Sudbury Looks to the Future

LESLIE ROBERTS March 15 1931

Sudbury Looks to the Future

LESLIE ROBERTS March 15 1931

Sudbury Looks to the Future

With a veritable treasure store beneath its feet, Sudbury is making ready for the morrow of an inevitable expansion


THE city of Sudbury rates two separate paragraphs in any tome proclaiming the locations of World’s Biggest. In the mines and mills and smelters of International Nickel, it houses the supplying source of the largest self-contained mining organization in the world. In the Frood it possesses the greatest and richest mine developed by scientific mankind anywhere.

Thanks to the former, which owns the latter, the camp cannot be measured by the same yardsticks which prevail in other Canadian mining centres today. Sudbury is not a one-mine town, as Noranda is; nor is it a group of independent enterprises such as one finds in the gold camps of Northern Ontario. Sudbury is the child of the Frood, the Creighton, the Garson and other treasure troves; rich in nickel-bearing ores and owned by International Nickel with only one important exception, Falconbridge. Sudbury’s prosperity is written on the time sheets of Coniston and its mate, the smelter in Copper Cliff, each a physical asset of Inco. Sudbury’s bustling shops, banks and office buildings draw breath of life from the smoke which belches from the stacks of International’s plants against the distant skyline. Sudbury, at first glance, is Sherbrooke or Moose Jaw or Moncton. But first and last Sudbury is International Nickel and International Nickel is Sudbury.

An Industry Built in Science

; I'HE compact region where ninety per cent of the world’s known supply of nickel is veined through the country rock has seen two great booms, and today is setting its house in order on the heels of the second of these eras. Great prosperity first came with the war, when its output was poured into Allied armaments as rapidly as it could be mined, smelted and refined. Peace

brought the first real Sudbury slump, while experts stole away to their laboratories to seek new uses for the great war metal in a day when slaughter suddenly had become unpopular. The uses were found. Nickel doffed its khaki and horizon blue and became a civilian, lending itself to the fitting of mills, skyscrapers and homes, helping to build ships, locomotives and airplanes.

Sudbury boomed again. Its mills, its mines and its smelters resounded to human activity, twenty-four hours in the day and every day. On the fringes of the field diamond drills bored into the rock, drawing cores that would win fortunes, or lose them, for investors in the cities and towns “outside.” New Sudbury share issues were listed on the boards of Toronto and Montreal, some good, some so-so, many that were hopeless from the start. The producing mines boomed. The mines-in-the-makingand mines that could never be made—boomed. The town boomed. Then world depression came and the market crashed, while scandals robbed the public of its confidence in the mine maker’s trade throughout the Dominion. For a second time the management of Sudbury’s big show, now welded into one great nickel combine by the marriage of International and Mond, dug heels into the turf of readjust-

ment. The crash sent share prices cascading, drowning out the huge speculative element which waded and bathed on the Nickel margin beach. Decline in metal prices and the public’s loss of faith in early-stage mining methods in vogue halted operations of a hundred companies which were endeavoring either to make new

mines or to mine new suckers, according to the viewpoint of their promoters. For a second time the nickel country came down to bedrock.

Today Sudbury rests its case on the future of International Nickel, but the case is good, for the return to prosperity only waits tor the day when people will have more money to spend for things fashioned from its nickel and copper. The scientists are still at work in their laboratories, seeking— and finding— more new uses for Sudbury’s ores, giving an added fillip to demand, even in times of duress. Construction of latter-stage processing plants, such as the new refinery in Copper Cliff, of which Nickel is part owner, is opening out new fields of employment for Canadians by keeping our raw materials at home for treatment. Sudbury, in short, is getting by while Canuda turns the corner, equipping itself meanwhile for greater and more complete production than ever, once the ghosts of world depression are laid.

“You Can’t Keep the North Country Down”

T CAME there fresh from days spent in the gold camps which lie up the T. and N. loaded with optimism born of contact with hustling production, for times were never better with Canada's gold mines. Coming down the line, pullman smokers hud been put to the use for which the makers intended them, and I had talked with half a dozen fellow travellers whom I never saw before and probably shall never meet again. Of each I asked the naive question, “How are things in Sudbury?”

None of the answers were couched in anything even mildly resembling a happy vein. The machinery salesman allowed they were not so good, even though smelter and refinery construction had been a help to fellows in his line. The wholesale grocer’s traveller was by no means sanguine, but was given discount marks on the grounds that association with sugar and spice does not seem to give one a broad, cheery outlook, no matter what the health of trade is. The young engineer said things were pretty dull, but what could you expect with copper around ten cents and nobody spending a farthing if he could find an excuse for keeping it in his pants? Other opinions, including those of the sleeping-car conductor and a dark gentleman who wanted to brush my coat, were no brighter. By the time dunnage was surrendered to a taxi driver I was wondering if he would be able to dodge the bodies of suicides lying in the streets.

But the town failed to live down to the plaintive cries of the pullman press agents. The hotel dining room was well filled by businesslike men who went about the pleasures of lunch with the air of having definite things to do later. The streets were hustling streets with more than their share of freight-laden trucks and no sign of

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Sudbury Looks to the Future

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the loiterers peculiar to communities on the downgrade. The clerk in the Nickel Range Hotel admitted that affairs were not quite up to scratch, but added, “Everybody seems to be trying to make a dollar;” not a bad sign. A friend who calls Sudbury home dropped in, but refused to weep when I suggested that he might as well be in his living room listening to the radio as out trying to sell his wares in this man’s town.

“It isn’t as tough as you might think,” quoth Cressy, “provided a fellow keeps plugging. You can’t keep the North country down, even though you try to lie down beside it.”

I began to lose faith in smoking-room gossip.

Later in the day I went to see Mayor Peter Fenton for the purpose of hearing what is sometimes called the low-down. What about unemployment and its relief? Were there many destitute families in the Sudbury district? What has the ghoul called Hard Times done to the camp? Let the chief magistrate tell the story in his own words:

“Times are not good in Sudbury, but I haven’t heard Montreal, Toronto or Winnipeg boasting. Things are better here than in most places, because we know it is only a matter of time.

“At the turn of the year we had about fifteen hundred unemployed on our hands, of whom a great many were drifters who came to Sudbury before the depression hit us. Between the Ontario Municipal Board and the city fathers we raised a large fund for public works, and commenced construction of new sewers and water mains and began straightening out the creek which runs through the town. Unemployed men were used on eight-hour shifts, and work was parcelled out so that everyone got three days time a week.

“Then we borrowed the keys to the old jail from the Provincial Government and have used it principally to house drifters. During the worst weeks of the winter one hundred and twenty-five men have been quarteied in the cells. The city has fed them and given them blankets. So you don’t see begging in the streets of Sudbury, nor men sleeping out in alleys.

“International Nickel has been running relief works as well, drawing men from the civic registration bureau at the rate of about seventy-five a day and using them for odds and ends of work.

“Townspeople who were fortified against hard times have helped with donations of money and foodstuffs. We haven’t had much trouble keeping our people in food and, in most cases, in lodging.”

“But isn’t it an alarming condition, when all is said and done?” I asked, thinking of 1,500 unemployed men in a district where total population hovers about the 30,000 mark.

“It might be if the camp had no future,” the mayor replied, “but we are not in that position in Sudbury. The plants are here to do the work. We know that we have nine-tenths of the world’s discovered nickel in our proven mines. It is just a case of keeping plugging until the world turns the corner. Sudbury can’t miss.”

There is a watchword in the sentences of this keen Scots-Canadian who divides his time between the municipal seals and the insurance traffic: Keep plugging and you can’t miss. The townsfolk of Sudbury appear to be convinced that here is basic truth, so they stick to the job, heads up. The phrase might well be written into our national credo as a motto for those who take their heads in their hands and moan that good times are gone forever. Easy money is gone, but good times will return.

One has only to ponder the visible assets of this great corporate structure called International Nickel to realize that Fenton is right and that the pundits of the pullman were wrong. On the mining side,

root of all the great combine’s future prosperity, there is not only the Frood, richest mine in the world, but the Creighton, ranking not far behind, and other great caverns of wealth such as the Levack and Garson properties. At Coniston, on the Eastern edge of the field, the great smelting equipment which came into the International Nickel fold with the absorption of Mond, pours its billows of smoke toward the clouds, its very fumes sold to a customer for conversion into sulphuric acid. On the western side of the camp, in Copper Cliff, another great smelter has been completed within recent months, while a sum in excess of $2,000,000 is being expended to provide equipment and buildings adjoining the smelter to handle more advantageously a portion of the process now carried on in the refinery at Port Colborne, Ontario.

A Vast Corporation

SMELTER expansion is perhaps the key to the developments which have taken place in post-war years and of the company’s plans for even greater expansion in the days to come. When Mond merged with International Nickel, it was reported—falsely, as it turned out—that Coniston’s fires would be drawn and that all future smelting operations would be transferred to the mammoth new plant then projected for Copper Cliff and since built. Wiseacres in brokers’ board rooms declared that there would be nothing left for Coniston to do, but instead it has been enlarged into a more important production unit than before, despite the construction of the new Copper Cliff plant, plans for which were greatly enlarged during the construction stage. The two smelters combined have capacity for treating more than 8,000 tons of ore a day, though running well below capacity at the present time as the result of low prices prevailing for nickel and copper.

In addition to its operations in mines and smelters, this vast corporation that is Sudbury owns refineries at Port Colborne, at Clydach in Wales and at Acton in England, and is part owner of the immense new plant of Ontario Refineries, recently completed in Copper Cliff. Rolling mills for nickel in Birmingham, England, and at Huntingdon, West Virginia, collieries in Wales, a huge foundry in Bayonne, New Jersey, research bureaus and laboratories in such far-flung map locations as Birmingham, Bayonne, Paris and Frankfort-on-Main, hydro-electric plants in Ontario—here are Nickel-owned ramifications to establish the corporation as one of the greatest commercial organizations known to man. And Sudbury is the heart which pours the bloodstream of production through its veins. Who can wonder if the townsfolk of this busy Northern|Ontario community believe in the kingdom of prosperity which lies just around the corner?

Consider the production sheets of the camp and you will see something of the greatness of this industry. A smelted output extracted from 314,000 tons of ore in 1923, leanest of the post-war seasons, increased steadily until 1929, when the peak was touched as more than 2,000,000 tons of Sudbury ore clattered into the converters of Coniston and Copper Cliff to reappear as matte, ready for shipment to the refinery. Subsequent smelter construction paves the way for a production in excess of 3,000,000 tons per annum, clear demonstration that the management of the Nickel Trust has abiding faith in the future. Until the close of 1929 ore to a value of $575,000,000 had been extracted from the mineral deposits of the Sudbury district, and this before the amazing Frood mine had been brought to the full-production stage. Nickel, of course, is the principal metal, but copper is close behind, while gold, silver and

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members of the platinum group rate high in value, gold alone totalling 4,420 ounces in 1929, while the silver output of the camp is the greatest in Ontario, defenders of the Cobalt country to the contrary. An Underground Treasure Store

rPHE Frood is the mining man’s idea of L heaven and offers complete circumstantial proof of the existence of Santa Claus and good fairies. Formerly a twomine property but now joined into one great underground treasure house by the marriage of Mond and International Nickel, its workings are equipped with the latest mining devices known to science. Its hoisting equipment is the most powerful in the district and the greatest in capacity. Underground operations are conducted on a gigantic scale and with the well-marshalled precision which befits this aristocrat among mines. In the words of my friend Brooke, the engineer, with whom I sojourned in Chibougamau two years ago but who at present is a Frood shift boss:

“There isn’t another mine like it in the world. You can almost feel the richness of it just by touching it with your hands. No mining man in Canada can call his experience complete unless he has worked in the Frood, for it’s the biggest picture gallery of them all. Once you have seen this, everything else becomes puny by comparison. And it’s only the beginning. Nobody has any idea how big it will be before it reaches the peak.”

The Frood, like its fellow mines in the field, spins the wheels of progress more slowly than usual today, giving the men above ground opportunity to solve marketing problems and the scientists time in which to develop new uses for its precious nickel. Underground strength totals 1,400 men as this is written, as against an employment roll of 2,200 when times were prosperous, base metal prices higher and share quotations pushing at the market’s lid. It is the mark-time policy seen in the Frood, in the Creighton and in the smelters, which brings about the converting of jails into houses of refuge and the other phases of public relief described by Mayor Fenton. The two conditions march hand in hand and are the root of the camp policy to keep plodding along until times change and the business barometer begins to rise toward fair.

The policy of retrenchment is visible throughout the field. At the Creighton, second only to the Frood among the world’s nickel mines, working strengths have been reduced and ore is broken underground only five days a week, in order to provide as great a spread of employment as possible. At the Murray, formerly financed through the British Admiralty with a view to developing a source of armor-plating metal but since the war absorbed by International, large scale drilling programmes underground have been discontinued. Two levels in the Levack which had been opened and prepared for stoping have been closed again. Meanwhile the town and the company combine to aid the out-of-work citizen, the former by carrying out public works, while the latter’s building programme, in preparation for the great expansion to come in the future, absorbs jobless men in their scores.

Realizing that the output of the district’s great producing mines has been curtailed for the duration of the slump, it follows as a natural corollary that the search for new mines on the outskirts of the Sudbury field and the task of carrying out early exploration work on promising properties is practically at a standstill. The condition is not peculiar to the nickel country. It obtains in Rouyn and in the West. Even in the prosperous gold camps of Northern Ontario there is little development activity, compared with the bustle which prevailed two years ago. Accurate reflection of this nation-wide condition is more readily seen in Sudbury than in

other mineral regions, however, for here the great diamond drilling contract companies have established their principal bases, whence in better times drills were shipped to the ultimate ends of the Dominion at the behest of promoters and development organizations to test the riches of new discoveries and mines-inthe-making.

A Veteran’s Opinion

CONVERSATION with President Stanley J. Fitzgerald of the Sudbury Diamond Drilling Company, one of the real veterans of the prospector’s North, reveals the condition of stagnation which has been visited on the mineral hunter in recent months and confirms the existence of certain basic causes already pointed out in these articles. In 1929 the Fitzgerald organization pulled forty-one miles of drill core in mining camps from Eastern Nova Scotia to the shores of Lake Athabaska, employing an average of 332 men to operate equipment under contract to mining companies, principally in the earlier stages of development. Today most of the company’s drills are idle and the drilling crews dispersed.

“There doesn’t seem to be much use in looking for new mines when the producers are running on part time and some are closed down,” FMtzgerald told me.

“You mean the game is finished?” I asked.

The drill company president swung in his chair and eyed me as though I must have taken leave of such senses as Nature gave me.

“I don’t mean anything of the kind,” he answered. “What I am getting at is this; you can’t find investment money to go and look for such metals as copper and zinc with prices as they are. When world markets improve and prices move upward you will see that Canada won’t be very long in getting back to active exploration.”

“The pendulum will swing again,” he concluded philosophically, “and all the troubles of the past will be forgotten. You can’t beat history, and that is mining history everywhere. All any grown-up person asks in this game is a square deal, and it looks as though the chances for square deals are getting better.”

Opportunities for Expansion

TAKEN by and large, the position of the Sudbury field corresponds to that of every other great producing area where base metals predominate.

But there is a factor present in the nickel country which does not accept the general common denominator.

Sudbury has mines, smelters and a copper refinery. In the future it is possible that nickel will also be refined on the ground, instead of being shipped away from the camp for final treatment elsewhere. Even the smoke from smelter stacks is recaptured for conversion into sulphuric acid and nitre cake, to be utilized in the latter form in the nickelrefining processes of Port Colborne. The presence of diverse ores makes the district the logical centre for establishment of supplemental metallurgical works, grouped principally about its nickel and copper. Scientists need only discover one or two additional uses for nickel or nickelcopper combinations to swell the tempo of production, no matter whether commercial conditions improve or not.

Sudbury, in the estimation of experts, offers more positive opportunities for industrial expansion than any other corner of the Dominion today. Cheap power, radiation of shipping routes, abundance of raw materials, and a continually growing number of plants, utilized to convert the raw rock into the finished metal, place the camp in an unassailable position.

That is why the nickel country looks to the future with high optimism. In Mayor Fenton’s words, it seems as though Sudbury can’t miss.