‘Mining: Then and Now’ tells the story of how and why mining has changed since the Industrial Revolution. The comparison between the past and the present provides students with an opportunity to understand both how important mining is to society as well as their role in mining as consumers of mined materials. For these reasons, the program has been popular with grade 5 classes. In 2013 alone, 7600 students participated in the program.
Here is the story:
Mining – you could say it is in our blood. Mining and agriculture are foundations of human society. This reality is captured in the slogan ‘if it is not grown, it must be mined’.
Mining for most of human history however has been slow and laborious. The old archetype of a miner swinging a pick-axe or bent over panning in a stream has a solid basis in our history.
With the industrial revolution however, mining changed dramatically. Not only did machine power replace man power, but the scale of mining grew exponentially. The post industrial revolution drove an increased need for mined materials. The technological advances it brought on made the advances needed to meet that need possible.
Two of technological changes that ushered in a new era of mining were taking shape around the same time as the Britannia Mine began operations. The one more people have heard of is the open pit. In 1906, the idea of mining an entire deposit area and relying on milling technology to separate mineral from waste was radical. Today, open pits are the most common form of mining used because of the efficiencies they allow for. Open pit mining would not have been possible however, if it was not for a mineral separation technology under development at the same time. A mineral separation technology which was also critical to Britannia’s success. That technology is froth flotation, and it literally turned the world of mineral separation upside down. Before flotation, separation relied primarily on denser materials settling to the bottom (think of gold panning). Flotation lifts the denser materials (depending on the chemicals used, flotation can be used for everything from gold to coal).
Britannia was both an early adopter and a pioneer in flotation. Mill 1 was the first mill in the province to use flotation in a production environment. In Mill 3 the Britannia Deep Cell system was built to best address the unique characteristics of our ore bodies. Today, flotation remains critical to ensuring our needs for mined materials are met.
Technological change was not the only shift seen in mining with the industrial revolution however. There was also a significant change in the workplace. Mines came to resemble factories with specialized labour. The miner who could selectively mine out a good mineral deposit and not contaminate it with waste rock was replaced with a production miner who drilled and blasted a prescribed area. Froth flotation and other advances in milling and mineral separation rendered highly selective mining obsolete.
Perhaps the greatest change to mining however is also its greatest challenge – changing social expectations. While demand for mined materials has continued to grow over the past 100 years, more recently the demand for better environmental stewardship also entered the equation.
Mining is no longer only about resource extraction. It is about responsible resource management. This includes protecting the environment from the impacts of mining, and repairing the damage caused by historic mining practices. Britannia’s own history presents students with a look at how historic mining practices can be corrected for and old mines can become models for environmentally sound practices.
By the end of the program, students are exposed to the importance of mining in our lives as well as the importance of responsible mining and resource management.