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© McCord Museum
Photograph, glass lantern slide
Copper converters, nickel industry, Sudbury, ON, about 1920
Anonyme - Anonymous
About 1920, 20th century
Silver salts and transparent ink on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
8 x 10 cm
Gift of Mr. Stanley G. Triggs
© McCord Museum


"Nickel Industry, Sudbury: Eighty miles further west of North Bay, junction point for Toronto. Near Sudbury are the greatest nickel mines in the world, supplying over two-thirds of the world's consumption of this metal. The area of the "nickel basin" is about 550 square miles. Smelting is carried on a short distance from the city, the process removing the large iron content and producing nickel-copper matte suitable for refining. The nickel content averages 3.09 per cent, and the copper content 2.12 per cent. Copper converters are seen in the picture."

Excerpt from "ACROSS CANADA BY C. P. R.", Section 3--The Province of Ontario; booklet, McGill University Illustrated Lectures, 1928.

Keys to History:

Although the Sudbury ore had a low copper and nickel content, there was a lot of it. And mining in huge tunnels allowed an extremely refined division of labour underground, unlike any other mine in the North. The ore required complex metallurgical processing to extract its market value. It had to go through a number of steps to remove the impurities, chiefly sulphur, which the converters, used in the last stage of smelting, turned into gas. The gas, vented through tall stacks, produced sulphur dioxide, which polluted the region considerably. A few smelters provided employment for several hundred workers, but they had to put in long hours.


An interior view of the building housing the British American Nickel Company (BANCO) converters. The three converters eliminated the impurities by turning them into gas or a liquid waste called slag.


BANCO operated the Murray mine near Sudbury and built its smelter at the aptly named Nickelton.


The photo likely dates from the summer of 1920, when the company had just started up. Operations were interrupted in 1921, however, due to a sharp decline in the demand for nickel. The decline persisted, and operations stopped for good in 1924.


One of the senior foremen of the company was H. L. Roscoe, who later played a key role in setting up Noranda Mines in Abitibi.

© Musée McCord Museum