Dynamic Earth Attraction
The city Sudbury, Ontario Canada was for many years the world hotspot for nickel mining. Currently there are two mining companies still operating in Sudbury. Sudbury was founded following the discovery of nickel ore by Tom Flanagan, a Canadian Pacific Railway blacksmith in 1883, when the transcontinental railway was near completion. Nickel mining began in the late 1800’s and continues to this day in the area.
Sitting atop a large hill on the outskirts of town lay a Canadian Icon – The Big Nickel. It is very common for Canadians and people from around the world to visit the large nickel and get photographed in front of it. During the time this article was written a form of photograph coined the “selfie” was popular, and many “selfies” are taken at this location.
Wolfmaan in front of Sudbury Nickel
In the same area as the Sudbury Nickel lay an attraction that is unlike many tourist attractions. For this attraction, you have to go underground.
Beside the Big Nickel is a modern building with high ceilings, free wifi, and a lot of rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. If you are a self-proclaimed rock hound, you’ll be very happy here. There are entire walls which resemble a climbing wall, (but you shouldn’t climb them) filled with rock samples. Some are mined locally, others are mined globally. The rocks are on display so you may touch them, understand them, and get to know them.
Beside the rock wall is a great exhibit with all kinds of huge rocks you can touch, lift, and enjoy. This includes giant quartz crystals, pieces of nickel slag, amethyst crystal, and pretty much every other kind of rock you could imagine. The displays are designed to be tactile and encourage you to hold them, touch them, and get to know what the rocks feel like on a most intimate level. Most of the displays have plaques around them to tell you what everything is.
Wolfmaan near giant quartz crystal
As you move through the exhibit, you can pay the $21.00/pp (summer 2016) admission cost and get to go into the actual mine that lay beneath the above ground museum. The mine underground is not, and was never a functioning mine. It was built specifically as a tourist attraction, to showcase mining through the last two centuries.
A lively, youthful employee will get dressed in coveralls, work boots, and a hard hat and guide you through an interactive exploration of this exhibit. Your trip begins in the “drying room” As a participant you will have the opportunity to “tag in” and enter your name and photograph on a computer. Your guide will talk about the history of mining, and you will then enter a lift (elevator) known as “The Cage”
The cage will take you down 70m into the entry way of the mine after a presentation about mining history in Sudbury. Once at the mine entrance, you are required to wear a hard hat. Shoes are optional, hard hats are not.
Hard Hat with flip-flops
The tour starts by entering the mine which was designed to look like the earliest of mines, back in the late 1800’s. The temperature inside the mine was a steady +15C and had a fairly high humidity level. Water dripped from the ceiling and down the walls. There were small pools of cold water that dotted the mine floor. The guide explains how the mine shafts from the 1800’s were small, held up with wooden timbres, and often quite dangerous to be in. Loss of life was sadly common. Miners were treated poorly, and mines hired young children to work the mines because they were small and fast for getting in and out of tunnels.
After climbing through some very small, dank and dimly lit tunnels, you are led to an area where there are some old mining carts on display, reminiscent of Indiana Jones. The guide explains how that the area was drilled by hand, explosives set and detonated, then miners would collect the rock fragments, and push them around by hand in carts towards the lift (elevator) which would then bring the bits to the surface for processing. It was a gruelling and challenging task.
1800’s Mining Cart
As you move through the mine tunnels, you very quickly forget you are more than 70m underground and completely cut off from the surface. The air is clean and filtered, and the place is very well lit. The guide then will move you to areas of the mine that demonstrate various modern and older mining techniques, including the various tools used to drill bung holes into the rock, and plant explosives. There were various drilling systems invented, many of which are still in use today in mine operations around the world.
At one point, visitors are allowed to put simulated dynamite into a pre-drilled bunghole and then everyone takes cover. The guide will then active a great demonstration where the floor and walls shake, and fill with smoke to show exactly what it was like to be in the mines during a blast. It was both entertaining and educational.
When the tour reaches the “modern” section of mining operations, there are demonstrations of how modern ore carts, drills, and dumping systems are completely automated. The driver sits on the surface and guides the machinery through the mine system like playing a multi-million dollar video game. This is designed to save lives, cut costs, and reduce the number of people who need to be on staff and in the danger zone.
Walking through the tunnel systems, the faint odour of cotton candy fills the area. When the visitors mention this, the guide will take you into the lunch room which doubles as a safe area. She then explains how that during the high stress, sometimes zero-visibility and extremely loud mining environment, the release of smells is the best way to signal dangers. The lunch room / safe area is built differently than other areas of the mine including having an individual super-structure made of shotcrete concrete and a box of clay to mould over the doorway.
Mine Safe Room / Lunch Room
Heading out of the safe room, you are directed to follow the mine tunnels back to the main cage (elevator) that will take you back up to the surface. The guides are very knowledgeable, well trained, and lively. They really make the guided tour an experience. Although hardly a high-adventure, adrenaline pumping experience, the mine tour really gives a good picture of what life is and was like for the people who work underground.
The complete photoset for the Dynamic Earth adventure can be found by [clicking this link.]