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Never Rest on Your Ores: Building a Mining Company, One Stone at a Time

By Norman B. Keevil

Review By Arn Keeling

January 6, 2018

BC Studies no. 198 Summer 2018  | p. 190-1

How do you turn a relatively modest copper mining play on Lake Temagami in the 1950s into Canada’s largest diversified mining company, with a market capitalization in 2017 of nearly $14 billion? In telling the story of the rise of Teck Resources, Norman Keevil, the company’s Chairman of the Board and legendary figure in Canadian mining and business circles, suggests it was a blend of serendipity and far-sightedness that enabled his family and his company to prosper. In Never Rest on Your Ores, Keevil blends an as-told-to style memoir of his company’s rise to Canadian (and global) corporate heights, while dispensing homespun, mining-oriented versions of the corporate maxims no doubt familiar to readers of books by business gurus.

Over the course of its evolution into a 21st century mining giant, Teck intersected with many of the important discoveries, episodes, and players of the post-war Canadian mining boom (and various “busts”). In addition to recounting the history of Teck’s own properties across Canada and in South America, readers will find insights and stories related to Teck’s acquisition of Cominco in the 1980s, the Bre-X scandal, and the Voisey’s Bay nickel development in Labrador. Keevil’s view of this history is very much from the boardroom—though there are some discussions early in the book of geology and geophysics, much of the book focuses on the corporate side of mining and the men (yes, they are virtually all men) who built the mines and companies.

As such, the narrative tends to alternate between insider-ish stories of mine-finding and deal-making, and shareholder’s report-speak on the building of corporate value. Much of this will be primarily of interest to the author’s many friends and colleagues in the mining fraternity. For general readers, such a narrative strategy rewards a kind of “bulk sampling” approach to identify and separate higher-value material from the “gangue” (valueless matter). For instance, chapters 24-26 detailing Teck’s consolidation of the Highland Valley copper deposits and its merger with Cominco are particularly interesting accounts.

Indeed, readers of BC Studies will find insights into important historical and contemporary people and places. From the vantage of the Kootenays, it is impossible to miss Teck’s influence: from the Elkview and Fording River coal properties in the East Kootenay to the massive Trail Smelter complex to (a little further north and west, near Ashcroft) the massive Highland Valley Copper mine. Just to the south, the company operates the Pend Oreille lead-zinc mine in Washington, along the international river of the same name). Keevil shares his experiences with Dave Barrett’s short-lived NDP government (“socialist hordes”) and Bill Bennett (Social Credit premier, later Teck director), among other provincial notables.

What readers will not find is reference to mining’s environmental impacts, conflicts with Indigenous people, or labour issues, amongst the hot-button issues that are key aspects of the industry’s history and present. While entirely characteristic, perhaps, of the era which Keevil recounts, these omissions limit its usefulness to readers interested in the evolving social and environmental sides of the business.

Never Rest on Your Ores: Building a Mining Company, One Stone at a Time
Norman B. Keevil
Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017. 496 pp. $39.95 Cloth.