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Known by his contemporaries as “the man who made the Malartics”, James Paul Norrie combined ambition, energy, instinct and an extraordinary entrepreneurial spirit to discover and open mines in the Abitibi region of northwestern Quebec, including Perron, East Malartic and Malartic Goldfields, to name but a few.
His enormous contributions to the development of that province’s mining industry have earned him a place in Canadian history, but he was also the driving force behind several other Canadian projects and the founder of a drilling company, Inspiration Mining and Development.
Born and raised in Truro, Nova Scotia, Norrie graduated from the Nova Scotia Technical College in 1913. He began his career as a mine inspector, later working for several U.S. companies before finding his way to the Quebec wilderness.
Norrie came to the Abitibi district as more than just a mining engineer; he was a prospector, consultant, mine developer, executive, financier and promoter. He did everything with a zest that amazed and inspired those who worked with him. His aggressive nature was summed up with this famous quote: “Cross the street when the light is red If you wait for the green, you’ll never get ahead of the mob.”
Norrie was indeed ahead of the pack in the Abitibi district. He began work in Malartic and Fourniere townships, where the geology is complex. Deposits there are masked by a tangled network of veins and vein systems covered with a thick overburden impervious to geophysical tests of that time. Norrie unraveled this geological knot through keen observation tempered with sound judgment.
When the Stadacona became a mine, he turned his attention to ground where Alex Perron was working a high-grade gold vein. It was hosted in rocks unlike those of the known showings and when mill construction began, the reaction in mining circles was one of dismay. But Norrie persevered and, in 1936, Quebec was rewarded with a new mine. The operation produced more than $12 million in gold in the following years, big money in those days.
Norrie had the uncanny ability of finding ore where others could not. From 1927 to 1945, he found more mines in Canada than anyone before him. He transformed the wilds of the Malartic region into a thriving and prosperous community by discovering, or helping to develop, the East Malartic, Aubelle, Croinor, Louvicourt, Norbenite and Sladen mines. His greatest triumph in the region was Malartic Goldfields, which out-produced its neighbours.
Although Norrie’s contributions to the communities of Malartic and Val d’Or prompted Quebecers to embrace him as one of their own, his accomplishments were not limited to that province. A mica mine he discovered in Ontario was large enough to meet the Allies’ war-time demand for the mineral.
He also had a hand in the discovery of pitchblende at Great Bear Lake, where the Eldorado uranium mine was later developed.
Norrie received wide acclaim for his accomplishments. According to a story that appeared in The Globe and Mail in 1944, “James P. Norrie is not an alchemist, but in turning cloddy earth to glittering gold, he is the outstanding mine-maker in the all-time history of Quebec.”