The Pine Point lead-zinc project has a storied history, having been first discovered in 1898 by prospectors heading to the Klondike gold rush. Cominco Ltd. began exploration at Pine Point in 1929, with test-pitting, drilling and shaft sinking. In 1948, Cominco began major exploration work, using the Mississippi-Valley-type model to guide exploration. It was a mega-project for it’s time, costing $133 million (more than $1 billion in today’s dollars), and included a railroad, hydro-electric dam and a town where up to 2000 people could live.
Cominco commenced large-scale mine production in 1964 with reported reserves of 21.5 million tonnes averaging 4% lead and 7.2% zinc (a historical figure reported by Giroux and McCartney, 2001). The mine eventually ramped up to 10,000 tonnes of ore per day. The “Pine Point mine” was actually an assemblage of 50 separate open pits and two underground deposits, lying along a 60-km trend. Some 64 million tonnes of ore at a grade of 7.0% zinc and 3.1% lead was mined between 1964 and 1987. The mine was expensive to operate, as Cominco spent about 30% of its costs maintaining the town, and during a period of weak metal prices, the decision was made to close the mine in 1987. About 90 deposits in total were discovered by Cominco and several others were discovered by another base metal mining company, Westmin, east of the Buffalo River. Previous drilling on the property totals approximately 1.3 million metres in 18,422 holes by Cominco, Westmin and Tamerlane.