We were up early. We had to be at the university, ready to start the meeting for 9:30. We ate and packed and then headed over. It was VERY COLD outside.
Then we were at a Laurentian building that has Ministry offices, business offices and some conference space. Talk about blending of fields! We carted all our stuff up and set up again.
Then the day started. Dr Robinson (aka D.R.) introduced everyone. People you haven’t met yet were Kirk, a mining engineer and consultant who is a friend of Doug’s and came to give us a mining company perspective on these problems, Gail, a professor from Algoma University focused on socio-economic community development in the North and Michael, a professor in Planning at Waterloo (but whose background is in ecology). Doug was there too. The goal of the meeting (which will extend for the next day and a half) is for all these different people to draft an application for funding for some interdisciplinary project focused on Far North development.
Doug began by giving an overview of what CEMI (Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation, if you remember from last time) does. A lot of it was familiar from hearing him speak informally at our dinner the night before, but one new thing that really struck me was how he described the current demographics of mining. It’s an older person’s game! The average age is 55. What that means is that mining companies will be looking for a lot of younger people decently soon and are trying to think of ways to make the career more attractive. They’ll have to revision what it means to be a miner and what it means to work in a mine. One thing they’re thinking of doing is revamping Personal Protective Equipment to make it less like what our grandfathers wore and more like spacesuits. He showed some pretty cool pictures.
Another thing that struck me (both from Doug’s presentation and Kirk’s after) was that mining companies (and maybe most companies) are in the business of selling confidence as much as anything else. To get investment, they have to make their investors feel secure. This point might seem obvious, but it affects everything we’ve been talking about throughout the weekend about radically different futures for the North – these ideas aren’t what you could take to funders and have them buy into enthusiastically.
Kirk went next and just gave an indication of what a mining company would have to do to get funding for opening a new mine (which includes building the entire required infrastructure). They have to submit a report to the funders that includes something called a ‘base case’ – how much money the funder would get as a return in the worst possible scenario. The base case has to be projected using existing, tested technologies. It is not the space for proposals that reference new technologies (like airships). Yet, what Kirk also said is that if you can figure out and test some kind of innovation that will save everyone money, you can use it instead of what you’ve promised. So there’s a certain degree of freedom you get even though it may seem pretty restrictive.
After this intro, we went into describing each of our models and letting the group comment on them. I’ve already given a pretty detailed explanation of the different pieces, so I won’t put you through that again. It was great to have them in front of people besides ourselves because they immediately pointed out things we omitted that we weren’t able to notice, or brought our attention to certain aspects of the model that should be changed. We hoped the models could be used as thinking tools and I think that to an extent they did provoke new questions, but I wasn’t as convinced as I thought they would be that the group was really benefitting from having us walk them through them. I think what was useful for the ‘proposal group’ was seeing a prototype of what they could develop and perfect with additional time and energy – to get them thinking about how these kinds of tools could be used in community consultations or policy-making decisions. What I was thinking after is that the exhaustion I felt because of the intensity of the weekend might have also affected my perspective. It will be interesting to see what other people thought.
After lunch, we got into what was my second-favourite part of the day. The Business Development manger for CEMI (Charles), who handles all the grants, came into talk to the group about how they could articulate their proposal (or, as he recommended, series of proposals) to best align with government priorities so they would have the best chance of getting money. Here, all of our different ideas started coming together; at least, the different researchers started talking about how their different interests could work together to really have an impact on the course of the Far North (being ambitious, I know, but what else can you be?).
I started sketching out the conversation on the white board as it happened, more as a way to help me process it. Someone took a picture of it, but I can’t remember who. Otherwise I would post it. You’ll have to imagine it. Very colourful, lots of arrows. “Classic Smrke”, in the words of Michael Hewlett.
But anyways — a lot of cool ideas came out of that session. One might be having a massive multiplayer game about development in the Far North. We’ll see.
Our group ducked out of that meeting and rushed to the just-opened Laurentian School of Architecture. I was riding with DR in the car and got to hear the story of how he catalyzed its development by, in his words, being persistent and making a lot of phone calls. The right people fell into place and then the whole town jumped on the idea. It became everyone’s baby. The important thing about the architecture school is that it aims to integrate traditional First Nations practices into its exploration of design. We gave a talk to some community members at the school – just going through the stories we’re envisioning for Far North development and the different model pieces we developed to help us see the system better. It definitely had a different tone than the earlier presentation and I liked it better. The community members asked great questions, called us out on some of our assumptions and had a bunch of great ideas for making the tools more relevant. It was such a lovely few hours.
Then, we headed to the restaurant on top of Science North (Sudbury’s Science Centre) for dinner. There is a great display of Christmas lights (including the meteor one I talked about earlier) and I wished so much that I had brought my camera, but again, you’ll have to imagine a series of lit-up shapes and figures scattered around an area about ¾ the size of a football field. It was pretty magical. It was also PRETTY COLD.
Joining us for dinner were some of the people that we’d met earlier in the day – the different researchers. We all ended up sitting at the same table, but I was talking to DR and the two Michaels (Hewlett and the researcher from Waterloo) for most of the night. It was great. I ended up having such a nice conversation with Waterloo Michael about the future and incorporating a sense of adventure into your life, and Hamilton (he lives in Dundas), and the importance of having a ‘sense of place’ and how the Netherlands are awesome and I should visit there. We kept jumping in and out of others’ conversations. An especially funny moment was when Waterloo Michael started talking about how boring he found the Vinyl Cafe and started to do an impersonation of Stuart Maclean, not knowing that Hamilton Michael who was sitting beside him had developed a reputation over the weekend for doing a Stuart Maclean impersonation. Of course, Hamilton Michael launched into his impersonation and Waterloo Michael was highly amused.
Also, you’re probably wondering what I ate. “Exotic Game Pizza” – so boar bacon, duck sausage and nice cheese as toppings. (I figured I wouldn’t have another chance to eat boar bacon for a while, or maybe I just wanted to say that I’d eaten it… )
We ended up leaving Science North at around 11 and heading back to the house. After some late-night ice cream (the best kind), I went to bed.
And now I’ve caught you up, whether you wanted me to or not.