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Mining and Northern Development

“Visitors tour the open pit mine at Pine Point
[3 people look at open pit beyond].” (1967)
Credit: Ted Grant/NWT Archives
Photo reference: G-1979-023-0228

Researchers: Arn Keeling, (Geography), John Sandlos (History)

Graduate students: Jean-Sébastien Boutet, Carmella Gray-Cosgrove, Scott Midgley, Alexandra Winton

This project aims to develop new critical perspectives on the history, geography and environmental impacts of mineral development in Canada’s northern territories. Beginning in the early twentieth century, hard-rock mining was a key catalyst for the industrial development of Canada’s vast subarctic territories. The environmental and social costs of this development are increasingly apparent, as evidenced by the estimated 10,000 abandoned mines in Canada, many of which are located in the territorial North. As the legacy of decades of lightly regulated mineral development, these degraded landscapes are also tangible illustrations of the dramatic effect of industrial modernization on northern communities. Yet the full scope of the social and environmental dimensions of historic mining activities remains unexplored by Canadian scholars.

Thus, the aims of this research project are to:

  • investigate how mineral development impacted northern society and environment throughout the twentieth century;

  • assess whether the historic siting and environmental effects of potentially toxic mines might be interpreted within the framework of environmental justice/political ecology;

  • consider the connections between social justice and environmental change that were engendered by historical mining practices in the region.

In examining these issues, this project is exploring new conceptual and methodological perspectives on the environmental history of Canada, in particular those offered by political ecology and environmental justice. These literatures consider the connections between social justice and environmental change across a variety of themes and settings, from resource management disputes to urban waste and industrial siting to the uneven social effects of environmental degradation. The orientation of this literature towards marginalized communities suggests important insights for research into industrial development and First Nations communities in remote locations in Canada. Ultimately, this research and the new perspectives we are developing will also contribute to ongoing debates about the effects of contemporary industrial developments and environmental changes on Northern communities and landscapes.

Funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Research Development Initiative, the Social Economy Research Network of Northern Canada, and ArcticNet.

For more details, see our website on the Network in Canadian History and Environment.

Publications

  • 2010 Keeling, A. 'Born in an Atomic Test Tube: Landscapes of cyclonic development at Uranium City, Saskatchewan. The Canadian Geographer 54, 2, pp. 228-252 (Available online).
  • 2009 Keeling, A., and Sandlos, J. 2009 “Environmental Justice Goes Underground? Historical Notes from Canada's Mining Frontier," Environmental Justice 2,3, pp. 117-125. Available online.

Presentations and media coverage

  • 2009 “Understanding Aboriginal Perspectives on Historical and Contemporary Mineral Extraction at Schefferville, QC,” presentation to Social Economy Network of Northern Canada workshop, Iqaluit, NU (Keeling and Boutet). Available online.
  • 2009 “Geographies of Mining and Environmental Justice in Canada’s North,” invited presentation at BOREAS/European Science Foundation workshop, Iqaluit, NU (Keeling)
  • 2009 "The Subterranean Environmental History Blues: Mining, Environmental Justice and the State in Northern Canada," presentation at Canadian History & Environmental Summer School, Ottawa (Sandlos and Keeling)
  • 2009 "Lessons to be learned from volatile mining industry: professor," Western Star, Corner Brook, NL
  • 2009 "Geographies of Mining and Environmental Justice in Canada's North" invited public talk hosted by the Environmental Policy Institute, Sir Wilfrid Grenfell College, Corner Brook, NL (Keeling)
  • 2009 "Orphaned Landscapes: The Legacy of Mine Abandonment in Northern Canada," American Society for Environmental History, Tallahassee, Fla. (Sandlos) - link to audio file here
  • 2009 "Cyclonic development and landscape transformations on Northern Canada’s mining frontier," American Society for Environmental History, Tallahassee, Fla. (Keeling) - link to audio file here
  • 2008 "Towards a Historical Political Ecology of Mining in Northern Canada," Canadian Association of Geographers and the International Symposium of the Cultural Approach in Geography, Québec (Keeling and Sandlos)
  • 2007 “Towards a Historical Political Ecology of Uranium Mining in the Canadian North,” Canadian Historical Association Annual Meeting, Saskatoon (Keeling)
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