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Murray Edmund Watts, a combination of adventurous prospector and mining engineer, is probably best known for his work in the Arctic, where he made a number of major ore discoveries, revealing much about that vast land inside Canada’s Arctic Circle.
And, as a very practical engineer and operator, he built a long and enviable record in the development and operation of hard rock mines.
Born in the famed silver town of Cobalt, Ontario, Watts is credited with the discovery of the huge Raglan nickel deposits on the Cape Smith belt in the northern Ungava region of Quebec; with the location of the Asbestos Hill asbestos deposits, also in the Ungava region and once operated by the Asbestos Corporation; the discovery of the Mary River iron deposits in the northerly half of Baffin Island; as having early recognized the value of the Vestgron zinc-lead deposits in Greenland; as the finder of the “47”-zone copper deposit in the Coppermine River area of the Northwest Territories; and recognition of the value of the fluorite-tin-tungsten, deposits at Lost River in Alaska.
The discoveries of the nickel and asbestos deposits in Ungava were made by Watts in the 1950s, but he had earlier, in 1931 at the age of just 22, made an incredible 1,200-mile canoe journey into the Ungava region from Moose Factory, at the southern end of James Bay.
The programs that led to Watts’ discoveries, and to their subsequent evaluation, frequently involved some radical innovations in logistics.
He was responsible in his career for the construction of more than a dozen airstrips within the Arctic Circle, and was one of the first to recognize the low costs of sea shipments and the use of large aircraft to provide relatively inexpensive unit-cost structures in far-northern mineral exploration.
In a bold and innovative development for the time, for example, he used the huge four-engined Hercules aircraft to support his Coppermine exploration project.
In addition to his notable achievements in exploration and discovery, Watts was also a highly-experienced and successful mine operator at various times in his career.
He had for instance, been mine superintendent for Canadian Malartic Gold Mines, chief engineer and eastern manager for contractor Patrick Harrison and, from 1948-56, was general manager for Little Long Lac Gold Mines and its associated companies.
But it was the Arctic and Arctic exploration that were his realms. For he had a real love for that country which he tackled with typical zest and determination.
For all that he discovered and all that he achieved, he was, among other things, awarded the Order of Canada, and the Massey Medal of the Canadian Geographical Society.