Walter Curlook was a man of vision who helped shape the world’s largest nickel producer. Throughout his lengthy career with Inco, he was responsible for fostering new technologies and products, new working environments and a new era of government and public relations. Aptly described as “an industrial Renaissance man of the 20th century,” he achieved distinction in mining, metallurgy, environmental protection, and research and development.
Born in 1929 in Coniston, Ontario, Curlook, at age 15, began part time work at Inco’s metallurgical plants in Sudbury. After graduating from Sudbury High School, he earned an undergraduate degree in science from the University of Toronto, followed by a graduate degree and his Ph.D.
At 25, Curlook joined Inco as a research metallurgist in Copper Cliff. With a keen interest in research and an understanding of the benefits of innovation, he earned rapid advancement. In 1989, he was elected a director of Inco and, in 1990, became President Commissioner of PT International Nickel Indonesia. He remained active even in retirement, as President of Goro Nickel, an Inco joint venture in the South Pacific.
Curlook’s technical achievements reflected his knack for converting theories and good ideas into practical applications. He has been granted 12 process patents and has two more pending. In his first significant project, which he saw through from concept to application, Curlook was director of the pilot plant designed to develop a process to roast pelletized nickel sulphide to a granular oxide sinter of less than 0.5% sulphur. He contributed to the construction of Inco’s fluid bed roasting plant, a breakthrough which improved the feed for Inco’s refineries. This, in turn, led to the spinoff of other related improvements and new applications in the science of fluid bed roasting.
Curlook’s second major area of advancement in metallurgical sciences involved improvements to the carbonyl process. His refinements enhanced a low energy consuming nickel process which turns out no polluting waste an example of the environmental sustainability of 20th century mineral production.
Curlook was a leader in research and development, creating research divisions at Thompson, Manitoba, and in Sudbury. Bulk mining methods such as vertical crater retreat mining, which doubled productivity, were pioneered under his guidance. In 1982, he established Inco’s Copper Cliff North mine as a research mine. Here, great advances were made in automation and the adaptation of computer and laser technology. He helped create Continuous Mining Systems (CMS), which built innovative mining equipment to improve Inco’s productivity. CMS went on to become an independent firm, and in 1997 had more than 250 employees and annual sales of $50 million.
Throughout his career, Curlook pursued with vigor the inseparability of productivity and safety. But what may be his finest achievement was the overall direction he provided for Inco’s sulphur dioxide abatement program at Sudbury. This $600 million program, completed in 1993, has been described as the largest environmental project ever completed by the mining industry.
An industry leader, Curlook was honoured many times by his peers. Named a Member of the Order of Canada in 1996, he came to personify what a modern mining company could and should be.