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Environment and History

Subterranean Bodies: Mining the Large Lakes of North-west Canada, 1921-1960

Liza Piper

Environment and History 13(2007): 155-186

This paper examines the history of hard rock mining on the large lakes of north-west Canada (Athabasca, Great Slave and Great Bear) from 1921 to 1960. It is based on the records of the three largest mining companies, Eldorado Mining and Refining, Cominco, and Giant Mines as well as government documents, oral histories and published geological and technical reports. The paper opens by assessing the historiography of mines in relation to nature and presents an overview of the regional geology and mine operations. The analysis considers the character of 'subterranean bodies' and how they reveal the physical engagement of miners with nature. It assesses how geology in conjunction with the creation of habitable mine environments animated these bodies. The final section moves into the surface mills where ores were metaphorically and physically digested as part of a larger metabolic process. The manuscript argues that the perception of subterranean bodies masked the negative consequences of mine operations by presenting minerals as renewable resources, by presenting the large lakes as physical rather than cultural landscapes, and by separating ores from their larger environmental contexts even as miners integrated industrial operations into the large lake ecosystems.


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