The Whitehorse Copper Mining Legacy. Your living in it.

Unbeknownst to many of the newer, rabidly anti mining crowd who have moved to Whitehorse over the past 10 or 15 years is that the Wilderness City is in fact a large Copper Mine. Most people when they come to Whitehorse are blown away by how green it is. When you are driving from one end to the other in this beautiful city most of the houses are hidden from view in small forests of their own. It gives this city on the edge of arguably the last great wilderness in North America the justified name of the Wilderness City.

Whitehorse as many know was named after the now tamed Whitehorse rapids which used to flow through Miles Canyon, which made Whitehorse the head of the navigable Waterways downstream of the town. Soon after Whitehorse was established as a hub of transportation Copper was discovered in quantity in the Hills west of the city. For the next 80 years in one form or another copper/gold mines operated in this district becoming one of the large drivers of the local economy.

So the question is what kind of legacy did all this mining leave the Whitehorse area? The answers are ones that we see and use every day. Whitehorse, as many people who enjoy outdoor sports know, has a network of great trails and roads to explore. These trails meander through the whole Whitehorse area offering untold hours of recreation for skiers, bikers, hikers and weekend explorers of all bents. These trails bring people into contact with nature who might otherwise not venture as far off the beaten path and offer a glimpse into the history of the last 100 years of this area. These trails are a legacy of Mining in the Whitehorse district, they were built to explore new areas and to connect existing mines with each other. The Mt McIntyre ski area possibly being one of the most striking examples of mining trails now being used for recreational purposes.

There are also the colloquially named ‘Rock Quarries’ behind what is now the Wolf Creek subdivision behind the cadet camp. I know I spent many of my younger days swimming and camping at these now flooded mining pits. The place offers great swimming right next to thriving wilderness forests and trails that run all the way to Fish Lake if one has the inclination to travel that far. The camping there is close to town and excellent. And is a great place to relax and while away those long hot summer days.

What about benefits of mining that are still providing a functional aspect to the City today one might ask? Well Look no further than the Whitehorse landfill. The Whitehorse landfill is an old mining operation, no two ways about it. At one time the ore was taken out of the pits processed and shipped to Skagway. If one thinks about it for a minute you have to come to the conclusion that if these pits weren’t here, now being filled back in, then new sections of forest would have to be removed to accommodate a landfill. In an example of reusing a resource ahead of it’s time. The Whitehorse landfill is a prime example of forward thinking and turning what might have been a liability into an asset.

Furthermore the Whitehorse copper belt offers economic and low impact mining potential into the future. Forward thinking companies such as Eagle industrial Metals corp. have plans to rework the old tailing piles at the Whitehorse copper mine to extract the magnetite which was not originally a consideration. On top of that Eagle Industrial has tried to cut a deal with the Whitepass Yukon Railroad to haul the metal to Skagway, which could have meant a train steaming into Whitehorse again. I know this was always a childhood dream of mine.

It is true not all of the legacy of the Whitehorse Copper Belt is rainbows and Lollipops. There is the old tailing pile up on the Mount Sima road where a large square area the size of a football stadium sits barren with not much growing on it and a solid ‘ River of tailings’ which sort of looks like it flows out of it. This has been some of the negative cost of mining in the area. I am no expert on mine remediation so I have no idea how long it will take for nature to regrow where it once stood, but I do know that this ‘main tailing area’ is no larger than what is now the Wall Mart/ Canadian Tire commercial district built over an existing wetland. Also it is much smaller than the new ‘Whistle Bend’ subdivision where every tree was bulldozed over in the name of progress. But somehow these manifestations of the future are ‘inevitable’ and even to some people ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’, whereas mining in any form is anathema. To my way of thinking this is the height of hypocrisy, as ideas become judged not upon their own merits but upon an inflexible political dogma and a complete disregard for the opinions of a significant segment of the Yukon.

By: Micah Hoeschele

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