A Tale of Two Sisters in Balmertown
The story of the Balmertown gold mines in northwest Ontario is a story of two mines side-by-side, one rich and the other poor.
Arthur White was the prospector/promoter who originally found and staked the whole deposit. The half that he kept evolved into the poor mine, named after him (perhaps in spite), always scratching to get by, with never enough money to spend on doing anything right, especially exploration. The other half became the rich Campbell mine, the anchor of Campbell Red Lake Mines, one of the three companies that became Placer Dome Inc. in 1987.
The two mines continued this way for almost 50 years. During this time the Arthur White mine was taken over by new management and was renamed the Red Lake mine, but its bad luck continued; it was finally closed by a strike that went on and on.
Naturally, it has often been said that White sold the wrong half, but maybe he knew what he was doing after all. While the strike was going on, the company spent some money on exploration, and found excellent grade ore a little deeper. In fact, the ore they found seemed to be at least as good as the ore at the Campbell mine, and the closer they got, the better it looked.
It got so good that the company executives decided to develop the new orebody and build a new mill to process the ore, even while the strike was going on. Contract miners were brought in to develop deeper levels in the mine. Construction people were brought in to build a new mill. Contract operators were brought in to tune up the mill. The executive made a pledge that the mine would reopen, whether or not a settlement was made with the union.
It took almost four years for the strike to end (this past spring), and it has left a large print on the small town, so dependent on the two mines.
Meanwhile the Red Lake mine has become one of the richest mines in the world, with one of the lowest operating costs for any gold mine. The mine has been rebuilt properly, using well-respected consultants and sound technology. If its employees can overcome the bitter aftertaste of the strike, this mine will support the owner and a few hundred families for at least eight years, and probably many more after that.
But what of the sister mine next door, the beautiful and wealthy Campbell mine? While it is still a thriving enterprise, Campbell is having to go deeper to find more ore, as its small property is surrounded by ground controlled by, you guessed it, Goldcorp, the owner of the formerly poor Red Lake mine. Deeper mining means increased costs, and Campbell will be producing at a much higher cost than the Red Lake mine.
Says Ted Okell, underground superintendent at the Red Lake mine, and a 23-year veteran of the operation, “It feels good to now be part of a world-class operation.”