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Inco: a successful risk.

The north's other big player in the mining field is Inco Ltd. In December 1956, after 10 hard years of looking and the investment of $10 million, Inco finally hit pay dirt on what is now known as the Thompson Nickel Belt.

As he sits in his comfortable office chatting about old times, Lorne Ames, president of Inco's Manitoba Division, recalls the excitement when one of the company's drill crews, with some spare time on their hands, decided to drill one more hole before quitting time.

They hit the jackpot -- the rich Thompson nickel ore body. Their drill cores showed 15 per cent nickel. Strict silence had to be kept until the find was registered with the mines branch in The Pas, Ames recalls.

This was the start of an investment which has grown to more than $1 billion in just over three-and-a-half decades.

Like other mining and resource industries, Inco has had to weather numerous twists and turns of world markets and stiff global competition.

In the early 1980s, when the nickel price dropped to $1.43 a pound (it is now more than $4 a pound), Inco demonstrated its confidence and commitment to northern Manitoba with a $100-million investment to the Thompson open pit.

After a string of record-breaking earnings in the late 1980s, they put $42 million in a second open pit at Thompson.

Now it is engaged in a $297-million expansion program. It includes development of a new mine near Thompson and expansion of an existing one over the next seven years.

"These mines will ensure a good strong source of low-cost product that will see us through well past the year 2000 -- into the 20-year range," Ames said.

Jorma Hannila, the Finnish-born regional manager of Inco Explorations and Technical Services Inc., told Thompson Rotarians recently that there is some of the greatest mining potential "right in your own backyard."

He said that earlier exploration on the Thompson Nickel Belt was based on technology that explored to a depth of 500 or 600 feet. There is now aerial geological equipment that penetrates to the 2,000-foot level.

With this equipment, Hannila said, it's like starting a new phase. "It wouldn't surprise me if a new Thompson does not show up before too long."

With optimism for mining, the pulp and paper business is looking for new vigor. And Repap Manitoba Inc., owners of a revitalized mill complex at The Pas, is looking to the development and management of northern Manitoba's huge forest region to make a valuable contribution to the future of the province.

On May 4, 1989, Repap Enterprises, a Canadian company with headquarters in Montreal, acquired the former Manfor Ltd. operations.

Repap announced a program that included construction of a world-class bleached kraft paper mill at The Pas as well as a tripling of its wood supply requirements.

The Repap development program, the company says, will result in up to 1,000 new jobs in addition to the already existing 670 company employees and another 250 contract jobs associated with the present operations.

Repap states that environmental approval for the full development of its program to proceed must be granted before any developments are initiated.

Currently, the Manitoba and Canadian governments are finalizing a joint federal-provincial review. Hearings are being held to get the public view on guidelines for the review panel.

Currently, the Repap representative said, 220 woodland and sawmill workers have been laid off temporarily because of the soft lumber market. There is also a need to reduce the logging inventories.

Other business initiatives abound such as the satellite data systems being examined by the Northern Manitoba Indian chiefs jointly with Earth Probe System, a technology company based in Richmond, B.C. Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak's natural resources secretary, Michael Anderson, says the new technology creates a unique business opportunity which will place northern Manitoba on the map.

He says the new system will make information available for making resource inventories, environmental assessments and maps. Anderson says the information will be provided to Indian bands making land claims and, as well, to Repap Manitoba Inc., as part of a joint agreement between the bands and the company.

Dale Johnston, general manager of the Normand Regional Development Corporation, says he has recently directed enquiries from the Soviet Union to the MKO about the service. Johnston says this is a healthy trend toward professional and technical training for northern residents. Subjects include computer science, mechanical engineering and forestry technology.

Other northern projects include the final stages of Manitoba Hydro's Limestone electrical generating station and the preparatory moves for the construction of the massive Conawapa project on the lower Nelson River.

For the north, it is a time of significant retooling as the traditional ways of making a living -- trapping and fishing -- while providing considerable prime resource work, are only seasonal. Wild rice harvesting is another narrow but important land-based resource and the gourmet product is popular in European markets. The north is the main product area for the crop.

For more esoteric pursuits, experimental gardening in mines surfaced this year in Flin Flon. Tomatoes, red and yellow roses and Saskatoon bushes, all grown underground in mine shafts. The experimental project between HBMS and Prairie Plant Systems of Saskatoon could lead to development of a technology which can be used in remote mining communities anywhere in the world.

And speaking of anywhere in the world, Northern Tourism gets its share of wanderers. Loretta Clark, president of North of 53, an association of northern tourist promoters, says "world class" is the new attitude toward visitors. When 120 passengers on a cruiseship from Iceland visits the Port of Churchill this summer the sightseers will fly south and their places taken by passengers returning through arctic waters to Iceland.

Mike and Doreen Macri have been in the tour business on the Churchill River since they gambled on a $370,000 custom-built tour boat, Sea North Two. Bookings for 1991 include groups from Italy, Austria and Australia. Rolling up your sleeves in the north still provides opportunities if you're willing to risk.
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Author:Lowery, Bob
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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