After the Mining Rush: A Visit to Faro Mine, One of Canada’s Costliest, Most Contaminated Sites

Faro Mine

The Yukon's giant Faro Mine was once the world’s largest open-pit lead and zinc mine.

In operation from 1969 to 1998, when its last owner declared bankruptcy, the mine once generated more than 30 per cent of the Yukon's economic activity.

Now, Faro Mine is considered the second-worst contaminated site in Canada.

After nearly 20 years of maintenance and remediation planning, more than $350 million has been spent via the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan but remediation isn’t expected to begin until 2022.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada has released a timeline and draft details on the remediation plan for the Faro Mine and is currently seeking public input.

Remediation activity is currently expected to cost $500 million over 10 to 15 years. The biggest cost of remediation will be covering 320 million tonnes of waste rock and 70 million tonnes of tailings. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada says the waste would cover 26,179 football fields, one metre deep.

Without remediation, the Pelly and Yukon Rivers could be polluted with toxic metals.

DeSmog Canada sent photographer Matt Jacques to Faro to see the mine's toxic legacy first-hand.

Located in south-central Yukon, the community of Faro was established in 1968 to service the open-pit lead/zinc Faro Mine, some 15 kilometres north in the mountains of the Anvil Range. The town derives its name from a card game, which was one of the most popular forms of gambling in the late 19th century.

Home to more than 2,000 residents at the peak of the mine's operation, the current population sits at 348, leaving many buildings and entire residential blocks unoccupied.

The Faro Mine occupies more than 25 square kilometres, roughly 25 per cent larger in area than the city of Victoria, B.C. At one point, it was the world's largest open-pit lead/zinc mine. In addition to this primary mine, there are two smaller open-pit mines on site.

Mine operations left behind more than 320 million tonnes of waste rock and 70 million tonnes of tailings before the mine's final closure in 1998.

Drainage flows from the mine's water treatment plant toward the tailings pond below.

The Faro water treatment plant sits at the northern end of the mine, while tailings make their way to the tailings pond.

The tailings pond itself stretches nearly 5 kilometres down the Rose Creek valley, and consists of multiple ponds and supporting dam structures.

The Rose Creek tailings pond, separated from the Intermediate and Cross Valley ponds via a series of dams.

Aerial view of Rose Creek tailings pond.

Aerial view of Rose Creek tailings pond.

Adjacent to the mine site, Rose Creek winds through a wetlands ecoystem that feeds the Pelly River.

The Faro Mine remediation consultation and planning process continues, with a plan to be finalized prior to the project being submitted to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) in 2018.

Images: All photos by Matt Jacques|DeSmog Canada

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