Thunder Bay·Photos

Noront Resources waits for road to the Ring of Fire

It is one of the most remote mining camps in Ontario, that was heralded as the next economic engine for the province, and possibly Canada.

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.

"We're committed to it. We're continuing to consolidate in the Ring of Fire, where as other companies haven't had the ability to stick around," said Ryan Weston, Noront's Vice-President of Exploration.
Ryan Weston is the VP of Exploration for Noront Resources. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

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.

Permanent jobs

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.

"Mostly the terrain is the only hardship here," said Veikko Wennstom, the camp foreman. "The mud in the summertime. Every time you take a step you get an inch taller."
Veikko Wennstrom is the camp foreman at Noront's Esker camp. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

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.


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