Elliot Lake

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From Rocks and Minerals in Canada, September/ October 1980

Known in the early 1950’s as the “Uranium Capital of the World” Elliot Lake was planned and built to serve the needs of the miners employed at the uranium mines in the immediate vicinity. In 1950, the peak year of production, ten mines in the Elliot Lake-Blind River area mined and sold nearly half a billion dollars worth of uranium. These operations were some of the largest of their kind in the world. With the cancellation of contracts for the supply of uranium to the United States, production dropped sharply to less than $50 million in 1965. It has risen slightly since that year. There are now only two mines operating in the district although others are being maintained in readiness for production when markets again become available. During a visit to the Elliot Lake district the tourists will find it of advantage to pay a visit to the Elliot Lake Mining and Nuclear Museum. This museum houses, in addition to general mining exhibits, a display demonstrating how uranium ore is processed to uranium oxide.

Bits and Pieces from Elliot Lake’s History 1957

The hills swarmed with contractors blasting roads, sinking shafts and raising mills. Never before in the history of Canada has so much money been spent so quickly in one place.

Every single piece of equipment for the miners, mills, homes and businesses had to be carried by tractor and truck into Elliot Lake. At first the road was only a dusty ribbon of dirt, so narrow that every stalled vehicle had to be rolled over the edge to allow the traffic to pass. A traffic count showed that over a 24-hour period the flow averaged 50 trucks an hour, one every 72 seconds.

In 1958, their first full year of production, the mines earned a staggering two hundred million dollars, boosting uranium into first place among Canadian metals. The work at the townsite was at frantic pace. Materials and labour desperately short at times, a priest Father R.H. Farrell poured the cement for his church. A bull-dozer levelling bushes, runs over a large black bear in the area that was wilderness only a few months ago.

“Along this stretch of road”, said Ontario Mines Minister Philip Kelly “we have greater wealth than Columbus ever dreamed of.”

Bits and pieces from Elliot Lake’s History 1964

A crushing blow for Elliot Lake was delivered. In November 1959 word came from Washington that no further build-up of uranium stockpiles was necessary. The effects were almost immediate. 1960 saw the closure of five uranium mines in the Elliot Lake area. The population dropped from a high of perhaps 28,000 to 6,000 in the early 1960’s, a bitter pill for many residents and small business operators. Empty houses and boarded up business premises were the sign of the times, but Elliot Lake refused to die. A real effort was made to keep the community alive.

The Elliot Lake Centre for Continuing Education was established. The Canadian Government in 1966 began a stock-pile program. Tourist industry was promoted and with the help of one of the mining companies a Nuclear Museum was created.

Bits and pieces from Elliot Lake’s History 1972

On Friday, October 13, 1972 a historical plaque commemorating the opening up of the great uranium mining field in the Elliot Lake area was unveiled at the junction of Highway 108 and Hillside Drive South, Township of Elliot Lake. The ceremony was arranged and sponsored by the Corporation of the Township of Elliot Lake. Mr. Roger Taylor, Reeve, Township of Elliot Lake, acted as the programme chairman. Taking part were Dr. Maurice Foster, D.V.M., M.P. (Algoma), D. Burley on behalf of J. Lane M.P.P. (Algoma-Manitoulin), Mr. Aime Breton, Dr. Franc R. Joubin, Mr. Fred Albert and Rev. Lorenzo Cadieux representing the province’s Historic Sites Board. Attending from the township of Elliot Lake were councillors P. Boychuk, A. Hergott and H. McQuarrie. The plaque was unveiled by Mr. Fred Albert and Dr. Franc Joubin.

The inscription on the plaque reads:

The Elliot Lake mining camp

In 1948 Aime Breton and Karl Gunterman found deposits of radio-active conglomerate near Lauzon Lake in Long Township south of here. Franc R. Joubin, geologist, investigated the area and later persuaded Joseph H. Hirshhorn to finance drilling operations which, in 1953, discovered the ore body that became the Pronto Uranium Mine, the field’s first producer. A geological map by W.H. Collins of the Geological Survey of Canada helped to locate other uranium deposits near Quirke and Elliot Lakes. The camp and this community (a “Model Town”) flourished until, beginning in 1959-1960, production was drastically reduced as United States demand diminished. About 1966 an anticipated increase in the non-military use of uranium stimulated renewed activity in the region. The camp by 1970 had produced uranium oxide valued at 1.3 billion dollars.