The list of mines in which Mervyn Arthur Upham played a significant role developing is considerable – 22 in Canada alone, several more internationally. A few projects stand out for their ground-breaking nature: the first uranium mine at Elliot Lake, Ont.; the first mine to extract Saskatchewan’s long-known potash deposits; the first major gold mine in Nevada’s Carlin area; and the Granduc mine in British Columbia where a 11.6-mile tunnel was driven to reach the deposit, the longest single-heading tunnel in the world at the time.
Upham was born at Bayhead, N.S., in 1917 and graduated from Mount Allison University with a B.Sc. in 1939. He immediately enlisted and, in 1942, went overseas where he was seconded to the British Sixth Armoured Division. He saw action in north Africa and in northern Europe. For his distinguished service, he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire and a Member of the Dutch Order of Orange-Nassau.
Upon returning to Canada, he took up a career in mining, working as a miner, shift boss, engineer, mine captain and chief industrial engineer at the McIntyre gold mine, as underground superintendent at the Renabie gold mine and as mine superintendent during development of the underground mine at Steep Rock Iron Mines, all in Ontario.
In 1955, he joined Rio Algom Mines and was appointed mine manager to develop the Algom-Quirke mine, the first of the Elliot Lake uranium producers.
From 1960 to 1964, as vice-president and general manager for International Minerals & Chemical, he solved the puzzle of extracting Saskatchewan’s huge potash deposits. To get to the potash deposits, a shaft had to be sunk through the Blairmore formation of rocks. The Blairmores are saturated with water under great pressure and had defeated all earlier attempts to sink mine shafts. Upham succeeded by freezing the ground while sinking the shaft and installing cast iron lining to prevent water inflow after the shaft was completed.
As vice-president,of mining operations for Newmont Mining from 1964 to 1969, he participated in the startup of the Carlin gold mine in Nevada and development of the Granduc mine in northern British Columbia. He took over as president at Granduc after 26 men were killed in an avalanche attempting to develop the mine in the rugged terrain. Upham directed construction of an 11.6-mile tunnel under three mountains and three glaciers to reach the orebody – at the time the longest tunnel ever driven from a single entry.
He served in senior management positions with a number of Canadian and British companies. From 1979 to 1985 he was chairman of Kilbom Engineering, a Canadian consulting firm that undertakes mine design and construction around the world, and from 1986 to 1989 was chairman of Discovery West Corp. and currently acts as a consultant. He is a past president and an honorary life director of the Mining Association of Canada.