Igneous zircons from the Sturgeon Lake volcanic complex, host to several massive sulphide deposits in the Superior Province, Canada, have an average δ18O (zircon) of 5.4 ± 0.3‰ VSMOW (n = 9 rocks). These zircons are from units differing in age by 18 million years in the 2.7 Ga complex. There is no detectable interaction of high δ18O, supracrustal lithologies in the magma. Quartz from volcanic units beneath the largest ore body, the Mattabi deposit, has an average δ18O of 9.3 ± 0.6‰. Quartz phenocrysts from the Mattabi unit and overlying volcanics have elevated and heterogeneous δ18O values averaging 13.8 ± 0.9‰ and are not in magmatic equilibrium with zircons. The δ18O values of whole-rock powders range from 5.6‰ to 14.3‰ and follow the trend observed in the δ18O values of quartz. Healed microcracks are visible in cathodoluminescence images (but are not obvious optically) of quartz phenocrysts from units with high δ18O values and disequilibrium Δ(quartz–zircon) suggesting that recrystallization facilitates the elevation of δ18O. Quartz phenocrysts from volcanic units with Δ(quartz–zircon) values near equilibrium at magmatic temperatures do not display healed microcracks in cathodoluminescence. The elevated δ18O (quartz) values are not restricted to units hosting orebodies, but are seen in all rocks in the volcanic stratigraphy that postdate eruption of the Mattabi unit. Oxygen isotope ratios combined with physical volcanology studies suggest that impermeable volcanic layers control the size and location of the many hydrothermal systems that may have occurred in the Sturgeon Lake complex.