CBJ Onsite: Sudbury


Sudbury is considered to be the centre of the universe when it comes to mining in northern ontario.

With the Canadian commodities sector making a visible come-back, the editorial staff was pleased to get an invite to the 48th Conference of Metallurgists (COM) in Sudbury, Ontario. We spend a lot of time talking to mining companies every month who operate in Northern Ontario, so it was certainly high time to visit the Canadian mining city for a few days.

Sudbury and mining go hand in hand. As this article goes live, deals and projects are moving full speed ahead in this Northern Ontario hub. After a shaky year for nickel prices, Xstrata Nickel is finishing its Nickel Rim South Mine. Despite the commodity collapse and hold-ups on other mining projects across the country, the South Mine is ramping up to full production and is currently on budget.

Although a strike has slowed operations for northern Vale Inco projects, just west of Sudbury, Vale’s $450 million Totten Mine development is moving forward. This will be the first new mine in the Sudbury basin in 35 years, and should be completed by spring/summer 2010. To add to the progress of projects in the north, Goldcorp is moving and shaking by cleaning up tailing sites they acquired when they took 100 per cent ownership of Kinross Gold’s properties two years ago.

Things are moving along. With progress under and above ground, delegates to the 48th COM got together to share insight on new technologies and management strategies for the years ahead.

The show: Monday

The conference was held on August 23 and 24 at Laurentian University and brought together the brightest minds in metallurgy technology and business. Being the only media represented at the conference had its perks, as I was able to move from seminar to seminar with full access to a huge breadth of presentations. Presenters came from as far away as China, and there was no shortage of impromptu networking at the breaks.

Highlights from Monday’s seminars events included a presentation from Natural Resources Canada, some discussions led by delegates from the University of Toronto and Queen’s University and previews of upcoming projects from corporate executives. Experts from Vale Inco presented “Sustainability in Nickel Projects: 50 Years of Experience at Vale Inco”. In the seminar, the experts explained in-depth four different projects of particular interest with regards to sustainability initiatives: Thompson in Manitoba, P.T. Inco in Indonesia, Goro in New Caledonia, and Voisey’s Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador.

As a special treat for audiences, Stephen Lewis did a speaker’s spotlight on global issues and talked about myths of globalization. He also spoke candidly about the role of leadership and how it will affect priorities in this century.

Monday afternoon saw a joint session with X. Guo, from the China Metallurgical Group who explained the progress of the Chinese nickel industry over the years, and I. Masters from Sheritt Technologies who gave a lecture about successful project development and implementation. Masters focused on the Ambatovy JV Nickel Laterite Project in Madagascar for reference. Other sessions on Monday covered the fundamentals of many areas of metallurgy, including equipment design.

The show: Tuesday

As the conference progressed, I noticed that there were dozens of student-types hovering and talking to industry representatives. I ran into one of the students who told me the conference was a huge learning and networking opportunity, he was studying metallurgy and got some face time with the bigger companies attending COM 2009. It turns out there was an entire component of the conference devoted to students, which peaked my interest and led me to two of the presentations I sat in on the next day of the conference.

COM offered a full day of seminars on Tuesday to address current management and human resource issues in the industry. The first keynote speaker of the day was Ryan Montpellier of the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR) whom I spoke with some months ago about the human resource issues in mining that currently exist in Canada. Montpellier recapped some of the key issues the sector has and will face in the coming months and years as an aging population retires and the mining sector faces skills shortages. In order to mitigate this shortage, there are several initiatives that should be addressed by industry to attract and keep tomorrow’s workforce. Montpellier spoke to the MiHR’s latest efforts to recruit and retain Aboriginal people, youth, women, and new Canadians into the mining sector.

Later in the morning, a representative from Cambrian College presented “Future Prospects: Preparing Workers for a Career in Mining”, which explained how the institution plans to prepare workers for the mining sector. Following the Cambrian presentation there were two more geared towards attracting students into exploration, mining, and mineral processing. Lastly, a speaker from Barrick Gold addressed the costs of skill shortages and Barrick’s view on “enhancing employees’ learning experience while meeting the needs of the business”.

Tuesday’s conference agenda proved to be very enlightening—providing valuable insight into the industry’s challenges in human resources as the global recession winds to a close, and beyond.

The Inco strike

Although the delegates at Laurentian were kneedeep in learning activities, one thing I couldn’t help but wonder was how things were going at the other end of town—as the Vale Inco strike carried on.

Knowing I was only a few short kilometres from Sudbury residents who are personally affected by the strike meant I had to make a trip to the front lines.

On Monday afternoon I made a point of going to Copper Creek to see if there was any action at the entrance to the Sudbury Vale operations. Although the picketers were on rotation, and there were only five or six on both days, a visit was worthwhile in the end.

Over 3,000 Sudbury workers have been on strike since early July. When I spoke to the picketers, they seemed relaxed but also very aware that anything they said could end up published. As the gentlemen let Vale trucks through the picket line, they were friendly and upbeat and I didn’t overstay my welcome. They explained their picket rotation and I was able to take a couple of photos of the site. At the very same time that I was at Inco, Industry Minister Tony Clement was at town hall talking to Sudbury industry leaders—unfortunately I wasn’t able to get him for comment.

Just a few weeks ago, Steelworkers District Six Manager Wayne Fraser was reported to have said that the union has been willing to go back to the bargaining table but that Vale has appeared to be uninterested. At the beginning of this month, the company announced that it would resume some production, using its own non-striking workers or otherwise—which brought on some debate up north.

In any case, we’ll keep you posted on the strike situation as it unfolds.


On a lighter note, a trip to Sudbury wouldn’t be complete without visits to some of its famous Canadian landmarks. Science North, Sudbury’s science centre, is one of the most popular destinations for classrooms and tourists alike who want to learn about the natural world. In 2008, it was the recipient of the Michael Smith Award for Science Promotion by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSER C). Dynamic Earth is the city’s geosciences attraction which currently features (appropriately) a new diamond exhibit that focuses on diamond formation, exploration, mining and processing.

Literally the biggest single landmark to visit in Sudbury is the Big Nickel. Before my visit to Sudbury, I hadn’t seen the Nickel since my childhood, but you better believe it was just as impressive as an adult.

Sudbury residents certainly have a lot to be proud of—from the exceptional northern surroundings to the tourist attractions; there is lots to see in Sudbury.

By Sara Kopames