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Adolphe “Lap” La Prairie is a legend in the Canadian explosives and mining industry, his standards for technical innovation notable even to this day. His motivation was simple, and based solely on his concern for miners and his interest in making mining a safer and more effective endeavor.
La Prairie joined CXL, the forerunner of CIL Explosives Inc., in 1918 and quickly became a well-respected blasting expert who would spend time discussing blasting practices with anyone who was interested. He was posted to the Timmins area as manager in 1920 and spent most of the next 20 years based in Timmins providing innovative solutions to miners’ blasting problems.
Some of his innovations were simple in nature and based on common sense. He was credited for starting the practice of dipping the cut ends of safety fuse assemblies in order to help identify which fuses had been trimmed. This practice reduced the level of confusion during the hole loading process, and reduced the number of cut-offs. This practice, which is now commonplace, made the workplace safer and no doubt saved many lives.
Other innovations La Prairie devised were more technical, such as the air curtain, which is still used by civil and mining engineers today. Air curtains are employed in instances where underwater structures need protection from the damaging forces of a blast. This technology has a myriad of applications, such as during the construction of ocean and lake port or hydroelectric facilities, or where underwater fauna need protecting.
La Prairie innovated through observation and implementation. While working in the Timmins camp, he noticed that dynamites functioned differently depending on the varying ground conditions. As a result, he developed different formulations of dynamite, including a particular formula that would function better in the schistose ground encountered underground in Timmins. This new formulation, Polar Forcite 60%, became the preferred explosive over the ammonia dynamites and straight dynamites of the time.
La Prairie’s concern for miners extended beyond the workplace and into the communities in which they lived. His charitable work, not only in Timmins but throughout the north, was long appreciated by those whom he helped. He was involved in many community activities but perhaps the most significant involved the organization and promotion of “Lap’s Turkey Stag”, which was the forerunner of the Santa Claus Fund in Timmins.
In addition to charitable events, La Prairie is credited with inaugurating one of the Canadian mining industry’s most significant social engagements. The “Annual Oyster Party” began in Timmins in 1922 and due to its popularity soon spread to other communities, including Toronto in 1934. The Oyster Party is now an integral part of the CIM social calendar and a must for most members of the mining community.