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The legacy Ralph Parker left to the International Nickel Co. and to the Canadian mining industry is rich, from advances in mining methods to the design and development of safety appliances and mining equipment. As superintendent of mines at Inco’s Sudbury operations beginning in 1931, he embarked upon a long-range plan that over the years brought the nickel producer into the forefront of the world’s mining companies. His greatest achievement, while in Sudbury overseeing the world’s largest source of nickel, was his direction that led to the discovery of the Thompson, Man., nickel deposits that would become the world’s second largest nickel operation.
Under his direction, Inco scientists and explorationists developed the aerial magnetometer, a device once used by the military to locate enemy submarines. After a 10-year exploration effort that included flying 150,000 line miles in northern Manitoba, the Thompson orebody was discovered in 1956. Within just five years, a mine was developed and a plant and townsite built at a location some 500 miles north of Winnipeg. Today, Thompson produces more than 100 million pounds of nickel annually, slightly more than one-quarter of Inco’s total output.
Parker graduated with a B. Sc. from the University of California in 1921. As a student, grubstaked by a syndicate of steam railway engineers, he and a classmate spent eight months exploring old underground workings in Butte City., but found no encouragement.
Subsequent jobs brought him to Canada, eventually with McIntyre Porcupine Mines in Timmins, Ont., where mining by prevalent shrinkage methods was becoming difficult due to peculiar ground conditions in some of the mine’s high-grade stopes.
Parker cast about for solutions and eventually designed a square-set of round native spruce, an approach that had a profound influence on the fortunes of many leading mines.
In 1928, he joined Inco as superintendent at the Creighton mine, its only operating mine at the time. Under Parker, with his knowledge of square-setting, Inco was able to recover high-grade ore out of the old rock-filled “glory hole” of the mine’s earliest days.
Parker became Inco’s superintendent of mines for Sudbury in 1931. In 1958, he moved from Sudbury to Toronto as vice-president in charge of Canadian operations after having directed the building of completely new and modern plants at all of Inco’s mines in the Sudbury district.
It was also under Parker’s guidance that the Sudbury mines shifted from open pit to underground operations when bulk mining methods and equipment were introduced.
His interest in ground control led to the highly effective sequential approach to ground removal, an approach that formed the basis of this practice now applied in many parts of the world.
Research in drill steel composition and manufacture was one of Parker’s earliest and continuing interests. As a result of research he initiated, the quality of drill steel manufactured in Canada advanced to equal any produced worldwide. His leadership also impacted upon the design and development of hoist rope, safety appliances and other mining equipment.
In 1963, he retired as senior vice-president of Inco. At the time, he was honored as the first recipient of the Chairman’s Citation for his achievements as engineer, administrator and executive.