The Dryden Observer

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Editorial: Legend has it…

By Jon Thompson

The legend goes, Lorne and Ray Howey were surveying the damage of an overnight storm in their Red Lake camp when they stumbled upon a quartz vein under an upturned tree that launched Canada’s last gold rush.

Prospector Henry Preston is said to have lost his footing on a rock and uncovered the tip of 16 million ounces of gold in what is still the Dome Mine in Timmins.

In Cobalt, they tell the tale of railway blacksmith, Albert Larose throwing his hammer at a fox and skinning the surface of some 460 million ounces of silver.

The fruits of all of these Northern Ontario stories dwarf the iconic Klondike gold rush but there’s no point in getting nostalgic over the extinction of romantic legends of the frontier. Nothing happens by accident anymore.

This century’s mineral rush in Northern Ontario will be a technological leviathan that would confound the wildest risk-takers and the clumsiest explorers whose survival instincts and luck are responsible for colonizing this part of the world.

Frontier College’s teachers sweated alongside miners by day and taught literacy by night to those whose families had no history of formal education.

It wasn’t until the boom had nearly peaked in the mid-1960s that Lakehead University and Confederation College were built in Thunder Bay.

Nobody calls Toronto the “Mining Capital of the World” because there are lots of mines in Toronto. Much of the North’s mineral wealth built the legendary Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and paved the economy of higher learning and its technology.

Now it’s coming full-circle in a cresting wave of development and Northern Ontario’s school bells are ringing.

While some jobs still only require high school, the sun has set on the legend of dropping out, buying a big truck, marrying your high school sweetheart and fishing on Saturdays, happily ever after.

In circles of people who recommend that others go into the trades, this is known as “Jobs Without People, People Without Jobs,” the title of a report by consultant Rick Miner highlighting that despite having a 14 per cent youth unemployment rate, Canada can’t find skilled people to fill 500,000 jobs.

“In short, we have to change attitudes and expectations,” he says. “We have to get more people to see further education not as an expense but as a necessity.”

This necessity comes with a tuition that has increased 200 per cent since 1990 and aspires to a standard of living slightly less than that of an older generation who performed most equivalent jobs without it – and without the technology that now makes further education a necessity.

This call isn’t out of reach but we have to appreciate how historic of a cultural shift this is asking of our people. At our most privileged, we’re the product of less than two generations of regional higher learning. At our most challenged, we’re the product of the residential school legacy and alienated from education that isn’t even available in our communities beyond Grade 8.

On the other hand, when the forestry collapse fell across the Boreal like dominoes, towns lacking diversified economies nearly disappeared. When we own the kitchens in the camps and the heavy equipment repair companies instead of working in them, can that reverberate into local economies that wouldn’t make our very survival on this land addicted to the boom and bust of resource extraction?

Of the education partnerships blossoming faster than you can pick them, one in particular caught my eye. In 2012, York University launched the world’s first MBA course specializing in mining. The Mining Capital of the World’s educational capital still means its role is managing our role.

Some legends live on.

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