Among the rolling green villages in southeastern Quebec, Canada, there is a town known as “Canada’s most dangerous” town.
This peaceful settlement with about 7,000 residents is located east of a tributary of the Nicolai River. For more than 110 years, it has been relying on asbestos, a precious mineral buried in the rock below it, to survive and develop. The mining industry is very important to the local economy, so this town is named after asbestos-Shimian Town.
The town has always been the location of the world’s largest asbestos mine (Jeffrey Asbestos Mine). But because asbestos is a toxic substance, the mine was permanently closed after 2012, which changed the fate of the town forever.
The closure of the Geoffrey asbestos mine marks the end of an industry that has provided stable and reliable employment opportunities for generations of people, but has also caused damage to the health and well-being of local residents.
The mine also left behind another heritage that is almost as controversial as the minerals it mines-the name of the town. For example, local companies have encountered difficulties when trying to carry products or vehicles with the words “Asbestos Town” across the nearby U.S. border. However, in 2012, the town government voted unanimously to keep the name.
For a place named after a banned hazardous substance, it takes imagination and adventurous spirit to get out of the shadow of asbestos mines and get rid of its “toxic” past.
Because of its strong and fire-resistant properties, asbestos has been mined all over the world since ancient times. In the 19th century, settlers discovered several rich asbestos deposits in southeastern Quebec, Canada. These deposits are large and suitable for large-scale mining.
The largest asbestos mining operations are in Shimian Town and the nearby Thetford Mine. The Jeffrey asbestos mine in Shimian Town once provided half of the world’s asbestos supply, making Canada the world’s largest asbestos exporter in the 1970s. In 1973, the value of asbestos products delivered by the industry exceeded 230 million Canadian dollars.
Asbestos was once called the “magic mineral”, and it has been widely and effectively used in many industries, especially the construction industry (usually used as a thermal insulation material) and shipbuilding.
However, in recent decades, more and more evidence has shown that asbestos is harmful to human health and may even be fatal. It is now believed that exposure to asbestos is closely related to the occurrence of lung disease and mesothelioma (an aggressive cancer that has become a terrible business card for asbestos). However, until 2008, India still imported a large amount of asbestos from Canada.
Today, the large open-pit asbestos mine in Shimian Town is silent, but it has left a huge pit 350 meters deep and over 6 square kilometers in area. Canada is still paying for the deadly consequences of the material mined in this pit. , Because the number of mesothelioma cases reported in Quebec still ranks first in Canada after several years of cessation of mining.
In 2017, the Canadian federal government formally banned the “production, use, import and export” of asbestos and its products. As early as decades ago, other countries had made the use of this deadly substance illegal. This fact shows how important asbestos is in Canada’s export economy.
Start a small brewery
After Shimian Town lost its main source of income, it had to find other ways to feed the population. The residents of the town rose up to meet this challenge with amazing energy.
Dannick? Pellerin’s story resonates with many young people in Shimian Town. His generation witnessed the last few years of the development of the asbestos industry, and then he left Shimian Town to look for work. In 2014, beer brought Pellerin back to Shimian Town, and he also hoped that he could play a role in revitalizing the town. With funding from the Quebec provincial government, Pellerin and another local resident, Saint-Hilaire, founded the Moulin 7 small brewery.
”Our first task is to produce high-quality beer locally.” Pellerin said, “Some people may be pessimistic about this community and this project, and feel very plain and boring. But in fact, there will be a new environment and A new look.”
Building a brewery in a small town called “Shimian” does not seem to be a shrewd business practice. Especially this brewery is only about 100 meters from the edge of the open-pit asbestos mine. But Pellerin and Saint-Hilaire did not hide the facts, but actively promoted their connection to the town’s mining history.
Saint-Hilaire’s father worked in the Jeffrey asbestos mine, and Pellerin and Saint-Hilaire wanted to use the name of beer to reflect the town’s history. Among their beer products, there is a lager called Mineur (meaning miner), and another American pale beer called Spello (mining term, meaning short break). Pellerin and Saint-Hilaire even used the water of the small lake formed by the open-pit mine to brew a white Indian pale beer called La Ciel Ouvert (meaning open-air). When this beer was put on the market, people expressed doubts, but Pellerin was unmoved. He said: “We analyzed the water quality and found that the water quality was very good, and everyone wanted to taste it.”
Since then, the brewery It has won many awards so that it has attracted many cyclists in Quebec. When they are cycling in the countryside, they always come to Shimian Town to taste beer. Pellerin explained: “Although our brewery is not on the main tourist routes, there are still many people who will come here. At present, our bar and brewery employ a total of 19 employees. Our business is developing very fast. , It will soon be able to increase production by more than 30%.”
Dannick Pellerin (right) and Saint Hilaire
Pellerin believes that although the town retains its “poisonous” name, it is regaining its footing. “People are back again, with the experience of living in the city or farther away. They are returning to their hometown that is undergoing brand-new changes, a place that is no longer closed and more open and invigorating.”
face the challenge
Grimald, the mayor of Shimian Town, said: “The most important thing for us is to remain optimistic and meet challenges. We strive to unite everyone in the community, including the business community, economic partners and officials, to work together. Lay a solid foundation for development.” Shimian Town does have assets other than mines, such as being adjacent to the US border and becoming the location of several transportation companies; while agriculture is a reliable employer. “Responsiveness is also part of Shimian Town’s strategy. So if the opportunity comes, we can respond quickly and prioritized.” Grimald said, “At present, we are working hard to diversify the economy.”
Establishment of Duck Food processing industry
since asbestos mine closed, a victory is important here to establish a regional processing center, is one of Canada’s delicious food – food processing ducks. This processing center has provided employment opportunities for more than 100 workers and has been in operation for 5 years. With the increase of Canadian consumers’ demand for duck meat and the newly opened Mexican duck market, the Brome Lake Duck Company plans to process 4 million ducks in 2021.
Another resource – Snow
dynamic economic reconstruction of the town of Asbestos is not limited to food and drink, in the town of Asbestos, in addition to once precious minerals – other than asbestos, the surrounding mountains are another resource – snow.
Just a few minutes’ drive north of Shimian Town, you will reach the Gleason Mountain Ski Resort, a major seasonal ski resort in Quebec’s snowy winter. Gleason Mountain Ski Resort is different from many European commercial ski resorts in that it is operated on a non-profit basis and deeply rooted in nearby communities including Shimian Town. This ski resort has four ski lift lines and nearly 10 kilometers of slopes.
Although jobs at the Gleason Mountain Ski Resort disappear with the snow in the spring, it can provide stable employment opportunities in the winter. “In winter, there are more than 250 people working here.” Ms. Gingras, who is responsible for sustainability at Gleason Mountain Ski Resort, explained, “Many people are old employees, but we also hire many students and retirees. They are in different positions-some are on the cable car, some are in the ski school, some are in the restaurant… From December to March is our busiest time.”
Even after the economic downturn and other In difficult times, Gleason Mountain Ski Resort can still survive, one of the main reasons is continuous reinvestment. “The growth in the number of tourists is optimistic.” Kingglas added, “We plan to add a new four-seater cable car line in the next two years and renovate some facilities. Therefore, investment must be increased every year.”
Recycling tail mine
walk in asbestos town and its surrounding areas, we can see four past mining has left the wreckage, tailings (mining activities left behind a mountain of slag waste) in particular. These rubble and slag are still piled up close to homes and buildings.
In the past, there have been attempts to reuse these mining wastes, such as using tailings in winter to increase friction on roads, but due to concerns about affecting air quality, this practice was quickly terminated.
However, some industries are still very interested in these tailings, hoping to use them to extract valuable chemicals, especially the high content of magnesium in tailings, and consumer electronics such as mobile phones and electric vehicles have a high demand for magnesium. Big. Shimian Town may find a new lucrative business from the waste left by the previous mining industry.
A commercial company called Magnesium Alliance established a test facility near Shimian Town to test the feasibility of extracting magnesium from nearby tailings. If commercial production is achieved, the company is expected to create 100 jobs. As for whether it can create long-term jobs, it remains to be seen, because before the closure of the Geoffrey Asbestos Mine, there was a similar project, but it eventually ran out of funds. Magnesium Alliance insists that their improved and more environmentally friendly refining technology will be different from previous projects.
There is no doubt that Shimian Town is undergoing a reform, which may make this small town rise from the previous haze. For those who live in Shimian Town, they certainly want to be proud of the name of their town, not ashamed.