Digging for Treasure: Mining in Canada
Guy Gaudreau, Laurentian University

Canada was experiencing rapid social and economic change as it entered the 20th century, at the height of the Second Industrial Revolution. This revolution was fuelled by multiple factors: electricity, newly harnessed to power industry; abundant natural resources in the Canadian Shield; the railway, a new means of communication; a diversified workforce fostered by massive immigration; and scientific advances put to use in mass production. The mining industry was in the direct path of the revolution, with mechanization and the division of labour imposing irreversible advances that devalued individual effort and worker safety.

But not all Canadian mines espoused change at the same pace. For example, each coal, asbestos and metal mine evolved according to its particular configuration. There was nothing automatic about the process of modernization, since using manual labour along the rich beds and seams was still profitable. In the medium term, though, the mines remained resolutely in the race for productivity, enriching their owners and investors.

However, technological advances and modernized mining operations did not necessarily ensure progress. The mining industry was facing two significant disincentives. First, depleted mineral deposits, which slowed the extraction process and severely taxed companies forced to prospect new sites. Second, the inability to operate without workers, regardless of the technology used or the money invested in equipment. And the workforce was proving recalcitrant: with their lives constantly at risk, the miners were demonstrating their independence and daily laying their jobs on the line.