Thanks, Quebecois, for those links to the Prairie Creek and Cantung Mine info.
Years ago we spent part of the winter caretaking the Prairie Creek site, when it was just a few trailers and shacks. I was amazed at the landscape - up and down, and very little flat ground, only along the narrow creek. I can easily see the potential for a flash-flood disaster there. As the picture shows in one of the linked sites, the camp is right on the narrow floodplain.
The bush pilots didn't much like going into the site either. The strip was along the creek as well, but there was very little room for error in the approach.
We didn't see the sun for many weeks, due to the mountains. I would have loved to have seen the area in summer; it must be extremely beautiful, albeit not exactly inviting terrain.
While on a walk up one of the creeks one day, I found a tree with a carved message (or maybe written, can't remember), made by one of the early prospectors there, to the effect that it was the "hungriest country" he had ever seen.
Cantung, in contrast, is in an inviting and absolutely beautiful mountain setting. There has been talk of a resort being built there, but I doubt it would ever happen (I hope). There is a hot spring there, covered over by a frame building, and is delightful to soak in. In the summer, the meadows are lush with ferns and flowers, including some rare species. Back in the 70's and into the 80's, the mine was going full tilt, and many local people went up there to visit friends, attend sports events, and to soak in the springs. The town was busy, there was a school, and families living there loved it. It closed suddenly because of a labour dispute, then fell into gradual disrepair. Watson Lake had benefitted from the mine's presence, and when it closed, along with an asbestos mine in northern British Columbia, Watson Lake began to fall into economic decline, where it still is today. The mine is open again, but the crew are flown in and out, and the former homes are pretty much unliveable. I don't think Watson Lake gets much benefit from it now. So it goes. Boom and Bust - the story of mining in the north.
Not sure how many environmental problems there have been at both of those sites. They're in the NWT, so I don't hear too much about them. But there was a settlement pond of gunk at Cantung that looked pretty ugly. I hope the NWT stays on their cases. In Yukon we've had mines come and go, leaving wretched toxic messes in their wake, despite the mines' assurances that that would never happen. Hah!
The mining industry, from prospectors to the big money guys in the cities, has always seemed like a strange bunch to me. It reeks of wheeling and dealing, bullshitters, secrecy, and greed. I've always wondered about the geologists - geology is fascinating, and I've known some geologists who love the process of finding out what lies below the surface. They love being out in the bush, roaming the mountains in the summer, tapping away at the rocks. Ditto for the prospectors. I've always wondered how they reconcile the inevitable mess that follows a really big find with their love of pristine wilderness. It was probably easier to do that decades ago, when there were few mines and few people around, and few who were concerned about negative effects. Nowadays, though, there is a strong environmental presence in the north, at least in Yukon, which can influence public opinion and, eventually, the mining companies. I think there will be much more accountability in the future than in the past. Not only are local residents more concerned now, especially the First Nations people, but so are people around the world who see Canada's North as one of the last places in the world where true boreal, subarctic, and arctic wilderness can be found. While it lasts, anyway.