Toronto is a convention city. Usually we are unaware of the presence of conventioneers unless one happens to be run down by a swarm of out-of-towners carrying identical bags and wearing freebie t-shirts. But this this week brings hoards of delegates to town for Canada Blooms, Canadian Music Week, and the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada Convention.
Canada Blooms and CMW are pretty much what you would imagine: A bunch of florists and record industry weasels. Yet a prospector could be anything from a full a grizzled old coot with a pick axe and mule to a some scary dude arriving in a black helicopter on his way to plunder our natural resources.
In fact, the convention is everything and nothing like one would imagine. Entering the Toronto Convention Centre for day two of the PDAC’s 75th annual shindig, the first thing one notices is that everybody (save some U of T students) is wearing a suit, and nice ones at that. Despite being all dressed up, the delegates are a jovial bunch. One geophysicist (who spends a good deal of time surveying in near isolation), says that the convention is part business, part high school reunion.
And like people you went to high school with, there are some you get along better with than others. While two floors of the Convention Centre are packed with exhibitor booths meant to promote mining and mining-related businesses, some are more jumping than others. Nickel and copper are rich, but not as sexy as diamonds and gold. The most popular place to be is the Brazil Pavilion, which is giving away free t-shirts and shots. A few thousand feet over, one lonely exhibitor mans a tiny Halliburton booth. Don’t feel bad for Halliburton—since they own everything, you will find some swag with their logo on it by the end of the convention.
Environmentalism is the underlying theme at the PDAC 2007. A manufacturer of drilling equipment is handing out bumper stickers that read “Ban Mining? Let ‘Em Freeze in the Dark!” This kind of right wing sentiment is in the minority. As Karen Hamre, managing director of the Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy says, “The geopolitical reality is that you can’t just go to a territory and do quick and dirty mining anymore. It’s not good business.”
Over at the Creighton Rock Drill Limited booth, there’s buzz about the Greenplus biodegradable Hydraulic Fluid demonstration. Company owner peter Creighton demonstrates the safety of the oil, used to lubricate giant drilling machines, by placing some of it on his finger and feeding it to a tank of goldfish. “It’s canola oil,” he says. “Mining is not the most environmentally friendly industry, but it has got to change.” On Wednesday, Dr. Patrick Moore, a founding member and former president of Greenpeace, hopes to spark even more change by speaking to the delegates about the myths and misinformation that distort environmental debates.
Conventions in general are not very green. Reams of paper are handed out, and every booth seems to be handing out plastic tzchotkes with their organization’s name printed on it. In a way, it’s not so unlike an old-timey gold rush: Participants are hoping that the plastic flashlight keychain might lead to a big payday by winning over an investor or a buyer. And for others, being at the convention is similar to finding a gold nugget, and then heading into Dawson City to celebrate. Perhaps as nod to mining’s individualistic past or to it’s socially responsible future, at the Yukon’s booth, a delegate is dressed like a 1880s saloon girl and handing out geological surveys on CD.