McLeod Tailings, Geraldton, Canada

Location: Geraldton, Canada
Client: Barrick Gold Corporation
Size: 170 acres
Status: Completed 1998

In the Geraldton Mine project, mining tailings are being reshaped for both aesthetic and economic reasons. Geraldton, Ontario, located approximately 200 miles northeast of Thunder Bay is the site of a closed gold mine where 14 million tons of tailings from the mines have been left. These tailings cover a 170 acres area of land, 27’ deep. This huge flat pile of tailings greets visitors at the main entrance to the town. In order to spur economic redevelopment, the town has made the decision to make something of this sea of tailings. Augmenting their appearance and improving access will enhance Geraldton visitors’ experience.

Design alternatives sculpt the flat pile into compelling sculptural landforms which become a dynamic roadway edge and a landmark gateway to the town. The landform is designed to be much more than just a powerful visual feature, however. Trails invite one to walk, bird watch, mountain bike, snowboard, or sled. Of special importance to the area’s tourism is the inclusion of snowmobile trails.

Technical constraints were key to the final form of the earthwork. The different types and sizes of earth moving equipment and their turning radii provided guidelines for the grading plan. A primary objective in the project is to balance cut and fill, and to maintain a maximum total earth moving of 150,000 cubic meters. Cut is kept to a minimum as arsenic levels are higher toward the bottom of the pile. There is a cap at the bottom of the pile of tailings, and there is a maximum of an additional 5 meters that can occur on top. Standing water has been considered as a design element, but the water table has been respected by the re-grading. Storm drainage is maintained and the proposed earthwork will not impede sight lines for traffic safety.

Six to twelve inches of peat topsoil will be added to disturbed areas to aid in re-vegetation. A planting plan for the project focuses primarily on native grasses, especially those golden in color. The soil can support plants, although plants will not be watered. The master plan also details tree plantings along Highway 11.

The Geraldton Mine project reveals the power of design to remake a wasteland into a new landscape – a beautiful and powerful earthwork. Even more than an earthwork, this landform is also a cultural artifact, highlighting the location and role of mining in the life of the town.