Richard Valentine Porritt was the man who set the pace and style that marked a “Noranda man” – tough and fast-moving. In the early spring of 1926, four years after the company was formed, he walked into the Rouyn, Que., camp from Cheminis, Que., to work as a surveyor at the Home mine. During his 48 years with Noranda, he brought the Waite-Amulet mine near Rouyn into production in 1927 and was general manager of Noranda subsidiary Gaspe Copper Mines during the development and startup in 1955 of the Gaspe copper mine in eastern Quebec. He became president of Noranda in 1964 and vice-chairman in 1968 before retiring in 1974.
Porritt was born in Barrie, Ont., on February 14, 1901. He attended the Royal Military College and McGill University where he obtained a B.Sc. in mining in 1922. After graduation, he worked as a miner at British America Nickel and then at International Nickel Company’s Creighton mine in Sudbury, Ont.
It was his role in building Gaspe Copper that particularly stands out in his career. The Gaspe peninsula was a remote area when development began. The project involved road construction, installation of a submarine cable across the St. Lawrence River (at 31 miles, the longest of its kind at the time) to deliver hydroelectric power to the mine and the rest of the peninsula, harbor improvements on the coast, construction of mine, smelter and other surface plant and the planning and construction of the entire town of Murdochville. It was a project that epitomized the enthusiasm and confidence of Canada’s mining industry in the aftermath of the Second World War.
In 1940, some 35 million tons of ore had already been outlined at the Gaspe site, but further work was delayed until men and supplies became available at the end of the Second World War. By 1949, the magnitude of developing the project was clear; the difficulties to be overcome were discovered later.
Typical of the difficulties was a two-month period in early 1952. Following the hardest winter on record in the area, as weather was improving sufficiently to allow equipment to arrive by the existing road, a cargo ship rammed the Gaspe harbor lift bridge and closed the main access route to the mine. Vehicle traffic had to follow a lengthy detour over an old covered bridge which was so weak that heavy equipment had to be forded across the river. On June 1, a forest fire between the town site and the surface plant threatened the crews’ camps but eventually subsided.
Despite the obstacles, the mine was ready for operation ahead of schedule except for a delay in laying the submarine cable to deliver power. Production began in late 1955.
Although Porritt had only been appointed general manager of Gaspe Copper, a Noranda subsidiary, in September, 1952, he had in fact taken on those duties much earlier due to the long and ultimately fatal illness of his predecessor.
Porritt was appointed president of Noranda in 1964 and vice-chairman in 1968. Eleven years after retirement, he died in 1985.