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During a career that has spanned more than half a century, James McDougall has earned a reputation for boldly going where few geologists have ever gone before. It is said that his footprints can be found on just about every mineral occurrence in British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska, where he has found or helped discover more than 16 major mineral deposits. His most significant and famous discovery lies within a park and will likely never be mined, but his pioneering work in the discovery of the Windy Craggy copper-gold-cobalt deposit puts him right alongside Canada’s other great mine-finders.
McDougall was born in Grand Forks, B.C., to a family of mining pioneers. He served overseas during the Second World War, returning home to study geology at the University of British Columbia. He earned his B.Sc. degree in 1951, a M.Sc. degree in 1954, and became a mining engineer. After graduation he joined the Ventures group of companies, then under the helm of renowned mine-finder Thayer Lindsey, and remained with the group after it became part of Falconbridge. He was appointed manager of western exploration in 1970, and held the position until he “retired” in the 1980s, only to become a sought-after consultant.
McDougall’s legacy of discovery reflects the diverse mineral potential of the western Cordillera. His credits include the Catface porphyry copper deposit on Vancouver Island’s west coast, the Tasu iron-copper mine on the Queen Charlotte Islands, the Banks Island gold project near Prince Rupert, and the Sustut copper deposit in north-central B.C.
McDougall’s technical skills, vision, and dedication to working whenever there was daylight all contributed to his prospecting success, but another equally important factor was his willingness to explore rugged and remote wilderness areas. He was among the first to use fixed-wing planes and then helicopters to explore new terrain, and among the first to make use of advanced geochemical and geophysical techniques.
Windy Craggy was discovered in 1957 when McDougall and his crew, geologist W.W. Wilkinson and prospector Meade Hepler, investigated iron-stained rocks in northwestern B.C. He traced mineralized boulders up the side of a steep mountain and discovered a deposit mostly obscured by valley glaciers and debris. In subsequent seasons, he carried small packsack drills up the mountain and obtained the first ore-grade intercepts in drill core. More than $50 million was subsequently spent to develop the world-class deposit. Before long Windy Craggy was viewed as having potential to rival the giant Sullivan silver-lead-zinc mine in the south. In the early 1990s, environmental groups successfully lobbied the government of the day to block further development. The entire area around Windy Craggy was declared a National Park in 1995, and was recognized as a Heritage Park by the United Nations a year later. Even so, the discovery firmly established “Jimmy Mac” (as he is affectionately known) as one of British Columbia’s most talented, tenacious, and successful geologists.
McDougall was named “Prospector of the Year” by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada in 1985. In 1987, he received the H.H. Spud Huestis Award for Excellence in Prospecting and Mineral Exploration from the B.C. and Yukon Chamber of Mines.