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Bruce Grierson made lasting contributions to the mining industry in Canada and abroad during his 40-year career with Rio Tinto Iron & Titanium (RIT) and its subsidiary, QIT-Fer et Titane (QIT). When he retired in 2000, RIT was the world’s main supplier of titanium feedstock for making pigments for the paint, paper and plastics industries, with total sales exceeding one billion dollars US annually.
Grierson was more than an innovative metallurgical engineer and astute businessman involved with mining, processing, and marketing mine-derived products to global customers. He was a leader able to motivate project teams and corporate colleagues through common goals and shared purpose. He won the support of stakeholders for mining-related ventures through humor, humility, and his innate ability to connect on a personal level with people from all walks of life, all over the world.
Grierson joined QIT after graduating from McGill University as a metallurgical engineer in 1961. His first feat was to organize a multi-disciplinary research team that developed computerized process-control systems for QIT’s smelting plant, greatly improving its productivity. The QIT facility at Sorel is the world’s largest open arc electric smelter and treats ilmenite shipped from QIT’s Lac Allard mine. QIT’s next challenge was to produce a feedstock product suitable for use in the growing chloride process market, since its feedstock, Sorelslag, which then served the sulphate sector, was unsuitable for use in the chloride process. Grierson saw potential to use QIT’s smelting process to produce higher quality products from beach-sand ilmenite, which had lower levels of chemical impurities, and helped the company identify significant reserves of such ores at Richards Bay, South Africa.
In 1974, Grierson was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the QIT-led consortium that built a greenfield mine and processing complex at Richards Bay. It was a complex undertaking, combining innovative mining techniques, concentration aboard floating dredges, heavy-minerals separation and upgrading plants, and leading-edge smelting technologies. The project was a technical and commercial success, and developed in a socially and environmentally progressive manner with the support of local communities. Richards Bay is the world’s largest single facility treating heavy minerals, and is matched in scale only by QIT’s smelting operations in Quebec.
The 1980s saw Grierson climb the ranks at QIT and later RIT, initially as the first Canadian to be appointed president and chief operating officer, and then as chairman and chief executive officer. During this period, he provided strategic and marketing leadership as new specialty products were developed in rapid succession, including high-purity iron and steel products, high quality steel billets, steel powders, and a high-grade feedstock product called Upgraded Slag. More than 80% of the products sold by the company today did not exist in their current form before 1975.
Grierson spent his career in a low-profile sector of the mining industry, and for too long was one of mining’s unsung heroes. Yet his achievements are far-reaching and will provide immeasurable benefits to numerous industries, and to the broader Canadian and global economies, for decades to come. In 2001, the University of Sherbrooke awarded him an honorary D. Sc. degree in recognition of his activities in the technical area.