Iron Ore Mining in Canada: Everything You Need to Know

Iron ore mining in Canada facts

Did you know Canada consistently ranks as a top 10 global iron ore producer? Iron ore is a critical material used in steelmaking, which is then used in construction, transportation, energy infrastructure and household appliances to name a few of its broad applications.

Today, most iron ore in Canada is mined in Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavut. The Labrador Trough region bordering the two provinces is rich in iron ore deposits, while the northern territory also produces a substantial amount of the mineral.

With the world’s sixth-largest iron ore reserves, Canada accounts for approximately 2% of global production and 3% of global reserves. The top three iron-ore producer nations (Australia, Brazil, China) account for roughly two-thirds of global production.

Iron ore’s role in steelmaking makes it an invaluable resource. In fact, Canadian iron ore exports generate tens of billions of dollars for the economy every year while underpinning industries here at home.

But wait, there is lots more to learn about this precious mineral. Here are several more facts that should help broaden your understanding of iron ore mining in Canada. Also see:

Canadian Iron Ore Mining: 10 Facts

Canada is the 9th largest producer of iron ore in the world

#1 - In 2021, Canada was the ninth-largest producer of iron ore in the world [1]

#2 - Approximately 9,300 people were employed by iron ore mines in Canada across 11 business entities in 2022 [4]

#3 - Canada is home to approximately 6 billion tonnes of iron ore – or about 3.3% of the world’s reserves –ranking sixth in the world for total reserves [1]

#4 - Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut are the largest producers of iron ore in Canada [1]

#5 - Australia, Brazil and China accounted for roughly two-thirds of global iron ore production in 2021 [1]

#6 - The primary use of iron ore is to make steel – almost all of it (98%) is converted into pig iron for steel which is then used in other applications such as auto parts and catalysts, radioactive iron for medicine, and iron blue in paints, inks, cosmetics and plastics [1][2]

#7 - Canadian iron ore mines produced 57.5 million tonnes in concentrate and pellets in 2021, a 2% drop year-over-year [1]

#8 - Canada exported nearly 54 million tonnes of iron ore in 2021, valued at $10.1 billion – up from 55.1 million tonnes in 2020 valued at $7.6 billion. Pellets accounted for 28% of exports, while concentrates accounted for the remaining 72% in 2021. [1]

#9 - Canada imported about 8 million tonnes of iron ore in 2021, valued at $1 billion [1]

#10 - Canada exports iron ore to countries including Germany, Japan, China, South Korea, USA, the Philippines, and the United Kingdom [3]

History of Iron Ore Mining in Canada

rio tinto iron ore mine canada

Iron Ore Mine in Canada - Rio Tinto

Iron ore, copper and coal were some of the first minerals mined in Canada. Iron smelting and casting was Canada’s first industry, but European settlers weren’t the only ones using the material [3].

Before the Europeans established settlements in Canada, evidence suggests the Inuit exploited iron meteorites for the metal [3].

In the 1200s, at the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows, local bog iron was roasted and wrought to make nails for shipbuilding [3].

In 1670, deposits of bog iron were found near Trois-Rivières, Québec. By the 1740s, a leading ironworks company was producing various iron-made goods such as pots, stoves, kettles, bullets and cannons [3].

Les Forges Saint-Maurice (St. Maurice Forges) was Canada’s first heavy industry. The Trois-Rivieres iron deposits were developed with the help of monopoly grants and state subsidies and began producing iron in 1738.

Today, Canada has a flourishing iron ore industry with most jobs and exports found in Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavut.

Largest Iron Ore Mines in Canada

Canada is home to several iron ore mines, almost all of which are found in the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, in addition to the territory of Nunavut. Canada’s top five largest iron ore mines in 2020 include [3]:

  • Mont Wright Mine – Quebec
  • Carol Lake Mine – Newfoundland & Labrador
  • Bloom Lake Mine – Quebec
  • Mary River Project – Nunavut
  • DSO Project NML - Quebec

What is Iron Ore Used For?

steelmaking quelching process

Iron ore is almost entirely used for making steel (98% of production), which is then used as a material in various industries across the economy, including [2]:

Energy Infrastructure – Without iron ore, we could not make the steel required to manufacture wind turbines, electricity pylons, hydro dams, nuclear power plants, refineries and so forth

Household Appliances – Ovens, washing machines, fridges, dishwashers, hoodfans, furnaces and other household appliances all use steel made from iron ore

Construction – bridges, buildings and other infrastructure around the world are built using steel that’s made from iron ore

Transportation – Planes, trains, ships, semi-trucks, cars, EVs, ATVs, motorbikes and bicycles are just some of the methods of transport that utilize steel, also made from iron ore

Sustainable Iron Ore Mining in Canada

Canadian iron ore mining companies adhere to the Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative set forth by the Mining Association of Canada. Adopted by companies across the globe, Canada’s TSM initiative is an industry-leading framework that sets out specific Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) guidelines for miners in Canada.

The TSM framework must be followed by Canadian domestic operations but isn’t required for projects abroad. However, many companies worldwide in nations such as Finland, Argentina and the Philippines have adopted its guidelines, showing the world-class nature of the TSM initiative – made in Canada.

Additionally, Canadian iron ore miners must follow several strict government rules and regulations on both provincial and federal levels. Often these rules closely resemble those found in the TSM initiative, making Canadian mining one of the most sustainable sectors of its kind in the world.

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SOURCES:

1 – Natural Resources Canada – Iron ore facts, Date Accessed: January 2023 (https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/minerals-mining/minerals-metals-facts/iron-ore-facts/20517)

2 – BHP – Iron ore, Date Accessed: January 2023 (https://www.bhp.com/what-we-do/products/iron-ore)

3 – mining-technology.com – five largest iron ore mines in Canada in 2020, Date Accessed: January 2023 (https://www.mining-technology.com/marketdata/five-largest-iron-ore-mines-canada-2020/)

4 – IBISWorld – Iron Ore Mining in Canada – Market Research Report, Date Accessed: January 2023 (https://www.ibisworld.com/canada/market-research-reports/iron-ore-mining-industry/)