Former Minto workers say they've been abandoned along with the mine

Workers who were at the Minto Mine in the Yukon when Minto Metals stopped operations say they've been abandoned as well. (Capstone Mining Corp. - image credit)
Workers who were at the Minto Mine in the Yukon when Minto Metals stopped operations say they've been abandoned as well. (Capstone Mining Corp. - image credit)

Before Minto Metals announced the closure of its copper mine last weekend, Mario Linklater says he was considering buying a house in Whitehorse.

For more than a year, Linklater worked as an underground mechanic at Minto Mine, spending three weeks working at Yukon's Minto Mine and three weeks off at home in Ontario.

He's living in the Yukon capital now, but not as a homeowner. He's been staying in a friend's cabin with no running water – saving on rent, taking showers at the Canada Games Centre and sending off resumes – while he figures out what to do next.

Linklater, along with about 180 other employees, found out last week that he was out of a job.

Within 24 hours of that announcement, he was given a flight to Whitehorse and one night's accommodation at a local hotel. Since then, he says, he's been on his own.

"My last run, we were told we're going to have a job, we're going through a little bit of a rough patch, hang in there," he said. "Even leading up to the day (we lost our jobs) on the Friday, we went underground, no issues, you know. And then, just like I say, zero notice."

"Honestly, I'm absolutely, totally lost," he said.

He said he's been unable to reach Minto Metals for more information on help with flights or how to access money he's still owed.

Linklater said he's unsure where he's going to go now. He has items in storage in Ontario, and managed to get a one-way flight home scheduled for later this month. He still needs to find new accommodations, either in Yukon or Ontario, as well as a new job.

Paying for flights, he said, will burn into his savings and he needs to find work before he can find a place to settle.

Others have made it home, but it's cost them.

Derek Gignac said he flew up from Ontario last Thursday for a three-week run, but only worked half a shift before word came down the mine was closing. He promptly turned around and flew back home, which he says cost him almost $1,200 on flights and a hotel stay.

"I had to put [it] on my Visa card, which I don't have the money for," Gignac said over the phone. "Because, as I say, I'm not working right now."

Former miner Eric Canuel was able to make it home this week. He said it cost him $800 to fly back to B.C.

Paying out of pocket was a pain, he said, but he's more concerned about collecting what he's owed.

Capstone Mining
Capstone Mining

Canuel received his final paycheck Friday morning, but said he's unsure he'll get a bonus he was expecting before the mine folded. He said his last payment was a quarter of what he expected, as a result.

"They kind of screwed us with the bonus," he said. "We're supposed to get our bonus pay on Monday. And that's what I pay my kid's tuition with."

A letter Minto sent to employees says the company is unable to pay severance and employees should apply for compensation through the federal Wage Earner Protection Program. But workers who spoke with CBC, including Canuel, said they've had trouble applying.

Workers were also told Minto is now in receivership, but they said the number they've been given to access money from that receiver isn't working. CBC has been unable to identify the receiver.

Minto still unreachable

Minto Metals hasn't responded to requests for comment this week. As of this morning, phone calls to the company line haven't been going through.

The company's entire board of directors resigned last weekend, though that wasn't publicly announced until later in the week. It's unclear what the company's future is at this point.

Yukon Chamber of Mines (YCM) president Loralee Johnstone is one of the Minto board members who stepped down Saturday, the same day the Yukon government took over operations and maintenance at the mine.

CBC requested an interview with Johnstone through the Chamber, but was told Johnstone "is not employed by Minto and is therefore not in a position to speak on their behalf or on YCM's due to that conflict."

In a previous email, YCM executive director Brianne Warner said she understood Minto faced numerous challenges. She said that includes the temporary loss of access to the Skagway Port, where it ships copper to international markets, and a pending application to amend its water licence that's been before the Yukon Water Board for six years.

"It is very unfortunate to see Minto shut down," Warner wrote. "It has been a driver of economy for 16 years with substantial employment and economic benefits to Yukon, including over $33 million in royalties paid to the Selkirk First Nation."

Capstone Mining Corporation owned the mine site from 2006 until it sold it to Pembridge Resources in 2019. Minto Metals Corp. was then established in 2021 to operate the site.

CBC/Julien Gignac
CBC/Julien Gignac

Minister of Mines John Streicker told CBC this week that Minto Metals still owes Selkirk First Nation royalties, though how much is unclear. The First Nation has yet to comment on the closure.

Streicker said the company is also behind on security payments to the Yukon government.  The territory has about $75 million in security to pay for continued operation of the mine, including water treatment necessary to prevent contamination of the surrounding environment.

Minto has released statements saying more than 500 million pounds of copper have been mined from the site.