Touring the Copper Belt

Funny how a person can live in a place for years and not see what is right in front of his or her nose.

Tonight I tagged along on a local tour organized by the Yukon Chamber of Mines and the Yukon Geological Survey. Its focus was the Copper Belt…an area that runs from the north end of Whitehorse to some 30 kilometres to the south. At one time there were as many as 20 small mining operations in this region, and you can still see remnants of some of them today.

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First, a science lesson. Limestone was deposited in the Whitehorse area more than 200 million years ago. Then, 90 million years later, magma from the mantle inside the earth started bubbling up. It mixed with the limestone to make granite. Hot fluid seeped from the granite as it was forming. This liquid was full of dissolved metals. The metals reacted with the limestone and voila…copper (and some other metals too).

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See how the veins swirled as they were cooling? Beautiful art!

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One of these things is not like the others…the round grey and white stone in the centre of this photo is a glacial erratic, carried here by a surging or receding glacier.

Remember “Sam McGee from Tennessee”, made famous in Robert Service’s poem? Actually, Sam McGee was from Armprior, Ontario. He was on his way to the Dawson Goldfields in 1899. He did some poking about while on a stopover in the Whitehorse area and ended up staking a claim at what was to become the War Eagle Copper Mine (now the city dump). If you know where to look (and now I do) you can find the remains of his operation.

McGee wasn’t the first to discover copper in these parts. That honour goes to Jack McIntyre, who staked the Copper King claim in 1898. Think about that the next time you are having a brew at the Copper King Tavern, or are skiing any of the Mount McIntyre ski trails.

Thank you to the Chamber of Mines and the Yukon Geological Survey for a great evening!

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