Noront Resources waits for road to the Ring of Fire
Minerals in the ground, expensive transportation holding up development
It is one of the most remote mining camps in Ontario, and it was heralded as the next economic engine for the province, and possibly Canada.
The Ring of Fire, about 575 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, holds massive amounts of chromite, nickle and copper, among other metals.
The area at one point had 35 exploration companies searching for minerals and a dozen mining camps housing workers. Now, just the Noront Resources Esker camp remains. A skeleton crew keeps the camp running, as well as doing geophysical work, looking for more mineral deposits.
Noront is the largest company that remains in the Ring of Fire. It holds the most mining claims, and still has workers in the area year-round.
The Esker camp is next door to the now-empty camp that was used by mining giant Cliffs Natural Resources. The buildings at the Cliffs camp are made of plywood — expensive, when a sheet of that material costs $20.
A large Quonset hut-style bunkhouse at the site cost half a million dollars to ship and install. It now sits empty. Noront's Esker camp is a little smaller, with the Quonset-style tent. They each sleep four people, and are very warm.
What holds this development from booming is the absence of a road to the site. The provincial and federal governments say the road is a priority, but so far, no shovels have started to create the long road to the mine site.
"It can be done. The beautiful thing about infrastructure development in the Ring of Fire is that is has many many positive spinoffs for a lot of these remote First Nation communities," said Weston.
Camp workers, like cook and medic Barb Wilson, hope the mining camp will one day return to what it was a couple of years ago, when helicopters were constantly flying in, setting up drilling rigs, bringing in supplies, and doing geophysical work.
"I hope people out there realize that we do need this," she said. "Hopefully, I hope to stay here until I'm at least 70. If I can swing it, I'll be here."
Logistics are the major challenge at the site. The camp is situated on an esker, but it is still within the James Bay lowlands. The trees are quite small, and water is everywhere.
Wennstrom has worked in mining for many years, and has called the Ring of Fire home for a handful of those. He likes the ability to work relatively close to his family in Thunder Bay, and also likes the importance the company places on safety and the environment.
Wennstrom said he hopes the development takes off soon. After all, he wants to see his hard work of maintaining and operating the camp develop into an area where those who would work in the mine would live.
He said he would like to see hundreds of people work in the area, and provide the economic opportunity to northern Ontario that was promised just a few years ago.