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A Quebec town is being consumed
by Canada’s largest gold mine

Malartic, Que., is a small town of 3,300 people which is home to the largest open pit gold mine in Canada. The mine originally operated from the 1920s to the 1950s, when it shut down. Then, in 2008, the mine was reopened by Osisko Mining Corporation. Because the ore deposits lie beneath the southern part of the town (rumour has it that the biggest deposit lies under the church), the mine moved more than 200 buildings and 500 people from the south to the north of the town to make room for mining activities.

Commercial production began in 2011. Some residents complain the south side of town is now coated with mineral dust from the mine and home foundations are cracking as a result of continuous vibrations caused by the heavy machinery used in the mine. The mine has published studies proving that their emissions are within Quebec’s norms, even under, and that their activity can’t provoke cracks, but some south-side residents now fear the consequences of the mine’s extension.

People are getting either sick or mad, or both. According to a recent study by the Abitibi health department, one third of the inhabitants would leave town if they were given the opportunity and half of the 700 families who live in the south side of Malartic would sell their homes and move out right away if they could. Only, they can’t. Indeed, who would want to buy a house some 150 meters away from a two kilometre long, dusty and noisy pit? The people of the town feel trapped.

Canadian Malartic Corporation was bought from Osisko Mining Corp. in 2014 in a $3.9-billion takeover by Agnico Eagle Mines (50%) and Yamana Gold (50%). The company has already bought seven houses and promise to buy forty more. Nevertheless, given the price paid, former owners say they have a hard time relocating in the region.

In April 2017, the Quebec government approved the mine extension plan. At the end of the project, the pit will be 3,7 km long, 900 meters wide and 400 meters deep. In June 2017, the Malartic south side Citizen Committee declared it would contest the government’s decree authorizing the mine’s extension with the Quebec Superior Court. In May the court approved a class action suit against the mine on behalf of residents seeking damages for suffering caused from years of dust, noise and daily blasts.

(Version Française)

La ville de Malartic, Que., abrite la plus grande mine d’or à ciel ouvert du Canada. Une mine souterraine était en opération de 1920 à 1950, avant d’être réouverte en 2008 par la corporation minière Osisko, comme mine à ciel ouvert. La veine de minerai est située sous la partie sud de la ville (la rumeur veut même que les plus fortes concentrations soient sous l’église). Osisko a déplacé plus de 200 bâtiments et 500 personnes depuis le Sud de la ville vers le Nord avant d’entamer ses activités.

La production commerciale a commencé en 2011 et la partie sud de la ville est recouverte de poussières dues à l’activité de la mine, alors que les fondations des maisons se fissurent à cause des équipement lourds utilisés pour l’extraction. Selon une étude de la Direction de santé publique de l’Abitibi-Temiscamingue, un tiers des habitants quitteraient la ville si la possibilité leur en était donnée. Dans la zone sud de Malartic, plus de la moitié des 700 familles souhaite déménager, mais qui voudrait racheter une maison à 150 mètres d’un trou poussiéreux et bruyant ? Les habitants se sentent pris au piège. La minière a déjà racheté sept maisons et promet d’en racheter 40 de plus, mais au prix de rachat, les anciens propriétaires disent avoir du mal à se reloger dans la région.

En avril 2017, le gouvernement du Québec a donné son feu vert pour l’agrandissement de la mine. À la fin du projet, le trou sera long de 3,7 km, large de 900 mètres, et profond de 400. En juin 2017, le Comité de citoyens de la zone sud de Malartic a annoncé son intention de contester le décret gouvernemental autorisant l’agrandissement de la mine devant la Cour supérieure du Québec.

Text by Antoine Dion-Ortega and Valerian Mazataud

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Written By

Valerian Mazataud

Valerian Mazataud is a freelance documentary photographer based in Montreal. He is represented by Studio Hans Lucas in France. His images have been published in Le Monde, der Spiegel, Le point, Telerama or Liberation. He has also contributed to TV5, Radio-Canada, Le Devoir, La Presse, The Walrus, Chatelaine, Oxfam and Handicap International.