History of the Mining Industry

The history of mining in Québec goes back almost to the discovery of North America, when Jacques Cartier thought he had found diamonds and gold on the slopes of Cap Diamant. However, when he returned to France, Pliny, the lapidary of François I, announced that what he had actually discovered was quartz and pyrite.

The discovery of the first lead deposit occurred in 1686 in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, when Chevalier de Troyes investigated traces of the metal on the eastern shore of Lac Témiscamingue, previously noted by the inhabitants of Fort Témiscamingue, guided by Amerindians. The discovery, however, was forgotten for the next 200 years, until it was rediscovered by E.V. Wright in the 1850s and mined for lead, zinc and silver in the 1890s.

The first true mines did not open in Québec until the 1840s, when several major mineral deposits were identified, mainly in the south. Following the discovery of a famous gold nugget in the Beauce region by Clothilde Gilbert, completely by chance, Québec experienced its first gold rush, and by 1847 the first alluvial gold operation had opened. This was also the period when Québec declared its ownership of all underground mineral resources and, by introducing various legislative and administrative measures, acted to control and promote exploration and mining in Québec.

A major copper and sulphur mine opened in the Eastern Townships around 1860, which was also when asbestos was first mined.

In 1906, Alphonse Olier and Auguste Renault discovered the first gold deposit in the Rouyn-Noranda region, on the shores of Lac Fortune. Despite their discovery, the area only became a centre for mining following the staking of claims and the discovery of a copper and gold deposit at the northern end of Lac Tremoy by Edmund Horne, a prospector from Nova Scotia, in 1922. The early 1920s was when mining really became established in Québec. The growth of the mining industry, which coincided with large-scale industrial expansion elsewhere, quickly made Québec an important source of minerals for the most highly industrialized areas of North America.

After World War II, growth was concentrated mainly in the asbestos sector, and later in copper and iron. From 1922 to 1945 and 1955 to 1965, several discoveries were made and several new mines opened. The first “mining boom” of the early 20th century resulted from the discovery of surface deposits by prospectors using traditional methods, while the second resulted from the discovery of hidden deposits using aerial detection methods. For example, this technique was used to discover deposits of zinc and copper sulphates in the Matagami and Joutel regions, around the same time the Chapais-Chibougamau sector was being developed.

The last decades of the 20th century have brought a better understanding of how mineral deposits form, and allowed exploration at greater depths. Major discoveries such as those made at the Ansil, Bousquet 1 and 2, Doyon and Louvicourt mines, and Zone 20 in the LaRonde mine, are all from this period