It was my great pleasure to accompany a group of 22 secondary teachers from Lower Mainland and Okanagan schools on a tour of Copper Mountain Mine near Princeton in mid-October, a tour organized by MineralsEd for teacher professional development. The day was full of unforgettable experiences – sitting in the cab of a haul truck, getting a near bird's eye view of the pit and travelling right into it to observe the large mining equipment, watching a blast, touring the mill, and learning about the people and their jobs. One of the special and unexpected moments was the reunion of DW Poppy teacher, Rory Allen, with a former student, Renee Gould, now a metallurgist at the mine. Teachers never know where they will cross paths with their former students!

Our group saw and learned many important facts about the Copper Mountain operation during our four hour visit.

  • Mining has gone on this area for nearly 100 years. The current mine was built in two years at a cost of $435 million, and opened in 2011.
  • More than 38,000 tonnes of ore are put through the mill every day; the ore is .2-.3% copper and contains gold and silver. The copper price is just above $3.00/lb, and the mining to market costs less than that, but not a great deal. Electricity to run the mill 24-7 is the greatest operating cost - $2.5 million per month.
  • The ore is related to ancient volcanism, hosted in island arc rocks emplaced onto North America and forming part of BC in the Mesozoic. Blasting in the pit is done at least once a day. There is a final 10 second countdown before the blast, and complete radio silence in the last 5 seconds.
  • The ore is very hard. To improve mill operations, the ore is crushed twice before it enters the mill. The mill is very NOISY. The overall milling process is quite straightforward: grind, float, dewater, dry, but there are many circuits in the mill to ensure the most effective recovery of copper concentrate and precious metals associated with it.
  • Every day, 8 to 10, double-trailer trucks haul copper concentrate to Vancouver Wharves in North Vancouver for shipment to a smelter in Japan.

As interesting and as important, was what we learned about the people who work at Copper Mountain. Their workforce comes from all over. This 24/7 operation employs ~430 people with an annual payroll is ~$50 million. The majority are trades, technicians, labourers or equipment operators; the majority are men. There are many opportunities to work your way up at the mine. Apprenticeship programs at Copper Mountain are promoted and well-supported, and offered to committed employees with a desire to develop specific skills.

Among the many people we met and who spoke to us on the tour:

    Peter knows the regional geology well; he worked at the previous mine on the mountain, Similco, which closed in 1996 and has been on the team that brought this new mine into production.
  • Patrick, an engineer, hails from Sweden, but has worked elsewhere in BC and at Copper Mountain since it started up. (His wife is a school teacher in Princeton, attending the Super Conference in Vancouver that day.)
  • Russell, a young HD mechanic originally from Smithers, was happy to see our group visit the machine shop and tour the mine. He is concerned that people in the cities don’t know much about mining and don’t think it is important.
  • Sarah, one of the fulltime equipment operators, is also trained as the Dispatch for all the mobile equipment that is tracked by GPS and monitored via a single large screen in a room far from the pit.
  • Rob, a seasoned mining veteran who drove our tour bus, travelled worldwide with his family for his work in mining and is now the mobile equipment trainer at Copper Mountain.
  • Tanya, a young woman who had worked in a mine in the Kootenays before moving to Princeton, is a full time Hydraulic Shovel operator, but worked relief as the Lead Hand in the pit that day.
  • Kenny, one of three young men who shepherded us through the mill, is now one of the Mill Supervisors, having worked “from the bottom up”, as he put it, since the mine opened.
  • Don, the VP Operations, is a Newfoundlander whose path to mining began with a teenage interest in the metallurgy of mountain bike frames. His career has taken him many places, and he is proud of the Copper Mountain operation and all it contributes. He sincerely asked the teachers “what can we do to get young people interested in mining careers”, which sparked many constructive ideas.

They were all good people doing honourable work in a work place that is not familiar to almost everyone else. They come from different backgrounds and home towns, but become part of a team that contributes to the safe, efficient and productive operation of the mine. Change a few words, and the same can be said for the teachers who visited that day.