It is largely due to the direction of John Simpson that Placer Development, a predecessor company of Placer Dome Inc., developed a global perspective that characterizes a growing number of Canadian mining companies.
Under Simpson’s direction and foresight, Placer became pre-eminent in high-tonnage, open pit mining operations in British Columbia and overseas and in the production of a variety of minerals. The success of the company’s Canadian operations acted as a springboard for Placer’s growth in the 1980s.
Mines developed under Simpson’s direction include Craigmont, Endako, Cortez, Marcopper, Gibraltar and McDermitt. The development of these and others also incorporated many important technical advances which continue in use today.
For example: the first trackless underground mining operation in Canada was conducted at the Salmo mine in British Columbia; Craigmont was the first large, integrated open pit mining operation in western Canada, a predecessor of today’s open pit mining operations in British Columbia; the first sub-level caving in Canada was introduced at Craigmont; Cortez, in Nevada, pioneered the use of the heap leach process for the recovery of gold; Marcopper in the Philippines presented a host of engineering challenges when, in 1969, it was constructed along with related infrastructure on an isolated island in the Philippines; Gibraltar was one of the early operations in British Columbia to exploit the potential profitability of large, low-grade porphyry copper deposits.
Simpson was born in 1901 in Tasmania and raised in a mining camp called Beaconsfield Gold Mine where his father was chief engineer. He was educated at Hobart Technical College in general engineering on a scholarship provided by Australian Electrolytic Zinc, the company he joined for 18 months in England following graduation.
He spent the next several years in South America during which he married an expatriate American nurse and made a trip down the Amazon, an adventure he chronicled in an 80,000-word diary.
He then moved to Canada where he worked for McIntyre Mines at Timmins initially as a miner and later as shift boss. In 1939, he joined the Placer Group on assignment to Pato Consolidated Gold Dredging in Colombia as assistant general manager. After 16 months at Pato, he was assigned to Bulolo Gold Dredging in New Guinea as assistant general manager. During the Second World War, he served in the New Guinea militia with orders from Australia to ensure the dredges did not fall into enemy hands. Following the war, as general manager, he was involved in the rehabilitation of the extensively damaged Bulolo operations.
Later, based in San Francisco, Simpson was able to establish lucrative tungsten sales contracts with the United States government before and during the Korean War. That gave Placer the financial strength and exposure to expand into larger projects such as Craigmont.
In 1957, he was transferred to Placer’s head office in Vancouver as president and was elected chairman in 1964, a position he held until his retirement in 1975.
Simpson died in 1988.