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 or 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
As mentioned, in Canada copper is mostly commonly found in massive sulfide and porphyry deposits. The Sudbury Complex is an example of the former, and the Highland Valley porphyry is an example of the latter.
Copper deposits are broadly classified on the basis of how they were formed. Sulfide deposits normally contain higher grades of copper and its co-products than porphyry deposits, and are also generally larger overall deposits. Porphyry 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.
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 (TSX:TECK.B), and is built on a low-grade porphyry copper-molybdenum deposit.
The province is relatively underexplored, even though a tectonic belt that runs up the majority of the province is believed to be closely tied to the 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 made exploration difficult, 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 1.8 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, the Sudbury Complex is one of the most productive mining camps, and is home to one of the richest and largest polymetallic deposits in the world. Minerals are extracted by some of the world’s biggest mining companies, including KGHM (WSE:KGH), Vale (NYSE:VALE) and Glencore (LSE:GLEN). With reserves grading 7.9 percent copper, 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 of miners and explorers with market caps over $10 million:
Miners in BC
- 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 currently facing legal blockades from federal and provincial governments.
- 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:CMMC) 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.
Explorers in BC
- Copper Fox Metals (TSXV:CUU) is advancing its Schaft Creek copper-gold-molybdenum-silver project in British Columbia with partner Teck Resources.
- 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.
- 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.
As for mining companies in Ontario, the majority of base metal operations are dominated by mining majors Vale, Glencore and KGHM who primarily own minese in the previously mentioned Sudbury Complex.
This is an updated version of an article originally published by the Investing News Network in 2010.
Don’t forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time news updates!
Securities Disclosure: I, Sivansh Padhy, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
Editorial Disclosure:, Copper Fox Metals, NorthIsle Copper and Gold, and Western Copper and Gold are clients of the Investing News Network. This article is not paid-for content.