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MEI Online: General Minerals Engineering: Latest News: December 17th 2004


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:: Mining and Metallurgical Heritage

Dr. Fathi Habashi, professor emeritus at the Department of Mining, Metallurgical, and Materials Engineering of the Faculty of Sciences and Engineering at Laval University in Quebec City has created recently a research unit entitled “Mining and Metallurgical Heritage” whose purpose is to collect and disseminate information about the history of mining and metallurgy and to emphasize the importance of heritage awareness.

Canada is a major producer of minerals and metals, ranking first in the world in uranium concentrate production, second in niobium, tantalum, and asbestos, and third in elemental sulfur. In refined metal production, Canada ranks first for zinc, second for nickel, third for aluminum, gold, and platinum, fourth for copper and magnesium, fifth for silver, and sixth for lead. The value of annual mineral production in Canada today is more than $40 billion.

Fathi Habashi
Fathi Habashi

The first exploitation of Canadian mineral wealth dates back to the creation of the Forges Saint-Maurice, located at Trois-Rivières, which is half way between Quebec City and Montreal, during the regime of Nouvelle France, over 250 years ago. The location of the Forges is well documented and has been restored as a national heritage park of great historical and educational value. It was recognized by ASM International and the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy, and Petroleum (abbreviated CIM) as a Canadian Industrial Heritage Landmark. With the exception of this monument, there is no organization in Canada that attempts to collect, organize, and diffuse information about Canadian heritage in the mining and metallurgical industries. The Metallurgical Society of the CIM has created in 1978 a Historical Metallurgy Committee to publish regularly papers devoted to the history of metallurgy. It is felt that it is imperative to pursue and support this initiative and keep it going for the benefit of future generations. Dr. Habashi has been acting as chairman of this Committee since 1990.

Université Laval has a long history as a teaching and a research institution. It is located in the historic City of Quebec where the Musée de la civilisation hosts one of the world’s most important historic libraries, the Seminary Collection. The Department of Mining, Metallurgical, and Materials Engineering has a long-dated relations with this Library. Dr. Habashi has been a member of the Evaluation Committee of the Library that was in session during 1993. He also prepared and published an inventory of its holdings in mining, metallurgy, and related disciplines in 1975. He has been involved for many years writing and editing works about the history of mining and metallurgy and has developed a reasonable international network of collaborators. Moreover, he had hosted the exhibition « Forges Saint Maurice» at Laval in 1995 and at the Conference of Metallurgists held in the same year in Toronto.

Presently, most of the Canadian mining and metallurgy heritage is found in various and isolated areas. For example, the Mineral Museum in Thetford-Mines created an exhibition on the History of Magnesium because of the installation of the magnesium industry in the region is based on the local asbestos tailings. Dr.Habashi acted as a volunteer consultant to the Museum. The Canadian Science and Technology Historical Association holds meetings every two years in Kingston, Ontario; but the activity related to the history of mining and metallurgy is negligible. Dr. Habashi organized a Round Table at the 1997 Conference to discuss the preservation of the Canadian heritage on mining and metallurgy. The views expressed by the panellists and the participants were positive, but tend toward a general conclusion that no funds are available to enforce anything in this direction.

A conference entitled Cultural Heritage in Geology, Mining, and Metallurgy was initiated in Freiberg, Germany in 1993 to bring together librarians, historians, and educators in the mineral sector; the second conference was held in Leoben, Austria in 1995, the third in Saint Petersburg in 1997, the fourth in Banska Štiavnice, Slovakia in 1999, the fifth in Golden, Colorado in 2000, the sixth in Idria, Slovenia in 2002, and the seventh in Leiden in the Netherlands. The Eighth is planned in Schwaz, Tyrol in 2005. It is planned to hold this symposium at Laval in 2007. However, these are by individual efforts and there is no specific organization behind these conferences to coordinate such activity.

The new Research Unit has undertaken the following responsibilities:

  • To collect, classify, safeguard, and make known documents pertaining to the Canadian history of mining and metallurgy, this including old books, magazines, journal articles, personal correspondence, photographs, etc., that may help trace the history of a process, a person or an establishment related to mining and metallurgy, nationally or internationally; most of these documents are expected to be donations that should be saved from loss or destruction, that could be useful for future generations.
  • To study and evaluate historical documents which should result in publication of articles or display of exhibits useful as a background information for the practicing mining and metallurgical engineers and for the young generation to encourage them for selecting these professions as careers.
  • To encourage young engineers to study the history of mining and metallurgy and contribute to the advancement of these professions by holding seminars and publishing historical material of interest.
  • To prepare a permanent exhibit on the Canadian history of mining and metallurgy, that will have an important pedagogical value. The exhibit "From Ore to Metal" that was hosted by the Musée de la Civilisation in Quebec City in May 2001, was touring Canada since January 2002. It is hoped to have it at Université Laval as a permanent exhibit.
  • To display historical posters and photographs.
  • To hold workshops for students and secondary school teachers to discuss the history of the Canadian mineral industry and its importance to society.
  • To create audio-visual material that can be used to educate the public.
  • To host mining and metallurgical exhibitions of historical interest.
  • To act as a center for attracting research workers dealing with the history of mining and metallurgy.
  • To host the Ninth International Symposium on Cultural Heritage in Mining and Metallurgy in 2007.
  • To create a Biographical Dictionary for Mining and Metallurgy in which the contribution of Canadians involved in this industry will be preserved, and be up-dated in the future by publishing supplements.

The research unit is therefore soliciting donations and financial support from industry, government, and individuals in addition to the moral support. Financial support should be sent to:

Patrimoine des Mines et de la Métallurgie
Faculté des sciences et de génie
Université Laval
Quebec City, Canada G1K 7P4




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