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Author keeps Sudbury’s mining heritage alive

Retired miner, researcher and author Hans Brasch is keeping Sudbury’s mining heritage alive and well.

His two most recent books, MINING Then and Now in The Sudbury Basin and Garson Mine: 100 Years of Mining Excellence, provide a wealth of information about past and present mining practices at Inco’s mines in the Sudbury region.

Born and raised on a farm in Heidelberg, Germany, Brasch immigrated to Canada at the age of 19. He performed a variety of odd jobs before settling in at the International Nickel Company in 1952, when he was one of 20 young men picked out of a long line of 50 hopeful applicants looking for work in the mines. As a strapping young six-foot tall, 20-year-old, he was ideal for the job.

“You had to weigh at least 180 pounds to be a miner,” he said, explaining that they had to step on a scale to make sure they met the criteria because, at the time, much of the equipment was heavy and the work was physically intensive.

“When I started, Inco was using Lyner drills, which weighed about 230 pounds,” he said.

Brasch and a crew of men in their early 20s were sent to the Levack Mine, where he remained for 40 years performing different mining jobs throughout his tenure with the company.

His many years at Inco gave him an intimate knowledge of the mining industry. His first two books provide a detailed account of Inco’s unions: former Mine Mill Local 598 and the current Steelworkers Local 6500. It was important for him to convey potentially lost information about the unions, strikes, contracts and fatalities of fellow co-workers.

MINING Then and Now provides a pictorial compilation of Inco’s past mining practices and the evolution of modern methods and machinery. Brasch liked this format because “when you see a photo, you get the story with one glance,” he said. “The point with this book was short words and lots of photos.”

There are 640 colour and black and white photos accompanied by detailed explanations, giving readers a greater insight into the scope of change experienced in the mining industry.

Brasch, a collector who always had a camera “stuck” under his arm, snapped pictures at will with the intent to write his biography. Despite regulations against freelance photography on company property, Brasch openly admits his addiction to capture the moment.

“When you’re a photoholic, what can you do?” he said innocently. “I was glad I took them or they’d all be lost in history.”

Although the book took about two years to complete, Brasch said it was really history captured over 40 years, since many of the photos and sketches are his own. He emphasized his positive working relationship with the company and all those who helped him obtain photos along with the necessary information.

He lives in Chelmsford with his wife Christina and daughter Teresa, who is also his desktop publisher.

Brasch is a well-respected member of the Sudbury community and an advocate for the mining industry.

“I see Hans as a real ambassador for the mining industry,” said Cory McPhee, Vale Inco’s director, corporate public affairs. “His pride for mining in general and his own history as a miner is something that is inspiring to a lot of us who know him.”

Brasch is also featured in a local documentary, Riches Beyond Our Rocks: Tales from Greater Sudbury. In addition to his writing and photography, he spends time in school classrooms talking with students and sharing a behind-the-scenes look at mining. His advocacy work has also led him to volunteer at Dynamic Earth, a geoscience attraction, and help others evaluate old coins, another sideline he enjoys. The Garson book, a special edition celebrating the mine’s 100-year anniversary, was only available to Vale Inco’s Garson Mine employees. However, MINING Then and Now can be purchased at Dynamic Earth and Science North in Sudbury.

Receiving little or no financial gain, he continues to write and take photos because it keeps his mind active and the history of mining alive. His next project will focus on the development of the mineshaft at Vale Inco’s Copper Cliff Deep project.

For others who are interested in a similar venture, he recommends “good, accurate research.”

“Don’t just take it from other books. Check it out yourself,” he said. “I worked underground, so I knew it first hand.”

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