interpret their past and how and why these interpretations change over time. Without having collected oral histories it would have been next to impossible to ascertain from written archival records the various emotional connections and reactions Inuit men and women had toward the community and their connection to the mine. In other words in many instances for Arctic history to be written and understood properly it is essential that southern based researchers strive to generate networks, pathways and relationships between Inuit communities. For in the words of Arctic historian Shelagh Grant, “without an Inuit voice telling their story, there can be no true representation of Inuit history.”


Shelagh Grant. “Inuit History in the Next Millennium: Challenges and Rewards” in Northern Visions edited by Kerry Abel and Kenneth S. Coates, (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2001): 106.


Inukshuk at Rankin Inlet

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An Introduction to Field Work in Rankin Inlet

by Patricia Boulter

Trish at Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga (Meliadine River) Nunuavut Territorial Park near Rankin Inlet.

After spending almost a year researching Rankin Inlet’s mining history I had the opportunity this past August (2011) to travel to Kangiqliniq (Rankin Inlet) in the Kivalliq region in Nunavut to assist in a community workshop and the collection of oral histories. Over the course of pursuing my MA my research led me to explore the socio-economic and cultural impact of the North Rankin Nickel Mine (operative from 1957-62) on government/mining policies and the lives of Inuit in the eastern Arctic. The nickel mine was the first operating mine in the Canadian Arctic, indeed the community of Rankin Inlet formed around the mine site. Although it was the first time Inuit had gained employment within the mineral extractive industry, from the outset they played an essential role in the mine’s success. Literally over the span of a decade Inuit went from migrating between seasonal hunting camps and living in skin tents and igloos to living in prefabricated houses in permanent coastal settlements and working in industrialized, modern wage labour environments. While certain kinship groups and individuals rejected the highly monitored industrial landscape that marked Rankin Inlet’s mining era other adapted and indeed embraced the many changes occurring at this time. At the time in question government and mining officials viewed this rapid period of change as both socially and economically progressive and culturally corrosive.

Interestingly, the benefits and impacts of mining in the Arctic are still being framed in similar contradictory terms. Rankin Inlet is currently on the verge of experiencing a second mining boom, due to the development of the Meliadine West gold project located approximately 16 km outside of the community’s center. This research is therefore timely, for in order to understand the present day consequences of large-scale industrial mining activities in remote Arctic communities, it is important to understand the history of mineral extraction in the region and its socio-economic and cultural effects on various Inuit groups. Therefore our research attempts to determine how the mine itself and impacts of the mine were received by a variety of actors and how the mine has been remembered at various different stages at a regional, community and individual level. Consequently, in mid August, 2011 Dr. Arn Keeling (Professor of Geography at Memorial University and a lead researcher associated with the Abandoned Mines Team), Jordan
Konek (a filmmaker from Arviat associated with the Nanisiniq Group), Pallulaaq Friesen (a
community facilitator) and Peter Irniq (a gifted translator and former Commissioner of Nunavut) and myself (Patricia Boulter) set out to find answers and create networks of knowledge surrounding some of these very timely and pertinent research questions.


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Summer 2011 Newsletter Has Arrived!!!

Please check out our Summer 2011 Newsletter for all the latest news on the Abandoned Mines Project. There are many exciting reports from the field and information on where we are heading with the project!!!!

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Abandoned Mines meets Nanisiniq Project in Rankin Inlet

Rankin Inlet Mine

Machinery at the site of the Rankin Inlet mine

The Abandoned Mines project teamed up with Inuk researcher and filmmaker Jordan Konek last week to explore the history of the Rankin Inlet mine. Here’s a link to the Nanisiniq Arviat History Project website, which contains Jordan’s reflections on a great week of interviews and research. Also, check out our Rankin poster describing the research for the community, and watch this space for fieldwork reports from our end!

Update: see the news story in Nunatsiaq Online for more about the project.



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Fieldwork reflections: Svalbard

by Scott Midgley

Svalbard, an archipelago in the Norwegian High Arctic, like many sites in the Canadian High Arctic, is a place you would typically not expect to find mining activity. But like the Canadian Arctic, not only do you find mines on Svalbard, but evidence of historical mining and the abandoned communities left behind.

Geographers have long been interested in studies of place and landscape. Many visitors to Svalbard similarly become intrigued with the geographies of its landscape. Arriving expecting to experience and consume pristine Arctic nature on Svalbard, visitors are often puzzled by the industrial landscape that dominates Svalbard’s main settlements. In Longyearbyen, the landscape is dominated by an iconic coal powerplant smokestack that constantly churns out dark smoke. The mountainsides are scarred by the remains of mining infrastructure. In Pyramiden, high modernist Soviet housing and austere administration blocks form the basis of this abandoned Russian mining town. Not only does the scale of human activity come as a surprise to visitors on Svalbard, but also, the industrial character of this activity forms a stark contradistinction to the imagined purity of the Arctic.

As geographer and visitor, as reader of the landscape, as interpreter of texts and as a researcher posing questions to people on Svalbard, it was my aim to decode the geographies of mining on Svalbard. This summer I spent one month on Svalbard conducting research to better understand the reasons for the development of mineral exploitation on this remote archipelago, to consider the economic, geopolitical and environmental implications of this development, and to speculate on the future of mining on Svalbard.

Over the coming months, I’ll use my research material to answer these research questions – so stay posted!

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Re-visiting South Slave communities

In May, John and Arn returned to the South Slave areas to discuss early findings from their oral history and documentary research at Pine Point. In addition to this poster describing our results, we met with community members in Katl’odeeche and Fort Resolution to get feedback on the project and “next steps.” Special thanks to community members who joined us for these events, and to Victoria in Katl’odeeche and Rosy in Fort Resolution for helping us organize them.

Original page image from "Pine Pointer," September 1986

So far, our research has been focused on the thousands of documents we collected from the national archives in Ottawa and the NWT archives in Yellowknife. Using digital cameras, we collected information related to the development of Pine Point, analysed the information, and wrote a paper, soon to appear in the journal Environment and History.

In the summer of 2010, we collected over 40 oral history interviews from people in Hay River and Fort Resolution, discussing their memories of the Pine Point mine and town, and life in the region after the closure of the mine. We’ve transcribed these interviews, and sent them to the interviewees to be verified. The interviews provide amazing insights into the history of the area, and will be deposited with the communities to keep for their own archives. Meanwhile, we’re going through the transcripts in more detail to understand the impact of the Pine Point mine and its closure on the region.

Let us know what you think so far!

Pine Point communities poster

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