The story of the Mary River iron ore deposits is a compelling tale of national pride, split opinions and fluctuating prices, with a splash of political intrigue. For these reasons, the high-grade iron ore reserves remain relatively untouched, nearly half a century after they were first discovered by Murray Watts and Ron Sheardown.

Years of discussions and delays might finally be at an end with the land now in the ownership of Baffinland Iron Mines, a business working to develop a large open pit iron mine in the Mary River area of Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada.

In September 2010 a specially formed private equity firm Nunavut Iron Ore tried to buy all of Baffinland for C$274 million. Richard McCloskey, then Baffinland’s chairman, told Mining Weekly in August 2010 the firm was seeking partners to provide the financing for the mine’s construction.

Back then, the Toronto-based Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation (TSX: BIM) was focused on its 100 per cent-owned Mary River iron ore deposits.

The business was formed back in March 1986 and is a mineral exploration and development company with a sole focus on the advancement of its Mary River Property, which consists of 4 high-grade hematite/magnetite deposits.

The twin challenges of the terrain and location of the deposits have significantly controbuteds to the delays down the years, as McCloskey described back in 2010:

“Part of the problem is that the site is situated on North Baffin Island, well above the tree-line, meaning that the terrain is glacial – we have rolling hills, lakes and seasonal rivers to contend with and in the summer there is 24 hours of daylight, in the winter 24 hours of darkness,” McCloskey stated.

“The number one deposit is 500 meters above the land and can be seen for miles around; the main handicap to this project has always been shipping. If there is an ideal product coming out of the Arctic, this is it. This opportunity offers everything a miner could ever want: the highest grade of iron ore on earth and well over a billion tonnes of reserves – but it also throws-up ice as a challenge,” he added.

Subsequent feasibility studies indicate that there is over a billion tonnes of high-grade iron ore at the site, leaving Baffinland with the dilemma of transportation.

Today Baffinland is owned 50 per cent by ArcelorMittal and 50 per cent by Nunavut Iron Ore (NIO), with ArcelorMittal remaining as the Project operator. Baffinland’s Head Office is located in Oakville, Ontario, Canada and it Northern Headquarters are located in Iqaluit, Nuanvut.  

The company is also rapidly progressing through the construction phase and maintains a year-round presence at Mary River and Milne Inlet.

According to the company website: “It is one of the largest and richest undeveloped iron ore projects in the world and involves the construction and of an open pit mine. The Mary River Project consists of nine high-grade lump and fine iron ore deposits that can be mined, crushed and screened and then shipped directly to markets. 

“The Baffinland vision is to safely and efficiently identify and develop resources within Baffin Island, unlocking their wealth-generating potential to the benefit of all stakeholders.”

It is hoped that the Mary River Project will have a significant socio-economic impact on the area, with the company hoping it will “contribute to the development of infrastructure, skills training, and employment and business opportunities for the people of Nunavut. The Project will also provide revenues to Inuit birthright corporations Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (“NTI”) and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (“QIA”) as well as to the Government of Nunavut.”

Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation (Baffinland)’s initial Project consisted of mining iron ore from the reserve at Deposit No. 1 at a production rate of 18 Million tonnes per year (Mt/a). The Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) issued the Project Certificate for this Project on December 28, 2012.

The Mary River Mine has offered great prospects for the community, but for over half a century these have remained unrealized. The company now believes it is nearly ready to finally make its aims a reality:

“Baffinland is committed to building and operating the Mary River Mine in an environmentally and socially responsible manner that will benefit all stakeholders. Particular consideration will be given to the Inuit of the North Baffin region as the project is successfully developed. Our approach is one of caring, hard work, innovation, reliability and teamwork,” it says.