With the warm weather in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region this week, I wanted to find a place to cool down. To tell the truth, the first thing that came to my mind was the outdoors, the lakes or the woods. Looking for a refreshing activity to do, I then thought of the Cité de l’Or and the underground visit to the former Lamaque gold mine. Let me take you with me 300 feet (91 metres) underground!
Wednesday, July 10, it’s 28 degrees in Val-d’Or
The summer is beautiful and hot in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region and people are often looking for places to cool off. However, the first place that they think of may not exactly be a visit to the Cité de l’Or and l’Ancienne-Mine-Lamaque, but the underground visit is an excellent way to cool off while doing an unforgettable activity and learning more about the region’s history.
10:00 A.M., the visit to the Cité de l’Or begins
It is 10 a.m. sharp when our two guides for the day meet us at the Cité de l’Or reception desk. It is with great interest that I follow them to start the visit of the Lamaque mine. I chose the two and a half hour underground tour. The guides begin with a brief history of the mine and how the American prospector Robert C. Clark and his Algonquin guide Gabriel Commandant discovered this gold deposit, which was then mined from 1935 to 1985.
The part of the visit I look forward to the most is the tour of the drying room, where the miners would dress up to go down into the mine and dry their work uniforms afterwards. I grab the suit I will be wearing to go down into the mine from a hook suspended from the ceiling. I am already having fun choosing my suit, taking it down from the ceiling and putting it on!
Work suit and helmet on, it’s go time!
Miner suit and helmet on, we are equipped by the guides with a headlamp and a battery attached to our belt. It’s time to go. We hurry up and get into real mining vehicles that will take us down in the Ancienne-Mine-Lamaque.
Only two vehicles are needed to bring the group 300 feet (91 metres) underground. As we approach the mine entrance, everyone turns on their headlamps. The trip has barely begun and we can already feel the coolness and humidity from the underground gold mine. The temperature underground is 8 degrees Celsius. Didn’t I tell you we were going to cool off?
If you are afraid to go so deep underground, don’t panic, the trip down is done in two phases so that the guide can check that everyone is feeling well. Once everyone gives their consent, the vehicle begins the second part of the descent.
All right, we’re 300 feet under the ground!
The vehicles stop. We’re in the midst of the action, in the heart of the old gold mine! The group gets off and follows the guides in the main passage. The guides show us, through different stations, what was the work of miners like when the mine started its operation back in the days and what it would be like now. We learn about the different techniques and machines. The work needed to get the gold out is impressive and fascinating. We learn more about what can happen during a miner’s work shifts (which last 10 hours!) and the safety procedures. I have to say, it’s pretty intimidating.
Are you afraid of the dark?
The guides invite us to experience total darkness. Everyone turns off their headlamps one after the other. It is dark, but not the kind of darkness to which the eye can get used to and in which you can eventually see shadows… it’s complete darkness! Just like a kid, I try to get my hand close to my face, at eye level, very quickly, but nothing, I can see nothing.
This is the first time I experience total darkness. It’s really impressive! One of our guides explains that if a miner’s lamp goes out, the miner would find himself in absolute darkness – as we just did – and would have to sit where he was and wait for his foreman to come during his safety round (done twice in a work shift). Why? Simply because miners that tried to follow the walls of the passage had fallen into holes used to remove waste rocks.
Visit of the labs after the underground tour
It is time to get back into the mining vehicles that will bring us back to the surface. I have completely lost track of time. I have no idea how long we have been underground or what time it may be.
Once out of the mine, it feels good to be back in the warmth of this beautiful summer day. Our eyes must get used to daylight. It’s noon. We spent an hour and a half underground. Wow! I never imagined that we had spent so much time down there!
The vehicles take us back to the building where the drying room is located – where we dressed before going down. We take off and hang back the suits and follow the guides to the laboratory. This is where they explain the long and complex process that is used to extract the gold (if there is any!) from the ores brought up from the mine.
The tour ends with the weighing of a 50-pound gold brick replica. Currently, they are extracting two gold bricks of the same size per week from the operating mine. It’s really impressive to see how much work, how much material and especially how many human resources are required for something that seems so small!
After my visit, I can tell you that the tour of the Cité de l’Or and the Ancienne-Mine-Lamaque is a must-see in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region! It is an extraordinary experience that you have to live at least once! Plus, you will be your kids’ favourite person with this kind of activity!
To complete the visit, you can also visit the Village-minier-de-Bourlamaque located near the Cité de l’Or.
Remember to book your visit in advance and have fun! 🙂