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Changing spatial patterns in the lode-metal mining industry of British Columbia: 1887-1945. Nicol, Douglas James

Abstract

The economic geographic evolution of the lode-mining industry of British Columbia between the middle of the nineteenth century and the end of World War II is examined, with the particular aim of explaining changes in the spatial pattern of producing mines. An analysis of spatial change is carried out within a framework of six time periods delimited by rapid shifts in the level of metal production or by major changes in ownership patterns. For each period, the economic performance of the industry and the distribution of producing mines are described, and the factors which account for economic and geographic changes are explored. The British Columbia lode-mining industry between 1887 and 1945 greatly increased its output and the number of metals produced, and expanded geographically within the province. The performance of the industry was critically affected by the availability and strength of external markets, and by the availability of transport linkages between those markets and the province itself. At no time was local demand sufficiently high to warrant the large-scale development which occurred. Furthermore, despite the scale of response to external demands, the lode-metal resources of the province seem never to have been sufficiently attractive to stimulate major transport construction by themselves, so that large-scale mining occurred mainly near tidewater or existing railways. This handicap is reflected in the relatively limited geographical expansion which took place between 1887 and 1945. Accentuating the problem of distance from markets was the fact that the industry became increasingly dependent on lower grade deposits, which required sizeable applications of capital and advances in technology for successful exploitation. These conditions led to an early domination of the industry by major mining corporations, whose financial strength and technical expertise were crucial in the subsequent course of development. Examination of their influence leads to the major concluding thesis of this study, namely that further empirical study of mining geography and any restatement of location theory for mining activities should take the corporate organization of the industry as a starting point. The evolution of the lode-mining industry is compared to that of other export-oriented resource industries in the province, and is shown to conform to the major periods which have been identified in other studies as characterizing the evolution of the provincial economy as a whole. Finally, some suggestions for further research are made, the most important being a closer examination of the role played by major mining corporations in the development of the industry.

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