George Hunter: Witness in the Mines

By Megan Fothergill
Digitization Student - Young Canada Works Position, Summer 2019

Most Canadians will never see the inside of a mine, despite mining playing a significant role in the Canadian economy. Currently more than 425,000 Canadians are employed in mineral extraction, processing and manufacturing. Canada extracts more than 60 minerals and metals and ranks in the top five countries for global production for 16 of them. You can read the Mining Association of Canada’s ‘Facts and Figures 2018’ report for more information on Canadian mining: https://mining.ca/documents/facts-and-figures-2018/

George Hunter was one of the few people outside the industry to take a good look at what miners did on a day-to-day basis, and to photograph it well. George’s images open up the tight tunnels to the world and to help the Canadian public gain a better understanding of what these men were doing on a daily basis. The remoteness of many mining operations led many workers to move to communities built specifically to accommodate the influx of personnel, and many communities owe their existence and expansion to Canadian mining, including Elliot Lake, Kirkland Lake, Timmins, and the Greater Sudbury Area. What made their experiences unique however was the environment in which they worked. In northern Ontario they work deep in the Canadian shield in tunnels many people would find claustrophobic, often ankle deep in water and working alongside deafening machines in small spaces.

George Hunter had a special relationship with Canadian mining; much of his commercial work in Canada and in Ontario was for mining companies. His photographs were used in presentations to banks and investors, giving “life and realism” to the relatively unknown field, and in offices and annual reports to bring “warmth and conviction” about the work being done. George believed that photography was an important partner to industry and visited more than 40 mining sites over the course of his career. George’s images bring a unique perspective into the everyday lives of Canadians during the late 20th century, more of which we hope to share as the team at the Canadian Heritage Photography Foundation continue to catalogue and digitize George’s images of Ontario.

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The above pamphlet is an an example of how George would market his photography to the mining industry. One interesting method to attract customers was suggesting multiple companies contribute to one trip; companies could work together to fund one of George’s 100+ cross-Canada trips to reduce the individual costs to themselves. One or more of these trips would end up supporting the brochure to the left and below, which was presented as part of the Sixth Commonwealth Mining and Metallurgical Congress in 1956.

Sixth Commonwealth Mining and Metallurgical Congress
George Hunter