Mining on the Continental Divide

7 Jun

Passing through the Rockies, I thought of the waterways we followed on our way: the Fraser, the Similkameen, the Kettle, the Kootenay, Boundary Creek, the Moyie, the Kootenay again… Highways often follow rivers, probably because the water has sought out the path of least resistance. Now, we’ve reached the mountain range where all these rivers begin.

Our last night in BC was in Fernie: outdoor activity hub and mining town. We couchsurfed with Lia, who is from Toronto and is doing an internship at Teck, a mining company. This is no coincidence: Fernie is in Coal Valley after all.

Moving towards sustainability for a mining operation is a vast topic. Lia mentioned that mining companies are talking about sustainable business practices more and more. Yes, there are many concerns with mining; but people want the materials it provides. So in reality, a large part of the issue is the increasing consumer demand.

As a chemical engineer, Lia is well informed about the health risks from various substances used in mining processes. Exposure to these substances on the job is something she’d like to avoid as much as possible. Diamond mining, she said, has a much cleaner process than coal mining; she says she’d prefer to work in a diamond mine in the long term.

A co-worker pointed out to her that diamond mining leads to human rights issues — “blood diamonds.” Lia argues that since carcinogens are used in coal production, downstream it also costs lives. For example, the coal is sold to factories in China that spew the pollution from burning the coal into a city’s air and water without any filter system, increasing risk of cancer for the citizens.

But Fernie is not just a mining town!

Hosmer Tavern

Ah, Fernie culture.

Lia, accustomed to city life, has sought out refined things like Fernie’s fancy cheese store and the best looseleaf tea in town. She also told us about Fernie Arts Co-op. The members are local artists, pooling resources to rent retail space and taking turns volunteering to work in the shop. We went to see the art and found some really amazing stuff. I don’t mean to diss culture in Vancouver, but the VAG should take a hint.

Sparwood – the last town before the BC-Alberta border, Lia said, had nothing to offer. However, we found this:

It’s the world’s biggest truck! If you stand six grizzly bears on each other’s shoulders they will equal its height! Come one, come all to Sparwood, to experience the mining magic.

3 Responses to “Mining on the Continental Divide”

  1. Olga June 7, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    Cool truck, want to touch it. Someday I’ll make it as far as Fernie 🙂 I wish I could track your progress on the map you have at the top of the page 🙂

    • Maria June 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

      Sorry, I guess our website is confusing! Our progress is here, you can get there by selecting “The Route” and then “Where Are We” in the top menu.

  2. streamrambler June 13, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    Very true that much of the sustainability challenge is consumer demand; in fact, maybe most of it. The things we use every-day use a tremendous amount of resources; the computer I’m writing on, cellular phones, our cars, even our bikes are incredibly resource intensive. My possession of a personal computer and a cell phone has kind of lapsed as I try to function just by using public libraries, public transit, and pay phones on the street to limit my resource use and ecological footprint, but it does make for a limiting lifestyle…we can only do what we can do and for everyone that’s different. In your case though, apparently that’s a heck of a lot!

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