Asbestos Mining Towns: Asbestos, Quebec

In modern Australia asbestos is a word synonymous with danger and disease, but it hasn’t always been this way. There was a time when asbestos was hailed as a miracle material, prized for its incredible heat resistant properties and seen as an important resource. 

A hallmark of the western world’s asbestos legacy are the now defunct asbestos towns, places that grew out of, or flourished, due to asbestos mining, but are now mostly forgotten. 

The name Asbestos has not aged well...

The name Asbestos has not aged well...

In this latest instalment we will be looking at the town of Asbestos, in the Canadian province of Quebec

Although it might seem hard to believe, this Canadian town isn’t the only place to take its name from asbestos. In a previous blog post we took a look at Asbest, the Russian word for asbestos and the Russian city home to the world’s biggest functioning open pit asbestos mine. 

Previously, this 'honour' - if you can call having the world's largest asbestos mine an honour - belonged to Asbestos' Jeffery mine.

Panoramic view of the Jeffery mine, Asbestos, Quebec

Panoramic view of the Jeffery mine, Asbestos, Quebec

Opened in 1870, the Jeffery Mine -  known to locals simply as 'the hole' - gave the town of Asbestos its name and employed a majority of its residents. As is often the case with settlements built around asbestos mines, as the mine flourished so did the town. During this asbestos boom Quebec provided as much as half the entire world's supply of asbestos. 

Predictably, the price and demand for asbestos plummeted in the 1980s as the negative health impacts of asbestos exposure became harder and harder to ignore. This lead to the Jeffery mine finally closing its doors in 2011, 8 years after Australia banned asbestos completely. 

At the time of the mine's closure the town was home to 7,096 people, 2000 of which worked at the Jeffery mine. 

So where is the town of Asbestos now, you ask? Well, in 2012 the town was given a $50 million diversification fund from the Parti Quebecois government, replacing a promise of a $58 million loan to renovate and reopen the mine from the previous government. 

Using this grant Asbestos has managed to attract a pharmaceutical company, a duck hatchery and meat processing plant, a cheese factory and a microbrewery. This grant has also helped the town 're-brand' by demolishing all unused mining buildings. 

In a somewhat ironic twist, earlier this year it was revealed that Asbestos may be able to strike it rich from asbestos yet again. As it turns out, the tailings left from mining asbestos are rich in magnesium - a useful mineral that can be turned into a metal. 

While the town of Asbestos may be changing, one thing that isn't is the name. Despite several attempts to change it, it seems for now anyway, that the town is still stuck with its somewhat unfortunate name.

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