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Canadian Mineral Production

Canadian Mineral Production Information Bulletin

(published in December 2021)

Canada’s mining industry is the leading global producer of potash and is ranked among the top five producers of aluminum, diamonds, gemstones, gold, indium, niobium, platinum group metals, titanium concentrate and uranium.

The 60 minerals and metals produced by Canada’s mining industry constitute key raw materials for goods that we rely on in our daily lives and for advanced technologies that will enable the transition to a low-carbon economy: from fertilizers and construction materials to smartphones, electric cars and solar cells.

Find out about the latest trends in Canada’s mineral production:

Overview

In 2020, the value of Canada’s mineral production decreased 8% year-over year (YoY) to $43.9 billion. The decline was largely due the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on mining operations, supply chains and global demand.

Canada’s top five mineral products by value for 2020 were gold ($12.3 billion), iron ore ($5.6 billion), coal ($4.0 billion), copper ($3.9 billion) and potash ($3.7 billion). Their combined value of $29.5 billion accounted for about two-thirds of the total value of mineral production.

With the exception of gold, whose value of production increased by 15%, the value of production of major metallic and non-metallic minerals decreased in 2020.

Figure 1: Top 5 mineral products, 2019 and 2020 (p)

 
Table of the top 5 mineral products, 2019 and 2020 (text version below)
Figure 1 - Text version

This graphic shows Canada’s top five mineral products by value for 2019 and 2020. Gold was $10.7 billion in 2019 and increased to $12.3 billion in 2020. Iron ore was $5.8 billion in 2019 and decreased to $5.6 billion in 2020. Coal was $5.6 billion in 2019 and decreased to $4.0 billion in 2020. Copper was $4.2 billion in 2019 and decreased to $3.9 billion in 2020. Potash was $5.0 billion in 2019 and decreased to $3.7 billion in 2020.

Sources: Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada.
p = preliminary.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a quick and substantial impact on all of the sectors of the economy in 2020, including minerals and metals. A large number of Canadian mines suspended or curtailed their activities as they adjusted to containment measures and volatile economic conditions, and prioritized the health and safety of employees and nearby communities. Uncertainty and fleeting demand caused prices for many minerals and metals to drop in the first part of 2020. However, most made a full recovery and even surpassed pre-pandemic levels later in the year as demand returned to parts of the world while mining output remained impacted in others.

Gold, which is sought as a safe-haven commodity during volatile economic times, followed a separate trajectory and experienced a 30% price surge to a record value of US$2,075 per ounce in August 2020. The price of gold has since subsided, but remains at historically high levels.

Figure 2: Mineral production with respect to the metals and minerals price index, 2000–2020

 
Bar chart of mineral production with respect to the metals and minerals price index, 2000–2020 (text version below)
Figure 2 - Text version

This chart shows the value of mineral production (in current dollars) for the years 2000 to 2020. A line graph depicting the Bank of Canada’s minerals and metals price index is superimposed over the bar graph. The combined chart shows the strong correlation between the metals and minerals prices and the value of mineral production, with upward movements in the price index corresponding to rising values.

Sources: Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada, Bank of Canada
p = preliminary.

Metals

In 2020, the quantity of most metals produced by Canadian mines decreased; however, the value of production was largely sustained by rising prices and it decreased by only 1% YoY to $28.5 billion. See Table 1 below for the production volumes and values of Canada’s principal mined commodities for 2019 and 2020.

Gold remained Canada’s leading commodity by value of production in 2020, with a 15% increase in value despite a 2% decline in production. Seven new gold mines opened (Borden, Lamaque, Cochenour, Dublin Gulch, Meliadine, Amaruq and PureGold) in 2019 and 2020 while only two closed (Vezza and Beaufor).

In 2020, the production and the value of iron ore from Canadian mines declined by 3% YoY. Iron ore prices trended up in 2020, finishing the year 65% higher than they started.

Canadian mines shipped 495,000 tonnes of copper in 2020, representing a decrease in production of 11% YoY. The value of copper production decreased to a lesser extent (-9%), thanks largely to rising copper prices.

Canada’s production of mined zinc took a tumble in 2020, down 30% YoY to 185,000 tonnes. The Caribou underground zinc-lead-silver mine in New Brunswick was placed on care and maintenance in March 2020 in response to deteriorating zinc markets and the challenges presented by COVID-19. Zinc markets recovered and the Caribou mine was able to restart its operations in early 2021.

Battery minerals

Cobalt, graphite, lithium and nickel are the four main minerals and metals used to make electric vehicle (EV) batteries and advanced energy storage technologies.

Cobalt is mainly produced as a by-product of nickel mining in Canada. In 2020, Canadian mines shipped 3,535 tonnes of cobalt valued at $156 million. Shipment volumes were down 7% compared to the previous year, while the value decreased by 4%. Cobalt prices peaked in March 2018 at US$95,000 per tonne, but steadily declined to below US$28,500 per tonne in mid-2020 as a result of oversupply. Prices bounced back to above US$50,000 per tonne in early 2021 because of an anticipated increase in demand related to the clean energy transition.

Graphite is exclusively mined in Quebec and, in 2020, about 12,000 tonnes were shipped to markets, which is 7% below 2019 levels.

Canada is host to several advanced lithium projects and production occurred most recently at the North American Lithium (NAL) mine in Quebec. The mine operated for a brief period in 2018 and closed in early 2019 due to low prices. In late 2020, a new owner acquired the NAL mine with the hopes of restarting mining activities. Lithium prices have been rising ahead of an anticipated surge in demand for EV batteries.

After a notable 9% YoY increase in nickel production in 2019, volumes receded by 13% to 163,362 tonnes in 2020. Nickel is produced from mines located in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba while refineries operate in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta; Sudbury, Ontario and Long Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Non-metals

The value of non-metallic mineral production reached $11.4 billion in 2020, a 13% decrease compared to 2019.

In 2020, Canadian mines produced 22 million tonnes of potash, which represented a 6% increase compared to the previous year. The 2020 production volume was close to the all-time record. However, the value of production declined significantly (-26% to $3.7 billion). The decline in the value of shipments was mainly due to lower prices caused by global oversupply, particularly from Russia and Belarus, and lower demand due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. The price of potash was between US$200 and US$245 per tonne in 2020, a decrease of more than 20% compared to 2019. Prices initiated a recovery in early 2021, which was favourable to Canadian producers.

The effects of COVID-19 and its impacts on global markets shook the Canadian diamond industry. Canadian diamond production volume declined for the third year in a row in 2020, down 14% to 15 million carats. The value of production dropped by 21% to $1.5 billion. The activities at the Ekati diamond mine in the Northwest Territories were suspended for most of 2020 and the mine was sold to a new owner in early 2021.

Sand and gravel, the third largest non-metal commodity by value and the most important by volume, was relatively flat from 2019 to 2020 with a slight decline of 3% in production volume and 1% in production value.

Coal

In 2020, Canadian mines produced 41 million tonnes of coal, down 21% YoY and the lowest volume since 1982. Coal prices were also low for most of the year, which contributed to decreasing the value of coal production by 30% to $4.0 billion.

Mineral production by province and territory

Quebec led all jurisdictions for the second consecutive year with a mineral production value of $11.6 billion. It was closely followed by Ontario at $10.7 billion and British Columbia at $7.3 billion. Together, these three provinces accounted for 68% of Canada’s total mineral production value in 2020. Quebec’s growth was relatively flat from 2019 to 2020 with a slight increase of 2% while British Columbia saw an 17% decrease from last year due to low coal production values.

Gold and iron ore were the top commodities mined by value in Quebec, accounting for 34% and 27% of the total respectively. In Ontario, gold production accounted for almost half (47%) of the total value.

Figure 3: Value of mineral production by province and territory, 2019 and 2020

 
Map displaying the value of mineral production by province and territory, 2019 and 2020 (text version below)
Figure 3 - Text version

This map of Canada has superimposed bar charts (two bars for the years 2019 and 2020) showing the amount of mineral production (in current dollars) for each province and territory. The top mineral producers by value in 2020 were Quebec ($11.6 billion), Ontario ($10.7 billion) and British Columbia ($7.3 billion).

Sources: Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada.
B = billion.

Interpreting variations

The value of mineral production depends on market prices and the quantity of material shipped from mines. The volume of shipments most often will vary because of shifts in ore grade; changes to mine production capacity; and mine expansions, openings, closings and suspensions. Mineral and metal prices typically fluctuate in response to changes in demand and the suppliers’ ability to react to these changes. As most metals and minerals are equal in nature, individual mining companies have very limited influence on the price of their product and are therefore considered “price takers”. Exchange rates and their fluctuations can also have an impact on the value of mineral production since most are priced in U.S. dollars.

Table 1: Canada’s mineral production, by leading commodity, 2019 and 2020 (p)
Commodity 2019 2020 (p) Change
Volume Value Volume Value Volume Value
(000 tonnes except where indicated) ($ millions) (000 tonnes except where indicated) ($ millions) (%) (%)
METALLIC MINERALS
Copper 555 4,247 495 3,860 -10.9 -9.1
Gold (000 kilograms) 191 10,690 187 12,321 -2.1 15.3
Iron ore 54,228 5,799 52,428 5,610 -3.3 -3.3
Nickel 190 3,435 163 2,834 -13.9 -17.5
Zinc 264 840 185 398 -30.0 -52.7
Total   28,924   28,516   -1.4
NON-METALLIC MINERALS
Diamonds (000 carats) 17,560 1,941 15,000 1,542 -14.6 -20.6
Potash (MoP) 20,717 5,047 21,961 3,736 6.0 -26.0
Sand and gravel 175,304 1,743 170,563 1,729 -2.7 -0.8
Stone 142,999 1,593 155,845 1,633 9.0 2.5
Total
non-metals
  13,174   11,406   -13.4
Coal 51,746 5,625 40,792 3,958 -21.2 -29.6
Total   18,799   15,364   -18.3

Sources: Natural Resources Canada, Statistics Canada.
p = preliminary, n.a. = not applicable.

Notes and sources

Notes

Sources

  • Statistics Canada, Annual Mineral Production Survey.
  • Statistics Canada, Monthly Coal Supply and Disposition Survey.
  • Natural Resources Canada; Principal Mineral Areas, Producing Mines, and Oil and Gas Fields in Canada.
  • Company reports.
  • Company websites.
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