The McGill Earth and Planetary Sciences Department recently received a $4.1 million donation from McGill graduate Robert Wares and his mining company, the Osisko Mining Corporation.
According to geology Professor Anthony Williams-Jones, between 1995 and 2000, McGill was forced to institute a 25 per cent cut in spending due to the national deficit.
“Our department in particular suffered really badly. We lost a lot of staff. We dropped from 18 professors to 12 professors,” said Williams-Jones. “We certainly needed to rejuvenate, which we had already done, but we also need to grow back to where we were historically.”
Across Canada, university geology departments have been underfunded and unpopular.
“Geology, especially in the past 10 or 15 years has not been very popular with the young students, they tend to go into other fields,” said Wares “Part of that is because the departments across the country have been underfunded. It’s a bit of a vicious circle because underfunding leads to less enrolment and the universities see it as a low priority department.”
The money will finance two new professor positions (faculty scholars) in the area of economic geology, which is the geology applied to mineral deposits. The donation will also fund scholarships for students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels and field trips for students in the department.
“This donation is important for students because a large number of our students go on to work in the mining industry, for example, and now they are going to have far more courses available to them of an applied nature,” said Williams-Jones.
Wares has a long-standing connection with McGill, having completed undergraduate and graduate work in the university’s department of earth and planetary sciences. During the period of budget cuts, a campaign was launched by professor Williams-Jones to raise money for the department, however none contributed to the area of economic geology.
“Wares was actually aware of this campaign way back then and certainly is aware of our need in that area,” said Williams-Jones.
Since 2004, the Osisko Mining Corporation, founded by Wares, has been developing the Canadian Malartic gold deposit in Quebec’s Abitibi Gold Belt, just south of the town of Malartic. This deposit is one of the largest gold reserves in Canada and needs geologists to work on development and exploration.
“Part of the problem is that the mining industry has been contributing very little actually. So we’re hoping to reverse the trend eventually and get everybody to wake up and realize that we’re running out of jobs,” said Wares.
According to Williams-Jones, both the university and the mining corporation will benefit from the donation.
“[Wares and Osisko] are effectively contributing to their own needs by facilitating the education of more geologists,” he said.