2003 Yellowknife Gold Mining: The End of an Era

The name Yellowknife (see map) is synonymous with gold. This Northwest Territories’ community – near the head of Yellowknife Bay on the north shore of Great Slave Lake was founded on gold. For sixty-five years it was the centre of one of Canada’s major gold producing regions. This came to an end in 2003 when the last of the Yellowknife Bay gold mines closed.

Gold was discovered on the east side of Yellowknife Bay in September 1934. During the mid and late 1930s prospectors swarmed the west shore of Yellowknife Bay staking claims in three principle areas.

Development of one of these claim areas began with construction of Con Mine in July 1937. The mine went into production in 1938 pouring its first gold brick on September 5,of that year. Also in 1938, just a mile to the south, Negus Mine was sinking its main shaft while building a 50-ton capacity mill. Negus began operating in February 1939 and poured its first brick by the end of that month.

With the labour shortage created by the Second World War, and gold not considered a strategic metal, both Con and Negus shut down operations for several years during the height of the war but by 1945 were back in operation.

The complicated geology of the third claim area, in the northwest corner of Yellowknife Bay, slowed the pace of development there. These were the Giant Yellowknife Mines Limited claims and in 1944 and 45 extensive diamond drilling revealed a huge gold deposit along the shear zone under Baker Creek. This was the largest tonnage of gold ore known in the Northwest Territories and by September 1945 a mine was under construction. Giant Mine poured its first brick June 3, 1948.

With three operating mines on Yellowknife Bay during the late 1940s and early 1950s the future looked bright. The town of Yellowknife was growing, gold was found in the outlying regions, claims were staked and further mines were either planned or already under construction.

In 1952 Con Mine expanded, buying the underground operations of its neighbour Negus Mine while Giant Mine expanded operations acquiring claims along their north border. Over the next five decades Con Mine, on the south edge of the City of Yellowknife and Giant Mine, on the north side, were the economic mainstay of the region. They weathered fluctuating gold prices and labour disputes to become two of Canada’s longest operating gold mines.

In 1999, Royal Oak Mines, the most recent owner of Giant Mine, went bankrupt. The mine then became the property of the Government of Canada’s Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development who struck a deal with Con Mine for them to continue mining underground at Giant and processing the ore at Con. This only lasted a few years and active mining operations at Con ended in September 2003.

Environmental cleanup, expected to take years, is underway at both mine sites while the NWT Mining Heritage Society is working to protect, preserve and restore some of Giant Mine’s buildings and mining equipment as a reminder of the north’s rich gold mining legacy.