Canadian Mining Hall of Fame welcomes five industry leaders

Pierre Lassonde  served as the evening's master of ceremonies. Credit: Keith Houghton PhotographyPierre Lassonde served as the evening's master of ceremonies. Credit: Keith Houghton Photography

The Canadian Mining Hall of Fame’s (CMHF) 28th induction ceremony in mid-January at the Fairmont Royal York hotel in Toronto honoured five industry leaders — Keith Brimacombe, Harold Williams, Stewart Blusson, Louis Gignac and Robert Friedland — for their numerous achievements and contributions to the Canadian mining sector.

“Our inductees tonight represent a broad spectrum of our industry, from explorer, promoter, mine builder, operator to professor,” said mining magnate Pierre Lassonde, who served once again as the evening’s master of ceremonies.

“It’s been said that Pierre is to mining what Billy Crystal is to the Oscars,” CMHF’s chair Patricia Dillon quipped. “Although I should point out that Billy Crystal has only hosted the Oscars nine times, to Pierre’s 15.”

Keith Brimacombe

The evening’s first inductee was the late Keith Brimacombe (1943–1997), a renowned metallurgist and academic, whose contributions in the materials industry led to the production of higher-quality, lower-cost products. He also left an impact on the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the students that he’d taught.

In a video presentation before his induction, Indira Samarasekera, president emeritus at the University of Alberta, and a former student of Brimacombe, called him “a visionary and a pioneer.” He had an “incredible ability to understand how to connect disparate pieces of information to provide insight that actually nobody had thought about,” she said.

Brimacombe dedicated his career to researching ferrous and non-ferrous processes.

Aided by computers and information technology, his innovative work resulted in many improvements to key processes in the industry, such as the Pierce Smith converter — which is used worldwide to convert copper and iron sulphide to copper — and zinc fuming. He became a prominent figure in the field of continuous casting, where his research improved the design and efficiency of continuous-casting machines and the quality of the metals produced.

“By doing that, he really greatly enhanced our understanding of how that process operates,” Steve Cockcroft, a professor of material engineering at UBC, said in the video.

Brimacombe also collaborated on a process for roasting molybednite to produce molybdenum oxide, used as an alloying agent in steel.

Brimacombe was born in Nova Scotia, raised in Alberta and earned a bachelor degree in metallurgical engineering from UBC in 1966. He returned to UBC as an assistant teacher and became a professor in 1979, after completing his doctorate at Imperial College in London.

As a professor, he inspired and mentored new generations of professionals, and had a talent for cultivating relationships between universities and industry.

“He was deeply interested in you as a person,” Samarasekera said. “Without his mentorship in what was largely a male-dominated field, there is no question I would have never be the person that I became.”

In 1995, Brimacombe’s vision of building a leading research facility came true with the opening of UBC’s Advanced Materials and Process Engineering laboratory. In 1997, he became the founding CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, an organization dedicated to funding science and engineering research in Canada.

Brimacombe was known for his “incredible energy” and taught over 50 courses worldwide. He authored 10 books, published almost 300 papers, attained 15 patents and won 28 national and international awards, including the Canada Gold Medal in science and engineering.

Brimacombe’s youngest sister Judy accepted the CMHF induction on behalf of his two daughters, wife, mother, living brothers and sister.

“On behalf of Keith and his family, thank you so much for this amazing honour,” Judy said as she held back tears. She recalled that when her brother died from heart failure in December 1997, her family was comforted by the “outpouring of love and support” they received from the international metallurgical society and community.

“Keith was a remarkable professional, but we was an equally remarkable son, father, brother, colleague and friend.”

Hank Williams

The second inductee of the evening was Harold (Hank) Williams (1934–2010), a brilliant geologist who had the good fortune to be born, raised and educated in Newfoundland and Labrador, a province where the rocks are both well-exposed and display one of the most complete geological records dating back almost to the earth’s formation.

At Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, Williams obtained a diploma in engineering and a BSc in geology in 1956 (the first student to do so), followed by an MSc degree in 1958.

After earning his PhD from the University of Toronto in 1961, he joined the Appalachian section of the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), where he made his mark as an expert mapmaker and synthesizer of vast amounts of geological data. His lifelong credo was to look at the rocks first, and build up theories from this foundation.

His subsequent mapping work in Newfoundland led to his seminal 1964 paper, “The Appalachians in Northeastern Newfoundland: A two-sided symmetrical system,” which substantially advanced the new theory of plate tectonics.

His 1967 geological compilation map of Newfoundland further boosted this theory, marking the first on-land syntheses of an orogenic belt within a tectonic setting.

Williams set his sights on an academic career and returned in 1968 to Memorial University, where he was professor for 31 years.

In 1978, he compiled and published his crowing achievement: a tectonic map of the entire North American Appalachian chain from Newfoundland to Alabama, called: “Tectonic lithofacies map of the Appalachian orogen.”

It applied the theory of plate tectonics to an entire, ancient mountain belt for the first time, allowing geologists to better predict where certain rock types would appear elsewhere in the belt. It also cemented the reputation of plate tectonics, which quickly gained acceptance by the geological community worldwide, replacing cruder theories such as continental drift.

It helped spawn mining’s field of regional metallogeny, or how mineral deposits evolve within a mineral belt over time, which helps minefinders pinpoint the best places to look for economic mineral deposits.

He mentored a generation of geologists and helped establish Memorial as a leader in earth science research. Williams became one of the youngest fellows of the Royal Society of Canada in 1972, and received many awards, including the Geological Association of Canada’s Logan Medal.

A proud Newfoundlander, Williams took to his public role with relish, and became known for his ability to take complex subjects and make them understandable to his students and the general public, now and then infusing his talks with his love for music.

Williams’ public outreach inspired recently deceased Newfoundland businessman Paul Johnson to co-sponsor the creation of the $12-million, geothermal-powered Johnson GEO Centre on Signal Hill in St. John’s, N.L.

Unfortunately due to a severe snow storm in Newfoundland, several of Williams’ friends and colleagues from the Rock were unable to fly to Toronto to attend the induction ceremony.

Instead, Williams was represented by fellow Newfoundlander Peter Dimmell, president of Krinor Resources, who quipped that “you don’t move to Newfoundland for the weather,” and noted he’d flown in the night before.

“Hank is best remembered for his pioneering work in synthesizing the geologic evolution of the Appalachian mountain chain, which led to his seminal tecto
nic lithofacies map of the Appalachian orogen,” Dimmell said, noting that an astonishing 10,000 copies of the map have been sold worldwide.

Stewart Blusson

The third inductee of the evening was Vancouver-born diamond-finder Stewart Blusson, who contributed to the discovery of Ekati, Canada’s first diamond mine. Along with CMHF inductees Charles Fipke and the late Hugo Dummett, Blusson helped create a multibillion dollar diamond industry in Canada’s Far North.

In his opening remarks, Lassonde described Blusson as an “incredibly successful geologist” and an “extraordinary humble philanthropist and nature lover.”

As a teenager, Blusson’s love of the outdoors led him to work at a hunting and fishing lodge, where he met a prospector. “He told me about a prospecting course that winter before I went to college. My brother and I took it,” Blusson said in a video before his induction. “That hooked me on studying rocks.”

In 1957, Blusson got a job with the B.C. Forest Service, where he learned to study aerial photos. Three years later, he earned an honours bachelor degree in geology at UBC, followed by a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964. He also learned how to fly fixed-wing planes in California.

Blusson spent the next 16 years with the GSC, mapping the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

“He’s a great observer, he’s a superb observer. He’s the best mapper I think I’ve ever seen,” colleague Dirk Tempelman-Kluit said in the video.

According to Tempelman-Kluit, the first conversations about looking for diamonds in Canada arose in 1969,
one night while he, Blusson and Fipke were working for the GSC.

“He had that commitment and he never wavered,” Tempelman-Kluit recalled of Blusson.

In 1981, Blusson left the GSC to explore for diamonds in Canada’s Far North, ignoring the naysayers.

“Why wouldn’t Canada have diamonds? It just makes obvious geological sense that it would,” Blusson shared in
the video.

He spent a summer going over maps and realized the rocks in the glacial eskers that carry diamond indicator minerals had come from bedrock 500 km east, near Lac de Gras. His unique exploration technique also helped his success.

“Our sampling technique was to use a float plane and concentrate on beaches where there was an esker system,” Blusson said. If diamond indicator minerals were not found in an esker catchment area, he and business partner and fellow geologist Fipke would fly to another target.

Using this method, they intermittently sampled 850 km from the Mackenzie Valley eastwards to Lac de Gras, where they discovered the largest kimberlite field in North America.

Ten kilometres from this site now sits the Ekati mine, which BHP opened in 1998. Dominion Diamond now operates Ekati, and future development of the Jay pipe could extend the mine’s life from 2020 to at least 2030.

But success didn’t come easy. Ekati’s key sample in 1985 sat in a garage until the partners had enough money to process it in 1988. “In ’86 to ’87, we had no funding to grow,” Blusson said, adding that their private investors were getting impatient.

Once the key sample was processed, which carried many diamonds along with over 10,000 diamond indicator grains, the partners took their discovery to Dummett, a BHP executive, who was instrumental in developing the Ekati mine.

“Something that means a great deal to me, is being associated with all of you — the greatest people in mining that we ever seen,” Blusson told the crowd during his acceptance speech. “Along with that association, it means for me, the late Hugo Dummett and Chuck and I, are again united.”

While there was never a dull day working on the field, Blusson recounted his two most terrifying experiences were a bear attack and a helicopter crash. On a softer note, he shared “the most important thing that ever happened” to him in Canada’s Far North — after which he shifted his career with the GSC to diamond exploration — was meeting his beloved wife Marilyn.

As a philanthropist, Blusson has donated to various universities, combined with matching grants from governments, totalling $468.5 million.

Louis Gignac

The next inductee to take the podium was mine-builder Louis Gignac (b. 1950).

Lassonde described his friend as a “bigger-than-life individual who can’t do anything small,” for example, having five children, including four grown sons who now work with him in his independent consulting firm G Mining Services Inc.

Gignac was born in Sherbrooke, Que., and grew up in Quebec’s rural Eastern Townships. He said in a video the decision whether to go into farming or mining was easy, in that mining “was half the work and twice the pay, and sounded more interesting. More than that, I was looking for adventure. I was on the farm and wanted to see the rest of the world, and pretty much achieved that.”

He obtained a mining engineering degree from Laval University (1973), a master’s degree in mineral engineering from the University of Minnesota (1974) and a doctor of engineering degree from the University of Missouri-Rolla (1979).

Gignac’s association with gold miner Cambior began in 1986, when he was appointed CEO with a mandate to privatize mining assets held by Quebec government-owned Soquem. He led Cambior through its $158-million initial public offering and acquisition of Soquem’s mining assets.

He then set the company on a string of acquisitions — including Aiguebelle Resources and Sullivan Mines — that saw Cambior’s annual gold production rise from 52,000 oz. to 694,100 oz. by 2004, plus niobium.

A highlight was Cambior’s daunting development of the Omai mine well up the Essequibo River in remote Guyana in 1992 in partnership with Golden Star Resources, with Omai at one point ranking as South America’s largest gold mine. Gignac ably led the company through one of its most trying times when a major tailings spill forced Omai’s closure in 1995 and made headlines around the world.

After restructuring the company around the turn of the millennium in response to low gold prices, Gignac oversaw Cambior’s return to the Amazon jungle to build the $100-million Rosebel gold mine in neighbouring Suriname in 2002.

Having produced 9.2 million oz. gold over 20 years, Cambior merged with Iamgold in 2006, with the transaction valuing Cambior at US$1.3 billion, and the merged entity at US$3 billion.

“In one’s career, one can never plan on a straight path,” Gignac said. “You have to roll with the punches and seize opportunities as they present themselves. But in the end you’re not going to make it by yourself. Yes, you need managers, but you also need a lot of good partners to make it.”

To date, Gignac has helped build 15 mines in Canada and six worldwide, and has most recently consulted on building Merian in Suriname and Essakane in Burkina Faso.

“It’s the thrill of the game,” he said. “Often going from a place with no infrastructure to a modern industrial complex, to the benefit of everybody — shareholders, investors and the local population — and managing that.”

Among other honours, Gignac received the Viola MacMillan Award for mine development in 1992, was named The Northern Miner’s “Mining Man of the Year” in 1994 and received a Doctorate Honoris Causa from the Université de Montréal in 1998.

It was an “immense pleasure” to be inducted, Gignac said from the podium, and acknowledged he had “not made life easy” for his employees over the years, and joked tha
t maybe he had a better memory than they did if they supported his nomination.

Gignac recalled a boss from the early days of his career who advised him that “the hardest thing is to become known as a tough son of a bitch, but that once you were known as one, you had it made. That’s a guideline I applied for most of my career.”

Switching to French, he thanked thousands of past workers and colleagues with whom he had faced great challenges over the years, but expressed gratitude that they always provided “complete and constant support.”

He also thanked his wife of 43 years, Brenda from South Dakota, for “support and grounding,” and said she “not only accepted to live in most of the mining towns in eastern Canada for the first 20 years of my career, but also thrived in them.”

Robert Friedland

The last inductee of the night was entrepreneur, financier and company-maker Robert Friedland, one of the best promoters in the business. He has helped raise more than US$10 billion on world capital markets through companies affiliated with his Singapore-based Ivanhoe Capital.

“Our industry has never been so exciting as when Robert was at the centre of the action,” Lassonde remarked. “There’s never been enough mustard in Canada to cover that hot dog.”

Chicago-born Friedland graduated with a political science degree from Reed College, Oregon, in 1974. His first business venture was investing in timberland and apple orchards with college friend and business partner Steve Jobs of Apple fame. One of the timber blocks had an old mine that sparked Friedland’s interest in mining.

In the early ’80s, he acquired a former silver producer — the Deer Trail mine in Utah — and sold it to a Canadian stock promoter.

“At that time at a young age, realizing that the stock markets could value a tired old mine like that underground so highly, was quite a revelation. That is actually what started it,” Friedland said in a video before his induction.

His first game-changing discovery was Voisey’s Bay in Labrador, a large nickel-copper-cobalt deposit identified by geologists Al Chislett and Chris Verbiski, who’d been contracted by Diamond Fields Resources, a company Friedland cofounded in 1992.

The project attracted the interest of major nickel firms. Inco bought Voisey’s Bay for $4.3 billion in 1996 and put it in production in 2005. Vale now operates Voisey’s Bay.

As CEO of Ivanhoe Mines from 1996 to 2012, Friedland was determined to explore Mongolia.
“Mongolia is one of the last great places that has never been explored with modern science,” he said in the video.

In 2000, Ivanhoe Mines began exploring the Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold prospect in Mongolia, which BHP had dismissed. “They found a lot of smoke but they never really discovered the source of the fire. That takes a lot of intestinal fortitude, and we nearly went bankrupt doing it,” Friedland explained. It was on hole 151 that Ivanhoe discovered the main orebody, and after 271 holes that it realized it had a world-class project.

Rio Tinto acquired a majority stake in Ivanhoe in 2012 and renamed it “Turquoise Hill Resources.” Rio started open-pit production at Oyu Tolgoi in 2012, and intends to develop a massive underground mine.

“There are a few people around that are serial mine finders, and Robert is one of those,” Norman Keevil, Teck Resources’ chairman, said in the video.

In 1998, Friedland launched Ivanplats to explore Sub-Saharan Africa. The company later was renamed Ivanhoe Mines. It holds a trio of exciting development projects, including the Kamoa copper project, discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2009. Ivanhoe claims Kamoa is the world’s largest, undeveloped high-grade copper deposit.

“It is indeed a humbling experience to be here with my Canadian brothers and sisters in mining,” Friedland told the crowd during his acceptance speech.

He spent the following 10 minutes pitching his new business venture in Hollywood, where Ivanhoe Pictures is working on a science-fiction television series about mining for copper on Mars, tentatively called Red Rush.

Before summarizing the script — written by renowned Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell and film/TV writer Charles Randolph — Friedland said he was “irritated” by how movies depict miners as the “bad guys,” and used James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi film Avatar as an example.

“We have enough arrows in our back for being in the mining business. I mean everything you touch is a product of mining. You all know we have to either grow it or mine it,” Friedland said.

Red Rush — planned as a 12-part series— is set in the 25th century in an all-electric, futuristic world, where people no longer burn hydrocarbons, but are running out of copper. So 32,000 people set off to Mars to look for copper and settle there. By the 29th century, the Martians “become a lot like the Saudis used to be,” Friedland explained, growing wealthy by controlling the sale of copper to people on earth.

“This is going to be a really serious production opening near you,” he added. “I can assure you the miners are the good guys.”

Commenting briefly on the downturn in the resource sector, Friedland remarked that “this is a time in mining, where great fortunes are lost, but it is also a time where great fortunes are made.”
He thanked the crowd again for his induction, and left with this teaser: that Ivanhoe is set to announce another discovery in the “near future.”

The Northern Miner is one of the four member organizations of the CMHF, including the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum, the Mining Association of Canada and the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada.

To read the biographies of all the CMHF’s inductees and obtain a nomination form, please visit


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