Mining on Canada’s northern frontier poses a particular set of challenges and few mining men had more successful experience with them than Eldon Leslie Brown. The operations he managed during his career – Sherritt, God’s Lake, Sachigo River, Lynn Lake – all had their Beginnings in remote, northern areas supplied and developed by tractor trains on winter roads and the bush pilots who appeared after World War I. The Sherritt operation arranged the first-ever airlift of a drilling outfit to the property in 1927.
Important advances in metallurgy, far-north town building and innovative exploration techniques are also indelibly on the record of Brown achievements.
Eldon Brown was born in Toronto in 1900 and earned a degree in mining engineering from the University of Toronto in 1922. The following year, he joined the Victoria Syndicate, an exploration subsidiary of the Mond Nickel Company. Assigned to Manitoba in 1926, he was instrumental in acquiring for the syndicate an option on the Sherritt copper-zinc prospect. When Sherritt Gordon Mines Limited was formed in July 1927, Eldon Brown became the first employee and general superintendent.
Here, 100 miles from the nearest railway, he received his first experience in frontier mining development. He directed this development from 1927 to 1931. A 1,500 tpd production plant was built, notable for its low operating costs, and a community of 1,500 people established. In 1929, the depression struck, metal prices fell and in June 1932 the operation was closed.
There was glitter in gold at this period and Eldon Brown quickly became involved in equipping to production God’s Lake Gold Mines Limited. Prospecting, initiated by Brown, discovered gold at Sachigo River, 125 miles east of God’s Lake in 1935, and under his direction this small, short-lived mine became the highest grade operation in Canada. In the period during and after World War II, he directed to production Madsen Red Lake Gold Mines.
Brown returned as manager of the Sherritt Gordon Mine when healthier metal prices allowed it to be reopened in 1937, but by 1951 the orebody was exhausted. Meanwhile, in 1945 he became president and managing director of Sherritt. His exploration initiatives located a nickel/copper deposit at Lynn Lake, 120 miles north of Sherridon, a 2,000 tpd concentrator was built and a community of 1,000 people established – again without the benefit of established roads or railway.
As soon as drill cores were available from Lynn Lake he launched a research program to determine the best metallurgical treatment of the ore. With the help of Dr. Frank Forward of UBC, the research team developed the “Sherritt Ammonia Leach Process” that was first used in the refinery opened in 1954 at Fort Saskatchewan in Alberta. This refinery ultimately reached 50 million lb/year of nickel capacity.
The nickel refining process developed by Brown’s team permitted direct treatment of flotation concentrates for the production of pure nickel, omitting the conventional steps of roasting and smelting. This produced an environmentally clean process without the emission of sulphur dioxide to the atmosphere.
Eldon Brown was president of The Canadian Metal Mining Association 1950-51, received the Alumni Medal of the Engineering Alumni of the University of Toronto in 1954, the Selwyn G. Blaylock Medal of CIM in 1968 and was elected to the Alumni Hall of Distinction of the University of Toronto in 1980. He lived in Brechin (Ontario) on North America’s largest Aberdeen Angus operation, until his death in 1998.