In 1938, a body of goethite and hematite was discovered beneath Steep Rock Lake near Atikokan, northwestern Ontario. This was at the time the largest and richest undeveloped iron ore body in North America. Mining began in 1944, fast-tracked by the needs of World War II, and through 1979 produced 79 Mt of 56.5% Fe. Production required the diversion of the Seine River, draining of Steep Rock Lake, building of a railroad, and a 25-fold increase of the local population. The mining project, at the time, was the largest project of its type undertaken in Canada.
The current concepts of sustainable mine development and mine closures have advanced considerably since the period of operation and closure of the Steep Rock mines, and those operations would probably not have met current expectations of sustainability. However, some of the post-closure aspects of the mines provide illustrations of components of sustainability, which could form part of a basis for a post-mining sustainable land use plan. It is concluded that some of these components were successful in meeting current expectations of sustainable use, and although some aspects are unique to the circumstances at the Steep Rock mines, others could be applicable at other mine sites.