Freight barges hauling heavy equipment from the Nechalacho mine docked in Yellowknife on Thursday, a sight that would once have been routine but is now a rarity.
Two barges offloaded machinery at a dock near the former Con gold mine. Nechalacho, Canada’s first rare-earth minerals operation, has just concluded its first operational summer season.
Guided into Yellowknife Bay by the GNWT tug MV Vic Ingraham, they are understood to be the first large-scale freight transport barges to dock in the city for 30 years.
While barges are still used each summer to send supplies from Hay River to smaller NWT communities, Yellowknife plays no role in those operations.
Before completion of the city’s highway connection to southern Canada in the 1960s, Yellowknife was reliant on seasonal freight barges bringing everything from construction materials to beer.
An annual reenactment of the arrival of Yellowknife’s first summer barge has been held since 2009, marking what is effectively a bygone era.
However, Nechalacho operator Cheetah Resources is using the barges both as a means of backhauling equipment from its site east of Yellowknife and as a way to send ore south.
The barges will depart Yellowknife later on Friday and return to pick up ore from Nechalacho. The trip covers around 110 km and takes about seven hours.
That ore will be barged to Hay River, where its arrival is anticipated on Sunday, before being transferred for eventual rail delivery to a facility in Saskatoon.
Mining will resume at Nechalacho next summer. Cheetah aims to mine some 600,000 tonnes of rock at the site, producing ore containing rare-earth minerals used in items like electric vehicle batteries.