Northeastern Ontario is one of the world’s celebrated regions for geologists, rockhounds, and mining enthusiasts to discover awe-inspiring rocks, fascinating fossils and historic underground mines. From Sudbury to Timmins to Cobalt, Northeastern Ontario is chock-full of both active and abandoned mines to explore, as well as museums that pay homage to its rich mining heritage.
Geologist Ruth Debicki of the Sudbury Rock & Lapidary Society describes geology as “the CSI of the earth”—a way to uncover the secrets of Ontario’s natural past. By carefully exploring rocks and minerals, she explains, we can put together clues to the story of the earth. Learning how to “read the rocks” can yield amazing details from almost three billion years ago. Believe it or not, rocks can tell us that huge sheets of creeping ice, tropical coral reefs, and even salt water lagoons were all part of our region’s eco-history.
As one of the country’s leading geoscientists, Ruth Debicki helped to create GeoTours Northern Ontario, a do-it-yourself guide to Northern Ontario’s most spectacular geological features and mining sites. The step-by-step guide is free to access online and includes handy GPS coordinates that can be used on a smartphone while on the road.
Ready to embark on your BIG Northeastern mining tour? Here are a few key places to start:
Sudbury Impact Crater
Sudbury became the granddaddy of rockhounding almost two billion years ago, when a massive meteorite created the second largest known impact crater on Earth. The crater is 62km long, 30km wide, and 15km deep! Today, the world-famous Sudbury Basin has the biggest concentration of mines in the world.
Visitors to the Science North attraction Dynamic Earth (home of the Big Nickel) can explore a network of underground tunnels and journey through the history of mining from the late 1800s through the 1950s to the present day. Dynamic Earth tour guides take curious explorers of all ages through the underground mines while bringing the mining history of Sudbury to life with stories and tales of its mining past. Visitors can try their hand at panning for gold and take home any real gold flakes they uncover.
Over at the Discovery Site of Sudbury Mining Camp about 5km northwest of the city, visitors can see where nickel-copper ore was first discovered in 1883, changing the history and economy of Sudbury forever. It’s right across the road from the workings of Sudbury’s first-ever mine. After that, check out the Jane Goodall Reclamation Trail dedicated to the environmental restoration of local mining landscapes.
Mile of Gold in Kirkland Lake
A visit to Kirkland Lake gives a whole new meaning to the term “gold digging.” Ancient faults underlie the border region of Northern Ontario and Quebec and host gold mines, which make this region one of the richest gold producers on Earth. The Mile of Gold is a line of seven major mines that produced extraordinary wealth for over 80 years. The McDermott, Holloway, and Macassa mines are still open. Visit the iconic Toburn Mine building and the Kirkland Lake Miners’ Memorial that honours the city’s hardworking mining labourers.
Cobalt Mining Museum
Nicknamed “Silver City,” the town of Cobalt was one of the largest silver producers in the world in the early 1900s. Today visitors can check out the Cobalt Mining Museum, which boasts the world’s largest display of silver, and follow the Heritage Silver Trail, a self-guided driving tour of several mines and mill sites in the area.
Try to catch a glimpse of some underground silver in a guided tour of an old underground mine. Starting at the Mining Museum, the underground tour journeys through narrow damp tunnels of the mine giving a fascinating glimpse into the conditions under which miners worked.
The Timmins area is one of the richest goldfields in the world, and over the past century it has produced more gold than any mining camp in Canada. The city has rehabilitated former mining sites into beautiful parks and recreational lands. Timmins’ “Big Three” gold mines—Hollinger, Dome, and McIntyre—are a highlight as is the Timmins Museum and National Exhibition Centre, which features restored prospectors’ cabins, bronze statues of the discoverers of the Big Three mines, and a collection of 20,000 images from the historic Timmins mining camp.