ZINC DIVISION: Farewell to a Pioneer: Heath Steele Mine and Mill
The first mine ever to be discovered by aerial survey was the Heath Steele lead-zinc-copper mine. The discovery was made during 1953 by partners American Metal Co. (Amco) and International Nickel Co. of Canada (Inco). They were testing Inco’s new airborne electromagnetic survey equipment and came up with a winner near Miramichi, N.B.
Diamond drilling began in June 1954. The A zone was intersected the next month. Several other orebodies, amenable to both underground and open pit mining, were discovered over the next seven months. Reserves were estimated in two categories as 3.8 million tonnes grading 2.90% Pb and 7.10% Zn plus 2.7 million tonnes grading 1.20% Pb and 3.50% Zn. Named after Amco’s vice-president of exploration, Heath Steele Mines was created.
The No.1 shaft was completed in January 1956, and work immediately began on No.2. By the end of the year the crusher house was done, and the mill neared completion. The first ore was run through the mill in January 1957. That month 5,200 tonnes of ore was treated. The first shipload of concentrates left the site in June 1957.
Almost immediately low base metals prices forced the suspension of the operation for five years. Heath Steele was reopened in 1962 and ran continuously for the next 21 years. During that time, expansion brought mill capacity up to 3,600 tonnes per day. During this period Noranda (in 1979) bought control of the operation. Mining was again suspended from 1983 to 1989 and again from 1993 to 1994.
Despite its up and down fortunes, this division produced nearly 2 million tonnes of zinc concentrate, 621,000 tonnes of copper concentrate for the Gasp and Horne smelters, and 723,000 tonnes of lead concentrate for the Belledune smelter.
Now the mine’s reserves are exhausted, and it has been allowed to flood. It was permanently closed in October 1999. Surface buildings are being razed and equipment sold. The site is being secured to prevent environmental degradation.
It’s a sad day for Heath Steele but a dignified end to a 45-year producer. During its last 10 months of operation, the mine produced concentrates containing 50,583 tonnes of zinc and 9,877 tonnes of lead – both record amounts.