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Striking gold in Quebec

Will the gold rush bring with it wealth and opportunity for locals in Malartic? Or will history repeat itself once again?

Dynamiting is also a concern, this being a town which has hosted a succession of underground mines. Gaetane Turgeon, the owner of a local restaurant on the main drag — Le Restaurant Sel et Poivre — says that explosions have cracked her tiles. Next year, when the mine opens for business, the heavy-duty explosions will begin.

She has joined a local group to monitor the environmental impact of the mine. In addition to the dynamite, there is talk of cyanide and dust in the air. A previous mining company left behind a crater of poisonous waste, which Osisko promises to cover with its own non-toxic side-products. Still, it’s a legacy that hasn’t inspired trust among locals.

In Malartic, “everyone is smiling”, says Andre Vezeau, the local mayor. He seems to speak of a different place. Asked about residents’ fears that the town will die a death when the company leaves, he mentions a sustainable development fund and industries — most notably a local welding business currently employing around 60 people — that will sustain blood flow to the economy.

He leads a tour around the town’s area for relocated residents. Guy Carbonneau is shoveling snow outside his house. With the mayor present, he says that he is happy with the move. Nursing a beer at a local bar later on, however, he tells a very different story. He felt he had no choice but to ship out. It was a difficult experience, he says.

If a significant number is resisting the dream, it is because they feel their concerns were ignored. A consultation group set up with the authorities and the company turned out to be a paper tiger, according to Jacques Saucier, a local school coordinator and activist. Locals lost confidence after a neutral delegate from out of town went to work as Osisko’s communications director.

Coates is adamant that the mine is a good news story. “Everyone’s trying to write the story of the big guy versus the little guy. It’s never been like that here and it will never be,” he says. “Go to the cafes and the supermarket round here and tell me if we haven’t brought economic regeneration to the town.”

The Chateau Malartic, supposedly the life and soul of the community is nearly empty, the beer and salad half frozen. Locals shrug when asked how they feel about the gold rush. Previous booms didn’t change much. They see no reason to believe that this modern-day shareholder-driven gold rush should be any different.