What is the Ring of Fire? – Moving towards the sustainable development of this vital resource



Photo: CBC, 2014
Photo: CBC, 2014

The Ring of Fire refers to a 5,000 km2 area in the James Bay Lowlands (550 km north of Thunder Bay) considered to be one of the largest potential mineral reserves in Ontario. Containing chromite, nickel, copper, zinc, and gold, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce estimates that this region in the James Bay Lowlands could generate $25 billion in economic activity, creating thousands of new jobs across the province for 30 years. 

Did You Know?

  • The Ring of Fire has been called a “once-in-a generation economic opportunity” and the “most promising mineral development opportunity in Ontario since the discovery of the Sudbury Basin in 1883 and the Timmins gold camp in 1909
  • Canada’s mining industry contributes $54 billion to Canada’s GDP and employs 380,000
  • In 2014, Ontario ranked 23rd for attractiveness to investors – down from the 14th spot due partly to steep hydro rates

OSPE’s Ring of Fire Working Group

Established in 2014, OSPE’s Ring of Fire Working Group is made up of experts in the mining sector, the environment, infrastructure and other sectors. In light of the greater costs experienced by companies that want to explore and build new mines in northern Canada, the Working Group has advocated that government must front-end the costs of installing the necessary infrastructure that will, in turn, attract investment by the private sector.

On October 30th, a representative of OSPE’s Ring of Fire Working Group attended a full-day conference organized by Thunder Bay’s Lakehead University on the Ring of Fire. The event brought together expert panelists, including academics, government officials, First Nations representatives, industry stakeholders, and community members to discuss the development of the region, the government’s duty to consult with First Nations, and the impact mining will have on local communities.

Many ideas emerged from the event, including:

  • Resource development should be sustainable. Sustainability involves a consideration of the economic, environmental, and social needs of the community. Government has a key role to play by ensuring corporations respect all these elements.
  • Community dialogue is essential. Consultation with communities should begin at the planning stage and before mining exploration begins. First Nations communities want to be able to continue to live off the land as well as benefit from the economic development opportunities associated with the Ring of Fire.
  • Challenges should be identified in advance. There are 9 distinct First Nations communities in the Ring of Fire area, each with their own councils and chiefs, with limited resources for participating in consultations. Some junior mining companies lack the resources or knowledge needed to conduct community consultations. The provincial government delegates its duty to consult First Nations communities to mining companies without consideration of how First Nations view this arrangement.

Next steps

With the federal election now complete, OSPE will monitor the federal government’s next steps, specifically whether it will match the $1 billion investment that Ontario made to support infrastructure in the region.

Engineers have a critical role to play in this mining project – from extracting the region’s chromium to designing the transportation lines that will carry minerals to processing destinations. Moreover, engineers can help address community concerns by providing options for infrastructure development that lessens the impact on the environment and speeds up the development of a region that holds much potential for current and future generations.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Brian Wheeler

    Ontario Northland maintains and operates over 700 miles of track in a year-round railway from North Bay through to Moosonee, ON with routes to Hearst and Calstock as well as Rouyn-Noranda, QC.

    Having been in the rail business in Northern Ontario since 1902, Ontario Northland has years of experience and expertise that may be of value in the development of the Ring of Fire or other rail developments in Northern Ontario.

    1. STAFF

      Thanks for the tip Brian. We’d be happy to speak with you or someone at Ontario Northland about the potential for rail development in northern Ontario. Feel free to send us an email at advocacy@ospe.on.ca.

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