It was already getting quite warm as we reached the mine site, spoke with the security guard and proceeded inside. I was being granted one of the last looks around the Lockerby mine before it is demolished. I get out of the car, don my work boots, high-viz vest, and hard hat, surveying the buildings around me to figure out how I want to tackle this. I’m like a kid in a candy store.
It took very little time, however, for the immense feeling of waste to settle on me as I looked around. First, the obvious. The materials that were here were clearly worth a lot of money. The structures represented enormous investments, and that’s only above ground. The money beneath my feet was surely staggering. My look around wouldn’t include that part, however. It was likely all under water by this point anyway.
Contributing to the sense of waste, however, was my knowledge of the history here, and how the lives of two men, husbands, fathers, sons, ended here and shattered others.
One can certainly argue that the beginning of the end for this mine was in the early hours of May 6, 2014. Two drilling contractors, Marc Methe, 34, and Norm Bisaillon, 49, were killed in a rock fall one day after a seismic event, and after being told it was safe to resume work. Two days later, the mine was again inspected and cleared for miners to resume work.
In January, 2015, First Nickel cuts 75% of its contractors, and 30% of its permanent workforce in a restructure attempt to make the mine more profitable. Six months later, development of its underground ramp is halted as they say the price of nickel is making continued operations unprofitable. By this point, eight charges have been laid against them for the earlier incident by the Ontario Ministry of Labour, and five additional charges against the contractor employing the two workers.
July 8, 2015. First Nickel lays off employees. The plan is to continue mining easily accessible material at or above the 6,800 foot level, and then go into care and maintenance mode by November. By August 20, however, primary lender Resource Capital Fund VLP demands repayment and forces the mine into receivership. Employees arriving for work are told by security at the gate that the mine is closed and to go home.
After taking many pictures inside a couple of buildings, I decide to put up my drone for a bird’s-eye-view of the place. Immediately I can see that work here spread over a vast area above ground as well as below. I wondered if anyone else would ever be able to make use of the property. Could the mine ever be redeveloped? I doubted it, despite hearing there was still a sizable ore body down there somewhere. After reading about how unsafe the ground was, maybe that’s just as well.
We go into the older headframe to drink bottles of cold water and cool ourselves in the gloom of a place that should have been busy and noisy. I continue photographing whatever I can knowing that one day it would all be gone. Eventually, we said goodbye to the sentry at the front gate, and his small, red-furred companion and drove away.
The large main headframe was collapsed on August 8, 2021, with the rest of the site still in remediation by the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry.