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The scarcity of jobs during the Depression years prompted a young Egil Lorntzsen to pursue a prospecting career, starting in the Bridge River gold camp of British Columbia. But success was not to come until decades later, when he made an “elephant” copper discovery in nearby Highland Valley.
The discovery was not the result of chance or luck, but came about because of the remarkable persistence of a self-taught man who believed in his property even after it was turned down by several major companies.
Lorntzsen was born and raised in a Norwegian fishing village, and hunted seals before finding work on a freighter. He jumped ship in Montreal in 1932, and rode the rails out West. While in Bridge River, he actively took up the tools of the prospectors trade, identifying minerals and rock types, mapping and learning which metals were in demand.
The war brought a demand for sheelite, the ore of tungsten, and Lorntzsen’s first success was the discovery of a high-grade vein from which ore was mined for several years. After the war, he formed the first uranium mining syndicate in the province and later managed exploration programs for several Vancouver-based juniors. He took an interest in gold in South America, but the collapse of the gold market quashed this foreign venture.
In the late 1950s, during the porphyry copper-molybdenum boom, Lorntzsen staked his claims in the Highland Valley. One after the other, two separate majors optioned the ground, did some work, and dropped the claims. Early in 1964, Anaconda reviewed the project and advised Lorntzsen that there was nothing there.
Lorntzsen’s Norwegian stubborness flared up and he returned to prospecting the overburden-covered claims himself. In June of 1964, he found 400 ft. of highly altered granite, and shortly thereafter, Lornex Mining was incorporated with Lorntzsen as president. He raised about $400,000 by selling shares privately, which financed the purchase of a second-hand bulldozer. Trenching on the discovery area began in September. A drill program followed, and results were positive.
In 1965, Rio Algom Mines bought 100,000 shares at 75 cents per share, and received an option to buy further shares to give it 60% of the company. Lorntzsen insisted on directing the first $600,000 of expenditures, as he did not want Rio Algom following the examples of the previous majors.
During this period, Lorntzsen’s determination was again brought to the fore. The crew carrying out an induced polarization survey felt it did not have have enough evidence to warrant continuing, and started dismantling the survey. Lorntzsen forced them back to work and it was this renewed effort that resulted in the geophysical evidence of substantial mineralization.
By the summer of 1966, with the success of ongoing work, management was smoothly transferred to the Rio Algom team from Lorntzsen.
The Lornex deposit began production in 1972, and eventually became part of Highland Valley Copper, a partnership involving Rio Algom, Teck and Cominco. In terms of tonnages mined and milled, Highland Valley Copper is one of the largest mines in the world.