Copper Mining in Canada: Everything You Need to Know

copper mining canada facts infographics

Did you know that Canada is a global leader in copper production?! Copper is a soft, malleable and corrosion-resistant metal with the ability to conduct heat and electricity. Because of its conductive properties, the metal is a critical component in countless day-to-day products such as electronics, homes, vehicles, and much more!

Although it may not be as sparkly as gold, copper shines brightly within the Canadian economy. In 2020, copper mining in Canada produced exports valued at $7.3 billion. Additionally, Canada was the 11th largest producer of copper globally, having produced 475,898 tonnes that same year.

With a growing demand for technologies of all sorts, copper mining in Canada and around the world must increase 275 to 350 per cent by 2050. Electric and conventional cars, wind turbines, solar panels and power generation all utilize copper in one way or another!

Canada's world-leading performance on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) indices means that there couldn't be a better jurisdiction to help meet the rising global demand for copper and ensure a responsible and secure supply chain for future generations.

Join us as we explore several facts on Canadian copper mining to do with its history, applications, and other vital information on this critical metal! Also see:

11 Canadian Copper Mining Facts

Canada 11th Largest Producer of Copper Globally

#1 - Canadian copper mines produced 475,898 tonnes in 2020. (NRC)

#2 - Canada's copper exports were valued at $7.3 billion in 2020. (NRC)

#3 - Copper was the fourth most valuable mineral product in Canada in 2020. (NRC)

#4 - As of 2020, British Columbia was responsible for over half of Canada's copper production. (NRC)

#5 - There are over 30 facilities across Canada involved in copper mining. (NRC)

#6 - Copper is often mined alongside other valuable critical minerals and metals (NRC)

#7 - The first commercial copper mine in Canada was at Bruce Mines in Ontario. (Bruce Mines and Plummer Additional Union Public Library)

#8 - Canada maintains a strong copper recycling industry. For example, substantial amounts of the metal are recovered in the Quebec-based operation located in Rouyn-Noranda and Montréal. (NRC)

#9 - Copper demand is expected to increase 275 to 350 per cent by 2050. (Elshkaki, A. et al)

#10 - Copper is believed to be one of the first metals used by humans. (Copper Development Association Inc.)

#11 - Tiny amounts of copper are used to encourage fermentation in brewing beer. (GOC)

Where is Copper Found in Canada?

Copper Mines in Canada Map - Critical Minerals for Energy Transition

Mines, Processing Facilities, and Advanced Exploration Projects Associated With Inputs for Solar Cells (NRC 2017)

Like many other natural resources, copper is found in a handful of different provinces and territories including British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba. However, higher economically viable concentrations are more regional.

For example, copper is commonly found in large sulphide deposits like the Ontario-based Sudbury Complex. Porphyry deposits in the Highland Valley mine in B.C. is another place where you'll find higher concentration deposits of the metal.

Today, Canadian copper production comes predominately from Ontario and B.C., accounting for more than 80 per cent of domestic output. Quebec and Manitoba also contribute a fair share, responsible for 7.6 per cent and 4.7 per cent, respectively.

Not only is copper mining happening across Canada, but it is also found inside Canadians! According to Natural Resources Canada (NRC), the average adult contains between 1.4 and 2.1 milligrams of copper per kilogram of body weight.

Top 5 Copper Mines in Canada

canadian copper mining facts and statistics

Highland Valley

The Highland Valley Mine is a surface mine in B.C. It produced an estimated 119,300 tonnes of copper in 2020 and is expected to operate until 2040.

Gibraltar Mine

Another B.C. copper mine, Gibraltar produced approximately 62,780 tonnes in 2020 and will stay in operation until 2039.

Red Chris Mine

The Red Chris Mine is yet another B.C. mine. It produced 40,070 tonnes of copper in 2020 and is expected to operate until 2043.

Mount Milligan Mine

Mount Milligan is a surface mine found in British Columbia. It produced an estimated 37,560 tonnes of copper in 2020 and will operate until 2029.

Copper Mountain Mine

Copper Mountain is a surface mine also in British Columbia, producing roughly 35,177 tonnes of the metal in 2020. The mine will operate until 2051. 

What is Copper Used For?

what is copper used for - copper electrical wiring

Copper Wiring in High Voltage Electrical Cord

From electronics such as HDTVs and smartphones to the wires and pipes required in home construction, copper is used in many everyday applications. And with some organizations like the International Energy Agency (IEA) calling for increased electrification, copper demand is expected to grow heavily; some estimate between 275 to 350 per cent growth by 2050.

A great example of expected increases in global demand for this critical metal is the amount required to build an electric vehicle. While a typical internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle uses about 23 kilograms of copper, hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) use 40 kg, plug-in hybrids (PHEV) use 60 kg, and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) use 83 kg of on average.

According to many organizations like the IEA, the electrification of the transportation sector is expected to help the world cut its reliance on fossil fuels drastically and fight global warming.

Moreover, copper is essential for the construction of wind turbines which generate renewable electricity for Canadians. Powerlines are needed to transfer the electricity from wind turbines to customers, also utilizing copper. The metal is also used in various industries as well, an example being that health facilities are implementing antimicrobial copper to prevent Hospital Acquired Infections.

The most significant uses of copper globally in 2020 were (NRC):

-           Equipment manufacturing – 31 per cent

-           Building construction – 28 per cent

-           Infrastructure – 16 per cent

-           Industrial uses – 13 per cent

-           Transportation – 12 per cent

History of Canadian Copper Mining

copper ore rock Canadian mining

Copper Ore Rock

Before European settlers first came to what is now Canada, copper was already being utilized by Indigenous communities. For example, the Coppermine River was used to collect copper by Indigenous peoples to manufacture weapons and tools.

In 1847, commercial production began at the Bruce Mine in Ontario. Afterwards, other copper mining projects in Canada began developing Québec in the Precambrian Shield. Eventually, large copper reserves in the Cordillera of Western Canada were discovered and developed.

Today, Canada is a world leader in the sustainable production of copper and the future is very bright for the sector!

Sustainable Copper Mining in Canada

Almost 3 in Four Canadians Support Responsible Canadian Mining Standards

Canadian mining standards are world-class, as shown by the globally adopted Mining Association of Canada's Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative. Launched in 2004, the TSM is a world‑recognized sustainability standard.

Finland, Argentina, Botswana, the Philippines, and Spain have implemented several aspects of the program adjusted accordingly for their own respective jurisdictions, ensuring mining is done sustainably while protecting the interests of local communities and environments.

As demand increases for metals like copper, Canada's leadership in responsible natural resource production means we should be a go-to supplier of choice. Our nation is the clear choice to bring natural resources to market, so let's all give the hard-working resource families across Canada the support they need and deserve!

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