Northern New Brunswick officially lost its largest private sector employer on Tuesday as Spanish mining giant Xstrata Zinc officially closed the Brunswick Mine just south of Bathurst.

"The mine has created opportunities for thousands of people," said Greg Ashe, mine manager.

"It is their spirit and innovation that helped safely build Brunswick Mine and kept it strong for almost 50 years."

The Brunswick Mine, which went through several owners following its opening in 1964, was one of the world's largest and most profitable zinc mines during its time.

Xstrata says more than 7,000 people worked at the site over the past 49 years, including 700 during the last year.

A further 400 people work at Xstrata's smelter in Belledune, which will continue to operate for the time being.

Regis Lanteigne, a resident from nearby Allardville, worked as a heavy equipment mechanic at the mine for the past six years and said his father, father-in-law and grandfather before him all built good careers there. 

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The unemployment rate in northern New Brunswick was 20.2 per cent in March, according to Statistics Canada. (CBC)

He said he’s worried about the future with the mine now closed.

"I'm trying to make a living around here because I like it around here but for my kids, I don't know what they're going to decide when it’s their time," Lanteigne said.

"If it's like this maybe they'll decide like most and move away."

The mine closure comes at difficult time for northern New Brunswick. 

According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate in the area between Miramichi and Campbellton is already above 20 per cent.

And federal changes to Employment Insurance have caused benefits for many seasonal workers to run out early this year.  

The mine's closure has been long expected as underground deposits of ore became exhausted, still the loss of such a big employer is causing concern in the area.

"This is not a surprise. The reserve has been running out and … for five or 10 years we've been conditioning our key stakeholders," said Ash