2010 Race 2 Finish travel blog

Sudbury - driving out to the mine

the Dynamic Earth center

home of this giant nickel

Madolyn shows just how big it is

Sudbury and the slag heap

below the parking area there was a bunch of old mining equipment

the entrance to this old shaft is closed up

inside it's flooded

a scoop tram nicknamed 'Sasquatch'

rusty equipment with the mine's stack in the background

rusty equipment with Madolyn in the background

Hudson cars

used to transport ore out of the mine

this old slag pot dates back to the 1890's


it's interesting to try and figure out what these machines were used...





the company logo



the rock has a black coating but if you scratch it it's...

I could not find anyone who could tell me what it was...

I think it's from years of smoke deposits


time to head upstairs for a look at the center

the town is turning green again





view of the slag heaps from the parking lot

this rock surrounds the parking area

the Dynamic Earth center


across the valley the mine smelter with it's superstack


pipes that carry discharge to the base of the stack

storage tanks for sulphuric acid - a byproduct of the smelting process

this piece of nickel ore stands at the entrance


a fascinating piece of rock

and quite beautiful

this mural decorates the entrance lobby

and this old assay scale

our tour of the underground mine started in the dry room where...

an elevator descended 65 feet to the mine below

everyone had to put on hard hats

this chain link takes the place of shoring now

our guide was a high school kid but his father was a...

in a place like this you're glad to have the hard hat!

a drill bit

a little blurry but the people show the scale

the inside of the mine is very wet - water is constantly...

these are rock bolts - the rock is drilled and they are...

they stabilize the rock and hold the mesh in place

the ceiling gets lower

this section of the mine shows techniques used a century ago -...

this air drill was used but it created a lot of dust

hand tools were used to muck out the ore after blasting

and ore was loaded in these cars for transport to the surface

children were employed at fifty cents a day to push the carts...

dynamite for blasting

fifty years later they were using squared wood shoring

and more machinery

but some things don't change much

today mines are well lit and the lights are flourescent - there...


there are 'safe' stations miners can go to if an alarm goes...

they are shored with concrete and have outside air piped in -...

miners use them to eat lunch

a company miner got tired of squashed lunches so he started manufacturing...

our guide demonstrated how blasting is done - holes are marked and...

dynamite and fuses are inserted - then the hole is sealed

the holes are detonated sequentially to more efficiently break up the rock...

big equipment is used in the mines today

a map of Sudbury showing the extent of the environmental damage

key to the map

it was pretty bad

but there is hope today

a description of the big nickel

this information and a good video showed how the ore is processed


the size of a ton of ore

the refining process is very interesting

these little spheres are the final product


amethyst is Ontario's gemstone

this sample is from Thunder Bay

silver ore

this picture shows what you see out the window

at 1250 feet this is one of the world's tallest stacks

the slag piles across the valley

in reality

there are many good exhibits here

North American craters - the one near Winslow is bottom left

regardless of their past problems this is the way Sudbury looks today

and this is the way we'll remember it

time to move on



at a stop for road construction we shot these horses grazing in...

alongside their rusty old equipment


a nice image

An underground visit to DYNAMIC EARTH


85 million years ago a giant meteor collided with earth. It hit where the Canadian town of Sudbury now stands. The meteor was 10 kilometers across and at impact it was going 8 times the speed of sound. It drilled a 2 kilometer hole through the earth’s crust, bringing magma to the surface and creating one of the richest mineral deposits in North America. Some years later the residents of Sudbury found this deposit and started mining it. Today it is one of the richest sources of nickel in the world.

Sudbury is sometimes called Nickel City. Mining in Sudbury goes back more than a century. Early prospectors were after copper which is one of the metals found here. Investors bought up the land in hopes of making a killing, but the copper was alloyed with nickel and nobody knew how to separate the two. A few smart entrepreneurs held on to their investment, and soon they found a market selling nickel to the United States Navy for warship armor. It wasn’t long before they figured out how to separate the two metals and the mines were turning a profit.

After the war demand for nickel plummeted - until somebody figured out that you could alloy nickel with iron and make a steel that would not corrode. Stainless steel brought back the demand for nickel but the mining economy was not without it’s problems. Early methods of processing ore nearly wrecked the town. Metal was smelted out of the ore by a process known as ‘roasting’. Huge pits were filled with firewood, two feet of crushed ore was spread on top of it, the wood was ignited and for two or three months the pit would smoke and smolder and choke the town and the surrounding countryside.

Sulphur in the ore ignited from the heat of the fire. The smoke it created was acid. Grass died off on Sudbury lawns, trees died and lakes became so acidic that no fish could live. By 1970 Sudbury was an urban wasteland - compared in the press to a ‘moonscape’. At this point several things changed. The first was construction of the ‘Superstack’ one of the tallest smokestacks in the world. This filtered out as much sulphur dioxide from the smelting smoke as possible, and carried the rest high enough to be spread and thinned out by the prevailing winds.

Open pit ‘roasting’ was ended and the community turned out to fertilize and start replanting the denuded hills. Today the town is green and beautiful again. Slag piles still dominate the landscape around the mine and smelters, but the air is clean and the sky is clear. Demand for nickel fell off for a while due to international competition, and the companies have had some recent labor problems, but the mines operate today and the Sudbury economy seems good.

A side benefit of mining is a growing tourist industry. People come to visit Dynamic Earth, a community and company sponsored center where the mining story is told through creative exhibits and an hour long tour of an underground mine. The tour covers the history of mining from the 19th century to modern times. There are shows and movies about how ore is processed and a good show, Nickel City Stories, about the town of Sudbury.

Mining operations produce copper as well as nickel, and also lesser quantities of cobalt, gold, platinum and palladium. The center has a gold panning ‘creek’ where you have a chance of actually finding flecks of gold in the sand. The flecks are valued at about 18 cents and you can keep whatever you find. You soon discover that gold panning is really hard work.

Back outside we took a last look at the BIG NICKEL, a giant replica of a Canadian nickel that towers over the hilltop and can be seen from across the valley. It is dated 1751—1951 and it commemorates the 200th anniversary of the discovery of the element nickel. Nickel is number 28 on the periodic table, and it’s an elegant metal with many uses. Too elegant to be wasted on the coin that bears it’s name. For that reason less than 2% of a nickel is really nickel.

In 24 hours Sudbury has gone from a meaningless dot on the map, to a place we will always remember. It joins a lot of other dots we’d never heard of four years ago, dots all over the United States and Canada with names that are now familiar. Every name brings back memories, and sometimes the ones we’d never heard of bring back the richest memories.

We got on the road and drove 90 miles toward Sault Ste Marie, stopping in the little town of Spragge for the night. Ontario is rewarding us every day, and reminding us why we came here in the first place.

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