Alfred Miller discovered copper mineralization near the headwaters of the York River in Quebec’s eastern Gaspé Peninsula in 1909, triggering a chain of events that brought Noranda Mines to the region to construct a major mining and metallurgical complex known as Gaspé Copper Mines in the 1950s. More than 150 million tons averaging 1% copper were subsequently mined and processed, bringing 50 years of unprecedented prosperity and thousands of needed jobs to the Gaspé Peninsula.
Miller’s first discovery was made as he and some of his brothers toiled inland in the Gaspé to locate stands of timber that could be used for railroad ties. Always the prospector, he spotted copper-stained rocks on the bed of the York River, and understood their significance, but there was no time then to pursue their source, or to imagine that the discovery might one day transform the economy of the region.
Vision, persistence and patience are the hallmarks of great prospectors, and Alfred Miller did not lack any of these qualities. Some time later he and his brothers returned to the site of the discovery. They prospected along the York River to its headwaters, but found no further copper-bearing boulders. Undaunted, Miller continued the search, a grueling task by all accounts. The area of interest, situated 100 kilometres from the town of Gaspé, was heavily wooded, mountainous, and accessible only in summer by river.
It was 1921 when Miller and his brothers found mineral-bearing rock boulders near the foot of a mountain (later named Copper Mountain) that had been partially stripped by ice and erosion. Prospecting revealed bedrock-hosted copper mineralization, prompting them to stake some claims. Trenching revealed more mineralization and more claims were staked. Unfortunately, investors showed little or no interest in funding exploration of the remote properties. The years passed, with the prospectors continuing to work the claims to keep them in good standing.
A favorable report by a Quebec government geologist caught the attention of Oliver Hall, a mining engineer with Noranda Mines, and geologist Archibald Bell, who sampled the claims in 1937. Bell recommended the project to James Murdoch, the first president of Noranda, who supported the recommendation to option the project. Subsequent exploration revealed a new discovery on adjacent Needle Mountain, with grades of up to 2% copper that turned the prospect into a potential mine. After a wartime hiatus, Gaspé Copper Mines was formed in 1947 to develop a mine, mill and smelter complex, commissioned in 1955. Operations were expanded in 1968 to include large, lower grade reserves at Copper Mountain. Alfred Miller was 75 years old when the mine was first placed into production. He was fortunate to live another 28 years to see it become one of the Canada’s most important mining operations.