By: Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix

A northern Saskatchewan mine that was abandoned decades ago has inched closer toward cleanup.

The provincial government has tapped SNC-Lavalin to draft a plan for the idle mine near Creighton in northern Saskatchewan. Under the terms of the deal signed this month, worth up to $200,000, the firm will develop an action plan and determine a long-term timeline for the project, a Ministry of Environment spokeswoman said.

The Vista Mine will cost roughly $1.7 million to remediate, she said.

Vista is one of six defunct non-uranium mines the province has set its sights on. Two others — the Newcor and Western Nuclear mines — are also near Creighton. Since 2019, the province has paid at least $504,000 to SNC-Lavalin to study those underground mine sites, including $104,000 approved in February to address costs related to COVID-19.

In April, the province said studying all six sites will cost around $1.2 million and will likely conclude in 2025. Vista is the third most prioritized site behind Newcor and Western Nuclear, according to the ministry.

There’s 33 non-uranium abandoned mines in northern Saskatchewan, ranging from high-priority sites to small exploration shafts and trenches, the spokeswoman said. The province is responsible for all of them.

Vista’s property was first staked in 1931 and underwent exploration until 1940, but never yielded a significant amount of gold, according to a 2012 report prepared for the Ministry of Energy and Resources.

From 1960 to 1967, Central Manitoba Mines Ltd. drilled the land for diamonds. Flin Flon Mines Ltd. acquired it in 1968 and got provincial approval to start mining in 1981, but faced a series of delays. Depressed gold prices pushed back its 1982 start date by a year, then technical difficulties again delayed production, the report said.

In 1984, hopes for the mine were dashed three months after startup due to its low recovery rate. Vista Mines Inc. grabbed the property after the mine went into receivership, but a 1988 bulk sample showed gold grades were too low for production. Work ended, and the claim on the property lapsed, the report said.

Many of the abandoned mine sites were left “in shambles,” said Creighton Mayor Bruce Fidler. He hopes remediation will bring more economic activity to the community, as the projects rely on contractors and local businesses.

Remediation may also eventually encourage community outdoor recreation, marking a return to the mine site’s natural beauty from “busted up concrete pads,” Fidler said.

“To get them back to an attractive state where people can do nature walks, that’s a great idea.”

(Photo of the Town of Creighton)