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Like another great Canadian mine-finder, Gilbert LaBine (now, too, enshrined in the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame), Franc R. Joubin also made his name and enduring reputation, in uranium. For it was Joubin who found the vast Blind River area uranium field in northern Ontario, today the site of the major operations of uranium miners Denison Mines and Rio Algom at Elliot Lake. Their operations comprise one of the world’s largest sources of uranium for energy development, thanks to Joubin’s early-acquired interest in and enthusiasm for uranium exploration.
Committed to a life of prospecting even before he graduated in chemistry and geology, from the University of British Columbia, Joubin began his mining career in the gold business, with British Columbia’s Pioneer Gold Mines.
He learned, he said, from early field work while still at school, that “I had a natural taste and talent for prospecting.”
As a result, when in 1948 the Canadian government legalized public prospecting for uranium, Joubin, who had already in his undergraduate years learned everything he could about uranium, was more than ready to go in search of it, accompanied by a geiger counter he had bought for $120.
But he never dreamt that one day that instrument would signal the presence of a treasure ultimately worth billions of dollars.
When he heard that pitchblende had been discovered near Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario, he and his geiger counter were among the earliest on the scene.
It seemed a false start, at first, when he passed the counter over a string of pits on a ridge just east of Blind River. The instrument kicked at every one of the pits, which appeared to be all radioactive, but a lab report noted only trace quantities of uranium.
Joubin, concluding erroneously that the radioactivity was from thorium, not uranium, returned for several years to his geological consultant practice, travelling the western hemisphere in search of other metals. But he remained haunted by visions of a uranium mine in Ontario.
Finally, in 1953, convinced by further study that the thorium content alone was not sufficient to account for the total radioactivity in the Blind River pits, Joubin teamed with the colorful, flamboyant Joe Hirshhorn to launch a new and highly-secret staking and drilling program in that area. More than 1,400 claims were staked encompassing some 56,000 acres.
This time, the drills hit the uranium jackpot and Joubin was on his way to a secure place in Canada’s mining history, for it resulted in the rapid development of no less than nine separate mines in one of the biggest and most exciting mining booms this country has ever seen.
Presently busy writing his memoirs of a remarkable professional life, Joubin over the years has contributed to the discovery and development of major mining districts in areas around the world.
He has been awarded both the Leonard Medal of the Engineering Institute of Canada and the Blaylock Medal of the Canadian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy for his outstanding achievements in Canada’s mining industry.