BAIE VERTE, N.L. — Some might say sequels are never as good as the originals, but Tom Al says it is obvious that’s not the case with Rambler Metals and Mining.
The former geological technician and mine geologist with Rambler in 1981 worked underground in the mine prior to its closure in 1982.
Al, the keynote speaker for the Friday, June 1 formal dinner at the Baie Verte and Area Chamber of Commerce’s 31st annual Mining Conference, took guests for “a trip down memory lane.” The Ming copper and gold mine is back in production, and reportedly has a 20-year mine life with 312 million pounds of copper and 57,000 ounces of gold.
He took a tour of the Rambler operation at the Ming mine Thursday, May 31, and was amazed at the new equipment and technology as well as the newfound emphasis on safety.
“The Rambler Metals and Mining people have put a lot of work into this,” he said. “When you have been on the other end, trying to scramble to get money together to do a little bit of drilling, and see what these guys have done is really impressive.”
Despite that, Al said he learned so much in his short tenure at Rambler and living on the Baie Verte Peninsula.
“It was just the best experience of my life,” he said. “It is just kind of emblazoned in my memory.
“What an exciting thing to come from Southern Ontario — a boring place as you all know — to show up here on the Baie Verte Peninsula with the scenery, the people, the ocean, the fishery; all these things right there for me to experience. I absolutely loved it.”
As for their charge to discover gold, he talked about the early technologies and equipment used in the 1980s. Unfortunately, Noranda Inc. beat the Rambler employees to the Devils Cove discovery, making survival more difficult for the Irving-owned operation.
“It was a frantic year because there were already some pressures throughout the mine, perhaps running low on reserves and everybody felt that pressure — the employees, the miners — wondering what’s going to happen,” Al said.
However, employees didn’t quite see the closure of the Ming mine coming when it did, according to the geologist. In fact, the days before the closure, miners were quite excited by the discovery, he said.
Al said they were aware of the footwall zone, that is now being developed and produced, in 1981. However, he said it was not economic at the time. The mine depended on the success from the sulfide in the area. The company did not want to put the money into extending the operation, he said. Work focused on the north side where high gold values were detected. The 1806 gold zone was discovered.
“That was an astounding morning when I walked down and the miners were kind of cagey trying to hide these things in their pockets,” he said. “It was pretty amazing samples that came out of there.”
The 1807 gold zone was also discovered to the north. He said, despite the miners and employees knowing different, Irving shut the mine down due to lack of resources.
“We thought there was much more work that could be done,” he said. “Certainly, they talked about declining metal prices, and there was no arguing that.”
Al also said an accident at the time that destroyed a loading pocket and put a shaft out of commission was a costly setback. He also felt Archie Kirkland, a senior executive at Irving, was ready to retire. Despite the excitement of the discovery of 1807, the mine was closed.
“There’s nothing significant here was his words,” he said. “It was kind of deflating … I think it was the next day or within the week, the announcement was out that the mine was going to close.”
He believes the current operation has a very promising future, as long as metal prices hold up.