Giant mining machines to descend on Edmonton for awareness show

EDMONTON – Giant mining machines towering over Churchill Square this week won’t be extracting riches from downtown Edmonton, but are part of an exercise to build awareness of mining’s impact on everyday life.

Industry behemoths such as a Caterpillar 777 open-pit mining truck and other super-heavy equipment will descend onto the public plaza from May 3-9.

Pieces that can fit indoors will be on display on May 5 at the Shaw Conference Centre.

The two free events are part of M4S, (Mining For Society) an educational public show on mining, minerals, metals and materials. M4S dovetails with the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum’s annual conference this year in Edmonton.

“We’re not a lobbying or advocacy or industry trade association,” said executive director Jean Vavrek. The not-for-profit group works to improve technological processes, but also deals with corporate social responsibility and community engagement.

“We are definitely pro-mining, when it’s done right, but you find at our events that a lot of our own people are quite verbal and quite open about the challenges we face.”

The M4S shows started in 2005 as part of the institute’s public outreach efforts. While the conference is intended for industry insiders, the equipment exhibits are aimed squarely at the general public, especially young people.

Last year’s M4S show in Montreal attracted more than 6,000 visitors, almost 85 per cent of whom were students between 10 and 16.

This year’s show already has 3,500 students booked to attend during the first two days, when it is open only to schools. The M4S will open to the general public on May 5. Up to 1,500 delegates are expected at the conference, and Vavrek said they have snapped up many of the city’s hotel rooms.

“We realized you can buy all the advertising you want or websites or fancy CDs … what works best is when teachers and students can actually meet real people with real equipment. Then they can be the judge themselves and they can ask the hard questions.”

Equipment on hand will include simulators and interactive displays showing sustainability and technology, and what metals go into making an average car.

Churchill Square will feature a bucket from one of the largest excavators, some of the biggest tires imaginable and other industry giants whose sheer size makes moving them onto the plaza an engineering feat in itself, Vavrek said.

“It helps people understand the scale, the magnitude and the level of sophistication of technology we’re talking about.”

At the Shaw site, exhibits will tell the story of the years of advance work needed before minerals are ever extracted from the ground.

“It helps people understand the whole process of various stages of discovery and exploration — how long it takes before you even get to a mine. You can explore 6,000 properties, if you’re lucky five or six or even only one will turn into a real mine.”

The shows are designed to fill a void of public knowledge when it comes to mining, an industry which added $36 billion to the gross domestic product in 2010 and allows the manufacture of commonplace products like computers, vehicles and electricity. Even solar and wind power equipment and hybrid vehicles contain the mined commodities of nickel, aluminum, lithium, gallium, indium and germanium.

“It’s educating people what metals or materials are used for in everyday life. Most of the green technology or the high technology are all based on metals and minerals that we extract,” Vavrek said.