The iconic symbol of mining in the Maritime provinces, the Brunswick zinc-lead mine in northern New Brunswick’s Bathurst camp, is ceasing mining operations this month after 48 years and four different owners.
The ownership changes over the decades mirrored those that swept across corporate Canada, starting with Brunswick Mining and Smelting Corp., then moving to Noranda, Falconbridge and finally Xstrata subsidiary Xstrata Zinc.
The mine was one of the world’s largest underground lead-zinc mines, and even in the late stages of its life it has been a powerhouse, ranking as the world’s eighth-largest zinc mine. Milling of stockpiled ore will carry on in the months ahead, as will some custom milling.
(With the world’s third-largest zinc mine — Century in Australia — also slated to close in 2015, that means that 12.5% of global zinc mine supply is disappearing. As Full Metal Zinc chairman Michael Williams commented in his zinc outlook talk at the recent Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention: “If this was going on in the copper industry, people would be going crazy.”)
Iron formations were found in the Brunswick area as far back as 1897, and were exploited in the subsequent decades. However, Brunswick’s large massive sulphide deposits were only discovered in 1952 by a group headed by M.J. Boylen on ground optioned from Bruden Enterprises, which had been scouting the area for sulphur.
Boylen entered the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame in 1992 for the achievement, which proved the geological model for volcanogenic massive sulphide deposits, and showed that using newfangled ground and airborne electromagnetic surveying could result in a large, economic discovery.
Production at Brunswick got underway in 1964, with the No. 12 orebody delivering 136 million tonnes of ore, and the No. 6 open pit chipping in another 13 million tonnes of ore.
Topped up with a bit of custom milling, the Brunswick concentrator chewed through 150 million tonnes of ore grading 8.77% zinc, 3.45% copper and 102 grams silver per tonne.
Silver Spruce Resources CEO Peter Dimmell, in his PDAC talk on the mining potential of the Atlantic provinces, expressed optimism that Xstrata’s exit from Bathurst means that “new thinking” can be applied to the area’s geology, hopefully leading to new mineral discoveries in the years ahead.
In the meantime, companies such as Trevali Mining and Brazil’s Votorantim are stepping up to fill the void being left by Xstrata in the Bathurst camp, which is 70 km in diameter and home to some 46 mineral deposits, and another hundred mineral occurrences, all hosted by Cambro-Ordovician rocks that were deposited in an ensialic back-arc basin.
• Another icon of East Coast mining — the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) — is entering a new phase of corporate uncertainty, as its 58.7% owner Rio Tinto has reportedly put its stake on the auction block as part of a larger effort to pay down debts piled up during its M&A binge a few years ago. The minority partners at IOC are Mitsubishi (26.4%) and Labrador Iron Ore Royalty Corp. (15.1%, plus various royalties).
Analysts see the list of potential buyers as including Teck Resources, Tata Steel and various Chinese metal giants. Some even speculate that IOC’s rail and port facilities could be spun out into a separate, publicly traded company.
Rio Tinto picked up its IOC stake via its acquisition in 2000 of Australia’s North Ltd., in a move that was driven by a desire to lock-up North’s Western Australian iron ore assets and related infrastructure.
Whoever buys Rio’s IOC stake will likely be a much keener owner, which will have implications for all development in the Labrador Trough in the years ahead, especially if the new owners are willing to share infrastructure access with competitors, as Rio Tinto is often philosophically unwilling to do in its global operations.
If the IOC’s new majority owner shares rail and port facilities with juniors such as Adriana Resources, this could make a moot point of CN Rail’s decision to cancel a feasibility study for a new rail line and port facility for Labrador Trough iron ore miners.