Vol.53, No.3 - Fall 2023

Vol.53, No.3 - Fall 2023


The Ring of Fire has nothing to do with how you felt the day after taking that dare back in university to eat a dozen ghost peppers in sixty seconds – but it does have a lot to do with how the Ontario economy will look in the next few years. (And it also has a somewhat tenuous connection to that smouldering Johnny Cash song of the same name.)

Ontario’s Ring of Fire is a 5,000 square kilometre crescent-shaped area in the James Bay Lowlands, 400 kilometres or so north of Thunder Bay. Since first being discovered in 2007, the area has been coveted as ground zero for an abundance of important mineral resources – chromite, nickel, copper, zinc, and platinum – all essential in the production of stainless steel, electric vehicles and renewable energy products.

The Ring of Fire mineral deposits are estimated to be worth many billions of dollars, with Ontario Mines Minister George Pirie quoted as saying, “Anecdotally, mining people are saying this is a trillion-dollar project.”

Some say Pirie was being overly optimistic in his trillion-dollar assessment. But there is no doubt the Ring of Fire offers a huge economic opportunity. Over the next ten years, it is projected to contribute nearly $10 billion to Canada’s GDP, generate over $6 billion for Ontario’s mining industry, provide 5,500 jobs, and deliver nearly $2 billion in federal, provincial and municipal revenue.

Ring of Fire Mineral Riches! Potentially. Eventually. But …

Northern Ontario is vast. Infrastructure is severely limited to nonexistent. The cost of roadbuilding is astronomical. The average gravel road construction cost in the Canadian Shield and North is $3 million per kilometre. And existing roads (and landing strips) are increasingly prone to sinking and buckling as climate change renders permafrost zones ever more vulnerable.

Remote northern communities have long depended on seasonal ice roads for access and transport but, again because of climate change, Ice roads have lost half their season since 2000 and converting Ontario’s 3000 kilometres of ice roads to gravel would cost over $9 Billion.

Another complication: The Ring of Fire is on lands governed by 9 different First Nations. Some First Nations communities oppose the development of mines because of potential negative impacts on the fragile environment and the lives and lifestyle of Indigenous communities. They also protest the lack of Indigenous involvement in the planning and development processes that have so far taken place.

Not all First Nations oppose Ring of Fire development. Marten Falls First Nation is a shareholder in Ring of Fire Metals, the prime mining company in the area, and in 2020, Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations signed an agreement with the Ontario government to develop a 117 to 164 km all-season road allowing access to the Ring of Fire and nearby communities. But constructing that road will be very expensive – as much as $550-million, according to some estimates – and it is years from completion.

Currently, there is no transportation or power infrastructure to the remote Ring of Fire area. Extracting the resources and transporting them through dense boreal forests and peatlands of the James Bay Lowlands will require years of environmental assessments and extraordinarily expensive infrastructure and road construction.

(See the Journal for the full article)