Athena Tacet | Contributor
A few more than a hundred students gathered last Monday, Sept. 24, to attend the screening of the documentary The Hole Story (2011) co-presented by Cinema Politica and The Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia (QPIRG). Directed by Richard Desjardins and Robert Monderie, the film denounces Canada’s profit-driven mining industry with a particular emphasis on the regions of Ontario and Quebec. By means of archives, interviews in both French and English of Canadian experts in the mining industry and the environment as well as local –sometimes humorous- politicians, journalists and historians, the directors provide us with a clear statement on the dangers stemming for the search for profit at the expense of the environment and public health. Using both black and white and colour footage, the film takes us on a journey into the history of mining in Canada, starting at the end of the 19th century, at a time when prospects for regional industrializations and economic boom for companies like Vale Inco – specialized in nickel – represented the number one priority well above concerns about the environment.
The Hole Story describes the discovery of nickel in Sudbury, Ontario, where the first mineral deposits were discovered between 1883 and 1885. More than a hundred years later, Sudbury has become the world’s greatest region in nickel extraction. The documentary retraces then the story of silver in Cobalt, gold in Timmins and copper in Rouyn; and heightens the degree to which the discovery of mines in Ontario and Quebec has greatly contributed to the mineral wealth of Canada.
However, The Hole Story is not just a documentary. It is also the visual testimony of the alarming consequences of more than a hundred years of exploitation of resources in a land in which the local population and local economy have never truly benefited from the country’s mineral wealth. The film reminds us that mining companies have historically paid little tax, therefore barely participating in the economic development of the regions in which they had implemented their businesses.
In addition, one cannot talk about the history of mines without referring to the history of miners. The documentary thus underlines the inhumane conditions in which the first miners used to work at the beginning of the 20th century. Working more than 50 hours a week in conditions which included breathing chemicals on a daily basis and facing accidents because of lack of safety measures in the mines were some of the realities of miners whose life expectancy would not exceed 42 years old. But this, the documentary notes, has improved with technological progress which has slowly replaced men with machines; a brighter note which also reflects a darker reality.
It is undeniable that the development of the mining industry in Canada has affected numbers of lives in the country. The case in point of Abitibi-Témiscamingue in the documentary is particularly striking. Most gold mines opened in the region in the 1930s after a significant increase in the price of gold due to the global economic landscape at the time. Today, images and testimonies reflect how the exploitation of mines has not only destroyed thousands of kilometres of historically beautiful natural landscapes, but also affected thousands of people whose homes were and are still today displaced for the benefit of multinational corporations notably from Brazil and India. This is exactly what the documentary refers to as the “hole.”
Overall, the documentary aims to leave a message to Canadians: in an increasingly globalized world, it is time for Canadians to realize the significance of using their natural and mineral resources in a way that will first benefit the country’s national and local economies and then countries abroad, always keeping in mind the need to respect concerns about the environment and human health.