Although he never discovered a mineral deposit, owned a mine or worked in one, Benjamin Bell was, for almost two decades, the Canadian mining industry’s most prominent spokesman. He played a pivotal role in the organization of provincial mining associations and in bringing about their federation and subsequent amalgamation into the Canadian Mining Institute, which later became the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM). He is appropriately described as the founding father of the CIM.
As editor of The Canadian Mining Review, Bell produced an authoritative journal for this country’s mining and metallurgical professionals; it became the official voice of provincial mining associations, as well as of their successor, the Canadian Mining Institute.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Bell emigrated to Canada in 1882 and, four years later, became editor of The Canadian Mining Review. He had no formal training or experience in mining, but quickly learned about the industry and transformed The Review into a respected mining journal. Through his spirited editorials, Bell spoke out against dishonesty in the promotion of mining properties, as well as other unsavoury practices which could damage the reputation of Canada’s fledging mining industry.
In 1889, Bell was made an honorary member of the newly established Gold Miners Association in Nova Scotia, and his publication became its official organ. He also proposed the formation of a provincial mining association in Quebec when that province introduced legislation calling for a 3% tax on mineral production. One of the Quebec association’s first acts was to protest the legislation, which was repealed in 1892, largely as a result of Bell’s efforts. This and other lobbying activities in which Bell participated foreshadowed some of the functions of today’s mining associations.
Bell also made the voice of Ontario’s mining community heard when he questioned the legitimacy of the province’s first mining association upon learning that its members were chiefly speculators. His admonition led to the creation, in 1894, of the Ontario Mining Institute, the original incarnation of which was composed of a stellar board of mining men. Later that year, a proposal was put forward that the Institute join forces with other associations. After some initial delays, the first meeting of the Federated Canadian Mining Institute was held in early 1896.
In early 1898, Bell proposed that the time had come to replace the federation of provincial associations with a truly national organization. The formation of such a national mining coalition had probably been his vision from the beginning. The member associations soon voted to dissolve the provincial federation and founded the Canadian Mining Institute, now know as CIM.
Under Bell’s guidance, the CIM grew alongside the industry and professionals which it served. The Institute promoted the exchange of technical information and ideas, a mandate that continues to be the hallmark of the CIM, and lobbied governments on various issues of concern to the industry. Today, as then, the CIM is a national treasure.