A brief introduction to copper mining in Canada, including an overview of the country’s geology and examples of companies working there.
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. It is most often mined as a co-product of nickel, zinc, lead, gold or molybdenum. Like most base metals in the country, copper is hosted in massive sulfide and porphyry deposits.
While copper mining 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 to Asia for smelting and refining.
Geology of copper deposits in Canada
As mentioned, in Canada copper is most commonly found in large sulfide deposits, such as the Ontario-based Sudbury Complex, as well as porphyry deposits, such as Highland Valley mine in BC.
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. They are also larger overall deposits in general.
Porphyry deposits, which are associated with igneous intrusions, yield about two-thirds of the world’s copper. They 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.
The Sudbury Complex
The Sudbury Complex in Ontario is a unique geological structure, as it’s the site of a 1.8-billion-year-old meteorite impact crater. The wealth of minerals there were discovered by accident, when railway engineers were constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885.
Today, the Sudbury Complex is one of the most productive copper-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 mining giants KGHM (WSE:KGH) and Vale (NYSE:VALE). Sudbury is one of the richest underground copper mines, with reserves grading 7.9 percent copper.
The Highland Valley mine
The Highland Valley mine, located in BC, is the largest open-pit copper mine in Canada. It’s also one of the largest copper-mining and concentrating operations in the world. Highland Valley is majority owned and operated by Teck Resources (TSX:TECK.B,NYSE:TCK). It is built on a low-grade porphyry copper-molybdenum deposit.
BC is relatively underexplored even though there is a tectonic belt that runs up the majority of the province that is believed to be closely tied to the Highland Valley mine. The reason that this belt remains underexplored is that much of the ore is capped, either by glacial drift or thin basalt. In the past, that made exploration difficult; however, given the magnitude of the Highland Valley mine, extracting copper from the province seems worth the risk.
Copper companies in BC and Ontario
Interested in copper mining in Canada, but don’t know where to start? We’ve put together a list of companies that are mining and exploring for copper in BC and Ontario — as mentioned, they are the country’s most prolific copper-producing provinces.
It’s worth noting that while BC is home to a slew of copper exploration companies, Ontario is dominated by mining giants like Vale and KGHM. The companies listed below are in alphabetical order and had market caps of at least $5 million as of December 5, 2017.
- Copper Mountain Mining (TSX:CMMC) operates the Copper Mountain mine in BC. It holds a 75-percent stake in the mine, with the remainder owned by Mitsubishi (TSE:8058).
- Imperial Metals (TSX:III) runs the 30,000-tonne-per-day Red Chris copper mine near Dease Lake in BC. The company also restarted operations at its Mount Polley copper-gold mine in BC last year, following a tailings dam breach in 2014.
- KGHM (WSE:KGH) is one of the largest copper-mining companies in the world. It is currently developing the Ajax project, an open-pit copper-gold mine in BC. In Ontario it operates the McCreedy West mine, where it extracts copper, nickel and various precious metals.
- Taseko Mines (TSX:TKO) holds the BC-based Gibraltar mine, the second largest open-pit copper-molybdenum mine in Canada. The company recently halted work at its New Prosperity gold-copper project, also in BC, after facing government opposition.
- As mentioned, Teck Resources majority owns and operates the Highland Valley copper mine in BC. The company has additional mines in other locations around the world.
- Vale, also mentioned above, produces copper at several mines in Ontario.
- Abacus Mining and Exploration (TSXV:AME) has a 20-percent stake in the BC-based Ajax copper-gold project. Ajax is currently going through the environmental assessment process. Abacus also has the option to gain a 75-percent interest in a Nevada copper-gold property.
- Amarc Resources (TSXV:AHR) is developing its IKE porphyry copper deposit in BC. IKE is a “major copper porphyry discovery located in the heartland of BC’s copper mining industry.”
- Carube Copper (TSXV:CUC) has projects spanning Canada and Jamaica. Its Canadian assets include three porphyry-related projects in BC; they cover 469 square kilometers altogether.
- Cascadero Copper (TSXV:CCD) has properties in both Canada and Argentina. In BC, Cascadero holds a 49-percent stake in the Toodoggone project, which is prospective for copper-gold bulk-mineable porphyry deposits.
- Copper Fox Metals (TSXV:CUU) is involved in several projects in Canada and the US. In Northern BC, the company has part ownership of two copper-focused projects: Schaft Creek and Eaglehead. The former is a joint venture with Teck Resources.
- Copper North Mining‘s (TSXV:COL) key asset is the Yukon-based Carmacks copper project, but it also holds the Thor property in Northern BC, where it plans to explore for copper porphyry-type mineralization. Copper North was spun out from Western Copper and Gold (TSX:WRN,NYSEAMERICAN:WRN) in 2011.
- NorthIsle Copper and Gold (TSXV:NCX) is developing its North Island copper-gold project located on Northern Vancouver Island. According to the company, this area has a long history of resource development and mining.
- OK2 Minerals (TSX:OK) has two properties in Northern BC on or near the province’s Golden Triangle area. Pyramid is a copper-gold project, and Kinskuch is in the early stages of exploration.
- Pacific Booker Minerals (TSXV:BKM) holds the advanced-stage Morrison copper-gold-molybdenum project in Central BC. In July 2015, the BC government ordered that the project undergo further environmental assessment before being developed.
Are you interested in investing in copper mining in Canada? Head to the comments and tell us why and where you’d invest! And if you think we’ve missed a company that should be included in this article, please let us know.
This is an updated version of an article originally published by the Investing News Network in 2010.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Amanda Kay, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
Editorial Disclosure: Carube Copper, Copper Fox Metals, Copper North Mining, 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.