Sifto Salt Mine
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What is the Sifto Salt Mine?
Goderich Harbour is an industrial harbour that is owned by the Town of Goderich and operated by the Goderich Port Management Corporation. Each year approximately 100 large lake and ocean freighters visit the port to load salt from the Sifto Salt Mine, which is the largest salt mine in the world, and to deliver and load other commodities such as grains and calcium chloride.
The Sifto Salt Mine extends out as far as two miles into the Lake Huron. 45% of Canada's salt is mined in Goderich, Ontario.
Samuel Platt started out drilling for oil and wound up starting a salt boom. In 1866, Samuel Platt, the owner of a flourmill in Goderich, Ontario, formed a company to drill for oil. On the outskirts of town, Platt and his partners bored through many layers of limestone to a depth of 209 m (686 feet), but failed to strike oil.
The company decided to abandon the search. Platt, however, persisted, since both town and county had offered him a bonus if he drilled to a depth of 305 m (1,000 feet). At 294 m (965 feet) his drill struck a bed of clean white rock salt, 18 m (60 feet) thick. The canny Mr. Platt continued drilling until the shaft was 305 m (1,000 feet) deep, and claimed his bonus.
With the money he started a salt recovery plant which began production in 1867, turning out 100 barrels, or 13.5 t (15 tons), a day. Within six years, there were twelve different companies in the area, the largest producing 81 t (90 tons) of salt a day.
Although he was prospecting for oil in 1866, Mr. Sam Platt's drilling rig hit paydirt of a different kind when it struck rock salt almost 1,000 feet beneath Goderich Harbour. His findings became the first recorded discovery of a salt bed in North America. By year's end, rock salt was being used as a source of brine for salt production.
Sam Platt proved to be a successful businessman when his company declared a 51 percent dividend the next years, the same year Canada became a nation.
Little did he realize, moreover, that his salt discovery was near the edge of a huge geological formation called the Michigan Salt Basin. His discovery initiated a salt rush. By late 1867, 12 independent salt wells were dotting the Maitland River valley down to its confluence with Goderich Harbour and Lake Huron. Salt fever had hit the area! San Platt had made salt, for centuries one of the world's most sought after commodities, synonymous with " the prettiest town in Canada."
His 1866 discovery, furthermore, distributed the seeds for the eventual creation of a major North American company destined to become, by the late 1990s, one of the world's largest suppliers of salt.
Although dazzling-white salt from Goderich outclassed the more famous English salt by winning first prize at the 1867 Paris Exhibition, mass production of salt was not actually begun at Goderich until 1880 while the site was being operated by a chemist, George Rice. The site became known as the "Rice Block." The production process was simple. Rows of some 100 heavy, open, cast iron kettles of 120 to 140 gallons each, of pumped brine, were set on furnaces dependent on wood for fire. This evaporation process produced a fine flake salt which as air-dried and then shipped in barrels made by coopers who worked on the site.
In 1919 the operation was purchased by banker, Charles Wurtele. The company was now called the Goderich Salt Company and under Wurtele's direction it became the largest industry in Huron County. It attracted the attention of E.P. Taylor who took control of the company and eventually it became a wholly owned subsidiary of Domtar Limited. The name Sifto was introduced in 1955.
Only since the late 1950s has salt actually been mined in the Goderich area. When it became apparent that rock salt was in a growth market, Sifto took action. A mining shaft was commenced in 1957 and completed in 1959. To meet the needs of municipalities requiring crushed rock salt for winter roads, in addition to domestic need for rock salt for water softeners, a second shaft became operational in 1968. A further increase in production was achieved when a third shaft was added in 1983. Today the mine complex employs more than 300 workers.
At a depth of 1,750 feet, the Sifto underworld, about one and one half miles wide, extends 2 miles into Lake Huron. The ceiling of the huge beehive complex average 45 feet in height. Thick pillars give the appearance of rooms that trucks travel through to carry rock salt to crushing and screening operations before it is hoisted to the surface in customized skips.
In 1991, the Canadian Mine Rescue Competition was hosted by the defending champions from the Sifto Salt mine in Goderich. Highly trained teams competed in skills developed to save lives and property in Canadian underground mines.
The Sifto Salt Mine and the Sifto Evaporator Plant is owned and operated by Sifto Canada Inc. Dorntar acquired the company in 1950. The Sifto Salt Division of Domtar Chemicals Limited evolved from the Goderich Petroleum Company.
Sifto Salt Mine Shaft
Developed in 1959, the Sifto Salt mine shaft, surface mill and loading facilities are attractively situated on the site shown above. Offering access to transportation by road, rail and water, the plant site was built-up, largely from fill, in Goderich harbor. Sifto's first mine shaft is circular, measures 4.88 m (16 feet) across and is completely concrete lined; it extends from the surface down to the bottom of the salt beds a distance of 549 m (1,800 feet); a second shaft, also 4.88 m (16 feet) in diameter, is located 61 m (200 feet) away. The first shaft is used for hoisting salt to the surface, the second shaft is for ventilation, personnel and equipment.
In 1981 construction started on an expansion program to increase capacity from 2,000,000 t (2,250,000 tons) to 3,150,000 t (3,500,000 tons) annually. The objective could not have been achieved without sinking a third shaft and increasing significantly the quantity of ventilating air introduced into the mine. Like No. 2, this shaft is also circular and concrete-lined but is 6.7 m (22 feet) in diameter. The reason for the increase in size is to make the cross-sectional area approximately equal to the combined total of the other two shafts, thus keeping the velocity of the ventilating air flow within tolerable limits.
In the mining operation a 12.7 cm (5 inch) gap, (or undercut) about 3.7 m (12 feet) deep is cut across the width of the mining face; the whole face, from floor to roof and side to side is then drilled with holes. The holes are filled with explosive and blasted. The undercut allows the blasted salt to fall to the floor where it can be loaded by giant loading machines. Approximately 1,620 t (1,800 tons) of salt fall from each blast.
As safety precautions the roof must be "scaled", to remove any loose salt or rock that didn't fall in the blast, and bolted to ensure that no future cracks or falls occur. These operations are carried out by men working from a "giraffe" (opposite page), that can reach to the 13.7 m (45 feet) high roof. The fallen rock salt is loaded by machine into giant diesel trucks and conveyed by them to an underground processing mill. Here the salt is crushed and screened into its various sizes and stored underground until required for shipping when it is hoisted to the surface.
In the underground maintenance shop mobile equipment is repaired, including overhaul of diesel engines, torque converters, and other power-train components. Electric power is carried down the shaft to the shop, mill, and electric powered production machines.
There is another processing mill on the surface where the salt can be screened again, if desired, and where it is packaged into the various sizes and grades in which it is shipped. There are also bulk storage bins and silos on the surface that store sufficient salt to allow prompt service in loading large boats, trucks, or railroad cars. This is a most modern salt mine, highly automated, producing nearly 50% of the rock salt produced in Canada.
History of Salt Mining in Huron Count
Explore the history of salt mining in Huron County. Investigate the many uses of salt, how it is produced and what it is really like in the salt mine. Test yourselves with our salt mine jeopardy game to wrap it all up. This educational presentation is provided by the Huron County Museum. Grades 4 – 8 | 1 hour 30 minutes
View the video "The Goderich salt story" [videorecording] 971.322 God. The video may be signed out from the Huron County Library in Goderich, Ontario