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People are getting either sick or mad, or both.
Last September, the Montreal photographer Valerian Mazataud and I visited Malartic, a town of about 3300 residents near Val-d’Or, in the Abitibi region of Quebec, traditionally a major mining and logging region.
Malartic is home to Canadian Malartic, the largest gold mine in Canada. The mine operated from 1935 to 1965, when it shut down. It was reopened in 2008 as an open pit mine. Because the ore body lies beneath the southern part of the city (rumour has it that the biggest deposit lies under the church), Canadian Malartic 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. Now the south side of town is coated with mineral dust from the mine. Home foundations are cracking as a result of continual vibrations caused by the heavy machinery used in the mine. 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. They are demanding that the mine buy their homes at replacement value so that they can move and buy houses elsewhere.
Last February, Canadian Malartic made known their plans to extend the mining pit farther east. The expansion means that Highway 117, the only highway in the region, will be rerouted for four kilometres around the pit before reaching town. Canadian Malartic is also carrying out exploration drilling in different places in the area, including by a residential neighbourhood on the north side of town, where many families from the south were relocated during the construction of the mine seven or eight years ago.
Canadian Malartic is currently working on a “co-construction” approach, aimed at involving the community in the development process. But for citizens of the south side, the mine strategy will only divide the population and dilute their compensation claims by involving citizens from the less affected neighbourhoods on the north side of town.