History of Mining in Thompson & Area

Heritage North Museum acknowledges and respects that our facility is located on Treaty Five, the traditional Territory of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and the traditional homeland of the Metis people. 


See our collection of odd machines, tools or other interesting items on display during the warm season when the Annex building is open.

Following ten years of mining exploration in the region, a major ore body was discovered on February 4, 1956, and a year later Thompson was founded. Named after INCO's chairman, John F. Thompson, the new townsite was designed as a "planned community" following an agreement between the Government of Manitoba and INCO Limited.

Thompson was officially incorporated as a town in 1967 on Canada's Centennial Anniversary. Having reached a population of 20,000 in 1970, Thompson was then incorporated as a city in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II who, along with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and The Princess Anne, visited Thompson in July of that year in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Manitoba's entry into Confederation.

> Read this article about the 1970 Royal Visit (Courtesy Thompson Citizen/Nickle Belt News, Ian Graham

Sep 9, 2022)


INCO exploration base camps such as this were located in the

area during Thompson’s early exploration period.

> See more historical photos

A lot has been written about Thompson and its early days. Two books, both written in the 1980s, provide definitive examples of well-researched, authentic accounts of this northern communty’s mining history, evolving from main camps in Wabowden, Grass River, Mystery Lake and Moak Lake to the present site of Thompson—once the third largest city in Manitoba.  A Journey North: The Great Thompson Nickel Discovery written in 1985, and Thompson, A City and its People written in 1988, stand as quintessential historical accounts.

An earlier book entitled For the Years to Come, a Story of International Nickel of Canada (1960) by company Chairman of the Board John F. Thompson and Norman Beasley, details the history of the International Nickel organization and specific developmemts in the Sudbury and Thompson areas. (See page bottom.)

A Journey North: The Great Thompson Nickel Discovery (1985) is a personal account by Geophysical Party Leader and area pioneer, the late Hugh S. Fraser.  Material in this 388 page hard cover book is presented in chronilogical order from the first exploration year of 1946 up to and including 1961, the year that regular production at the new mine site began. It is rich with facts and anecdotes that tell of the discovery of the large nickle vein (the “motherlode”) that led to the founding of Thompson—the first integrated nickel mining-smelting-refining plant in the Western Hemisphere.

The book, published by INCO Ltd., contains maps, drawings, photos, scientific data and first-hand accounts of the prospecting, geology, discovery and exploration that culminated in the development of the INCO nickel mine at Thompson. (Read more here)

Thompson, A City and its People (1988), researched and written by Thompson resident and former INCO chemist Graham Buckingham, is published by the Thompson Historical, Heritage & Museum Society.

The Foreword by the author of this entertaining and informative hard cover book states, "It was my intention in this book to let the reader discover the development of Thompson by reading about the events in the life of the community in the words of those people who took part in, or initiated, those events. This policy has led to a text which, on occasion, may be disjointed, but also a text which gives the reader a sense of the excitement, wonder and awe felt by the founders and pioneers as Canada's last frontier town grew from a collection of tents to Manitoba's third largest city.”

Dr. John Fairfield Thompson

In 1906 with a Ph. D in metallurgy from Columbia School of Mines, Dr. John Thompson began working for the International Nickel Company.  His many positions within the company included working in the research laboratories, supervising the construction and initial operation of mill in Huntington West Virginia, to vice president, president and chairman and finally to chairman and chief officer from 1952 to 1960. 

“Dr. Thompson was a frequent visitor to the community that bore his name and, in 1961 he attended the ceremonies that marked the start of regular production at the new mine site. A photograph of Dr. Thompson, taken on one of his visits north, shows him standing, his pipe firmly clenched in his teeth, at the door of a trapper’s cabin.  This photograph provides a link with the immediate past of the area, the cabin in question being situated on the trap line of Mike and Margaret Madonick.  Dr. Thompson’s contribution to INCO was indeed massive.  In his years with the company he had taken part in many important decisions and discussions.  There was only one debate in which his opinion was not sought, only one decision of which he had no fore knowledge and therefore no input, the naming of the new town site in Northern Manitoba in his honour in 1956, his fiftieth year of service with INCO.“

(Excerpt from the book : “Thompson, A City And Its People” written by Graham Buckingham)

Dr. Thompson poses in front of a trapper’s/prospector’s cabin near the Tompson site during his visit in 1957. Thompson’s namesake was as comfortable at his corporate desk as he was in the bush. 


For the Years to Come, a Story of International Nickel of Canada 
(1960) was co-authored by company Chairman of the Board, John F. Thompson, and Norman Beasley. This 374 page hardcover book offers an interesting history of the whole International Nickel organization, focusing on developmemts in the Sudbury, Ontario and Thompson, Manotoba areas.