Day 68 – Aug 13 – Bracebridge, ON to Sudbury, ON

Before we left Bracebridge this morning we went to the downtown falls at the 80 horsepower water powered generating plant that the city was wise enough to purchase in 1894 to provide electricity for the town; a very forward thinking elected body.

Then we drove about 10 minutes out of town to High Falls where there is another hydroelectric dam and waterfall.

We crossed the bridge and followed a trail down through the bush to get a better view of the waterfall below the dam.

It was a bit of a tree root/rock scramble to get down from the road and back up.

We left Bracebridge about 11:30 and drove straight to Sudbury passing lots of Ontairo’s typical scenery of rocks, trees and water. There were many pretty little lakes along the way, all of which had cottages surrounding them.

When we arrived in Sudbury we drove directly to the big Dynamic Earth science center and booked an underground mine tour. Sudbury has been a mining town for well over one hundred years. An internet post says: The Greater Sudbury area is an astonishingly rich mining district. By every measure it is huge. By the end of 2021 the district has produced more than 8 million tonnes each of nickel and copper, and over 3200 tonnes of silver, 300 tonnes of platinum and 100 tonnes of gold.

In 1883, nickel-copper ore was discovered during construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The discovery led to development of the Murray Mine. Within a few years many more discoveries were made and Sudbury became Canada’s first major mining camp. Within 30 years of the discovery, the Sudbury area was the nickel capital of the world and the economic engine of northern Ontario. To date, Greater Sudbury mines have
produced a third of a trillion dollars of metal at today’s prices.

The Dynamic Earth science center is home to the Big Nickel, the largest depiction of a coin in the world. Big Nickel is nine meters (30′) tall, weighs 13,000 kilograms (14.33 tons) and is made of a series of steel plates welded together and designed to survive the Ontario weather. The massively iconic coin is an exact replica of the actual five cent coin as it was designed in 1951. It was constructed in 1964 by a Sudbury firefighter who had proposed the idea of the giant coin and a science center as a Canadian Centennial project for the city. The idea was rejected so, despite much opposition from the town, he acquired land (just outside city limits so he did not need a permit), hired a designer, raised funds and did it himself. Upon its completion, the total cost of the construction of the Big Nickel was approximately $35,000. In 1980 he was successful in pitching his idea for a science center and sold the Big Nickel to the Regional Municipality of Subury for $550,000 and the Dynamic Earth science center was born.

We had a half hour wait until our mine tour started so we wandered around a couple of the science center rooms.

Quartz

Amethyst. The photo below is amethyst as well. I have not seen that form or colour before.

Banded iron ore

Petrified wood

Refined nickel. 99.9% pure.

I think the coolest thing I saw was this sand pit. It was very fine sand and you could pile it up and move it around and the filter and lights above it would show the piles as a topographical map. Awesome fun.

I snapped this photo fast and it did not have time to focus properly, but I have included it to show another shape that people made of the sand.

The underground temperature stays about 13° C (46° F). We descended in a cage – big elevator – about 21 meters (70′). The deepest part of an actual mine in the Sudbury area is 2.5 kilometers (just over 1 1/2 miles). The tour showed what a mine and mining was like in 1890, 1950, and today.

Obviously it is dark underground and our guide would only light up the section she was speaking about so photos are not really good. I also do not remember all the names of things. I am usually good taking note of machinery and stuff but I found our guide super annoying so tuned out a lot of what she said. She was just too dramatic and tried too hard to be funny and upbeat for my taste.

This is one ton of Sudbury ore. When smelted, it will yield about a fistful size of nickel. If the mineral content of the ore is as low as 3% it is still profitable to mine.

Back in the early days of the mines boys as young as 13 could work underground. They, and the men, worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Highest paid person was the driller who earned $2.20 per day. Lowest earned $1.20. When the carts were full it was the boys job to bush them to the ore chute where the rocks would drop down to the lowest part of the mine. The mine started at the bottom and worked upward so everything was collected at the bottom where it could all be sent up together. If the ore chute got blocked, which it did often, the smallest boy would be sent inside with a long metal pole to pound the rocks to loosen them, then scramble out of the chute before everything dropped.

By the 1950s and 1960s machines had replaced a lot of the grunt work of pick, shovel and hand-hammered drilling.

This is a weird photo, but it was the most fun part of the tour. They simulated a dynamite blast. The hole in the center is fired first. The four holes surrounding it will go immediately next, the upper sticks will then blow, followed by the bottom ones so the rocks blow into one big pile. We all went around a corner and plugged our ears. It was very loud and smoke blew out and lights flashed. It was quite realistic and well done.

A second generation pnuematic drill. The first mechanized drills created a lot of dust so a second miner had to stand by and pour water on it to keep the deadly dust down in the mine. These ones are hydraulic so have a water source built in.

Much of the gigantic machinery used today is automated and run via joystick from the surface. At one time 22,000 people worked the mines in Sudbury, today it is 4,000.

This is a drill standing on its head. The shaft will go down and then the gold heads will extend and grind the rock away. The jumbo drill has four heads that drill a hole as large as the circular wire net in the photo below and can drill about the length of the ‘hallway’ (next photo below) – about 30 meters (100′) horizontally.

These are fir tree seedlings. They grow them in the mine with UV lights. There is enough moisture in the air to keep them watered and the temperature remains constant. When they get big enough they are planted around Sudbury as part of the reclamation project.

We had not had lunch and it was almost 4:30 so we stopped at the first restaurant we saw and ate before heading to our hotel. Tomorrow we drive to Sault St. Marie where we will stay two nights.

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