Faro Mine

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

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.

The Narwhal (then DeSmog Canada) sent photographer Matt Jacques to Faro to see the mine’s toxic legacy first-hand.

Faro Mine
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. Photo: Matt Jacques / The Narwhal
Faro Mine abandoned homes
Abandoned homes in Anvil Range. Photo: Matt Jacques / The Narwhal

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.

Faro mine
Remediation at the Faro mine is not expected to begin until 2022. Photo: Matt Jacques / The Narwhal

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.

Waste rock piles at the Faro mine. Photo: Matt Jacques / The Narwhal

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.

Faro mine
Drainage flows from the mine’s water treatment plant toward the tailings pond below. Photo: Matt Jacques / The Narwhal
Faro mine tailings
The Faro water treatment plant sits at the northern end of the mine, while tailings make their way to the tailings pond. Photo: Matt Jacques / The Narwhal
The tailings pond itself stretches nearly 5 kilometres down the Rose Creek valley, and consists of multiple ponds and supporting dam structures.
Faro mine
The Rose Creek tailings pond, separated from the Intermediate and Cross Valley ponds via a series of dams. Photo: Matt Jaques / The Narwhal
Faro Mine
Aerial view of Rose Creek tailings pond. Photo: Matt Jacques / The Narwhal
When the owners of the Faro Mine declared bankruptcy in 1998, the company left behind more than 320 million tonnes of waste rock and 70 million tonnes of tailings. Aerial view of the refuse left behind in the Rose Creek tailings pond. Photo: Matt Jacques / The Narwhal
faro mine rose creek
Adjacent to the mine site, Rose Creek winds through a wetlands ecoystem that feeds the Pelly River. Without remediation the Pelly and Yukon Rivers could become contaminated by toxic metals from the Faro mine. Photo: Matt Jacques / The Narwhal

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

faro mine
The Rose Creek valley downstream of the Faro mine and its tailings pond. Photo: Matt Jacques / The Narwhal

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.

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We hear it time and time again:
“These are the stories that need to be told and you are some of the only ones telling them,” John, a new member of The Narwhal, wrote in to say.

Investigating stories others aren’t. Diving deep to find solutions to the climate crisis. Sending journalists to report from remote locations for days and sometimes weeks on end. These are the core tenets of what we do here at The Narwhal. It’s also the kind of work that takes time and resources to pull off.

That might sound obvious, but it’s far from reality in many shrinking and cash-strapped Canadian newsrooms. So what’s The Narwhal’s secret sauce? Thousands of members like John who support our non-profit, ad-free journalism by giving whatever they can afford each month (or year).

But here’s the thing: just two per cent of The Narwhal’s readers step up to keep our stories free for all to read. Will you join the two per cent and become a member of The Narwhal today?

The Narwhal is only possible because a tiny fraction of readers like you donate whatever they can to keep our journalism free for all to read.
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