Canada was once the third-largest copper producer in the world, after Chile and Peru. It has dropped to eighth place in recent years, but still remains a significant producer of the metal.
Copper is always produced in conjunction with another metal when mined in Canada, most often as a co-product of nickel, zinc, lead, gold and molybdenum. Like most base metals in the country, it is hosted in massive sulfide and porphyry deposits.
While copper is widespread in Canada, areas where it is concentrated enough to be mined profitably are limited. Ontario and BC are the two largest copper-producing provinces. Mine output in Ontario is processed locally, but most copper mined in BC is shipped as copper concentrate to Asia for smelting and refining.
Geology of copper deposits in Canada
The most common copper deposits in Canada are accumulations of massive sulfides from volcanic or magmatic activity, and porphyries, which have a magmatic origin. The Sudbury Complex is an example of the former, and the Highlands Valley Porphyry is an example of the latter. Copper occurs in many forms, but the circumstances that control how, when, and where it is deposited are highly variable. As a result, copper occurs in many different minerals.
Copper deposits are broadly classified on the basis of how the deposits formed. Porphyry copper deposits, which are associated with igneous intrusions, yield about two-thirds of the world’s copper and are therefore the world’s most important type of copper deposit. The major products from porphyry copper deposits are copper and molybdenum, or copper and gold. Sulfide deposits normally contain higher grades of copper and its co-products, and are also generally larger overall deposits.
Highland Valley copper mine
The Highland Valley copper mine, located in BC, is the largest open-pit copper mine in Canada and one of the largest copper mining and concentrating operations in the world. It is majority owned and operated by Teck Resources (NYSE:TCK.B). Copper production is expected to be between 95,000 and 100,000 tonnes in 2017. That said, Highland Valley is a low-grade porphyry copper-molybdenum deposit.
The rest of BC is underexplored. There is a belt that runs up the majority of the province, believed to be tied closely with the famous Highland Valley Deposit. The reason that this belt remains under-explored is because a lot of the ore is capped, either by glacial drift or thin basalt. In the past, this provided a hindrance to exploration, but given the magnitude of the Highland Valley Deposit, extracting copper from the province even though it may be buried is worth the risk.
The Sudbury Complex
The Sudbury Complex in Ontario is a unique geological structure, being the site of a 1.85 billion-year-old meteorite impact crater. The wealth of minerals was discovered by accident when railway engineers were constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885.
Today, Sudbury is one of the most productive mining camps with one of the richest and largest polymetallic deposits in the world. Minerals are extracted by some of the biggest mining companies, including KGHM (WSE:KGH), Vale (NYSE:VALE) and Glencore (LSE:GLEN). With 7.9 percent copper grade in reserves, Sudbury leads the pack of richest underground copper mines.
Copper companies in Canada
Interested in copper mining stocks in Canada but don’t know where to start? Aside from Teck Resources, there a number of copper mining companies operating across the country. Here are a few examples:
- Taseko Mines (TSX:TKO) holds the Gibraltar mine, the second largest open pit copper-molybdenum mine in Canada. The New Prosperity gold-copper project, also in BC, is a development stage project that was rejected by the federal government in 2014.
- Imperial Metals (TSX:III) operates the 30,000 tonne per day Red Chris copper mine near Dease Lake in BC. The company also restarted operations at its Mount Polley mine in BC last year following a tailings dam breach in 2014.
- Hudbay Minerals (TSX:HBM) operates the 777, Reed and Lalor mines in Manitoba’s Flin Flon region.
- Copper Mountain Mining (TSX:CUM) operates the Copper Mountain mine near Princeton, BC. It holds a 75 percent ownership in the mine, with the remainder owned by Mitsubishi (TYO:8058).
- Capstone Mining (TSX:CS) operates the Minto mine in Canada’s Yukon.
And here are a few examples from the exploration and development side of things:
- Aston Bay (TSXV:BAY) holds the Storm copper project in Nunavut, for which it signed an early works agreement with BHP Billiton in March 2016.
- Carmax Mining (TSXV:CXM) holds the Eaglehead copper-molybdenum project in BC. Copper Fox’s wholly owned subsidiary owns 65.45 percent of Carmax shares.
- Carube Copper (TSXV:CUC) holds three exploration stage properties in south-western BC, but the copper-gold MacKenzie and Rogers Creek properties are the current focus of exploration.
- Copper Fox Metals (TSXV:CUU) is advancing its Schaft Creek copper-gold-molybdenum-silver project in British Columbia with partner Teck Resources.
- Copper North Mining‘s (TSXV:COL) flagship property is the Carmacks copper project in the Yukon Territory. The project is permitted for construction, and an updated preliminary economic assessment was completed in May 2014.
- Doubleview Capital‘s (TSXV:DBV) flagship project is the Hat Gold-Copper Porphyry Property which has the potential for a large-scale gold-copper porphyry deposit in northwest BC’s Sheslay District.
- Foran Mining (TSXV:FOM) is advancing a number of base metal deposits in Manitoba’s Flin Flon region, including the Bigstone and McIlvena Bay copper-zinc properties.
- KGHM is one of the largest copper-mining companies in the world, and is developing the Ajax project in BC.
- NorthIsle Copper and Gold (TSXV:NCX) is developing the 100-percent owned North Island copper-gold project in northern Vancouver Island, an area with a long history of resource development and mining.
- OK2 Minerals’ (TSXV:OK) flagship property is the Pyramid Copper-Gold Porphyry Project located in northwestern BC.
- Pacific Booker Minerals (TSXV:BKM) holds the advanced stage morrison project in central BC. In July 2008, the BC government ordered that the project undergo additional assessment before being developed.
- Western Copper and Gold (TSX:WRN,NYSEMKT:WRN) is developing the world class Casino copper-gold project in the Yukon Territory.
This is an updated version of an article originally published by the Investing News Network on August 31, 2010.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
Editorial Disclosure: Carube Copper, Copper Fox Metals, Copper North Mining, Doubleview Capital, NorthIsle Copper and Gold, OK2 Minerals and Western Copper and Gold are clients of the Investing News Network. This article is not paid-for content.