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Victor Wansbrough served Canada’s metals mining industry with distinction for more than 20 years as the first full-time Managing Director of the Canadian Metal Mining Association (CMMA), the forerunner of the Mining Association of Canada. His appointment in early 1947 was a surprise, as he knew nothing about mining at a time when the industry faced serious challenges, notably a labor shortage and a gold mining industry in decline because of rising costs and a fixed gold price. He worked cooperatively with governments to devise innovative solutions, which included recruiting displaced persons from post-war Europe to alleviate the labor shortage and creating subsidies to support and keep the beleaguered gold mining industry alive. The CMMA had 32 members when Wansbrough assumed full-time leadership, and had grown to represent 102 companies when he retired in 1968. During this period, Canadian mineral production rose from $502 million to $4.39 billion, including $3 billion from metal production.
British-born Wansbrough earned an MA degree at Oxford University, where he befriended Lester Pearson, a future Prime Minister of Canada. He came to Canada in 1924 and over the next 18 years taught at and became headmaster of Lower Canada College. In 1941, he joined the Canadian Paint, Varnish and Lacquer Association and capably represented an industry of strategic importance to the war effort. His communication skills and engaging personality came to the attention of the CMMA, which saw the need for a full-time manager to gain a stronger voice and solve industry challenges.
The plight of the gold industry was a complex problem for CMMA’s newly appointed Managing Director. US President Franklin Roosevelt had fixed the gold price at $35 per ounce in response to the 1930s’ depression and wartime lend-lease program, a policy that continued long after the war ended. As costs rose, few Canadian gold mines could operate at a profit. An estimated 250,000 people were dependent on the industry, with most living in remote areas where mining was the only employer. After extensive negotiations, the Emergency Gold Mining Assistance Act was passed in 1948, providing a subsidy to mines otherwise unable to operate. It was meant to last three years, but ran for 25 years at an annual cost of about $10-15 million.
Wansbrough, in partnership with the Department of Labor, devised an ingenious solution to the industry’s labor shortage, which mainly affected the growing base metal sector. Three mining engineers and a medical doctor were dispatched to displaced persons camps in post-war Europe, with 6,000 skilled workers subsequently brought to Canada to start a new life in the mining industry. Wansbrough worked tirelessly to solve trade issues, notably when the United States sought tariffs on Canadian lead and zinc exports, and to preserve tax incentives during the 1967 Carter Commission on Taxation. In 1980, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum.