D.卡尔顿 罗西
D. Carlton Rossi

One Hundredth


Festivities at Vale (INCO)

The One Hundredth Anniversary

I am writing this account rather quickly because it may not be of interest to my readers due to its personal and localized content, so you may want to skip it or read it quickly, too.  It is important though to me, my family and my hometown. No, it is not my one hundredth anniversary which I do not look forward to. Rather, it is the 100th anniversary of the Vale (INCO) operation in my hometown of Port Colborne.

I returned to my hometown for the celebration of this anniversary. For one hundred years metal has been refined in Port Colborne. It has been mainly nickel that was refined; although, today, the emphasis is on cobalt. Naturally, I also wanted to see old friends and co-workers who had been employed at the plant.

My grandfather helped build the large smokestack at the International Nickel Company (INCO) in Port Colborne in 1918 ie. just after WWI. He worked at the plant from roughly 1918 to 1948 or so. It is said that he developed Lou Gehrig disease from the constant use of a jackhammer, so he died in 1950 or just before I was born.  

During WWII my grandmother worked at the plant. The war effort needed nickel and therefore women were hired at the plant. She did the job of those men who  volunteered or were conscripted into the armed forces.

One of those volunteers was my father. He was seventeen when he enlisted as a volunteer. He served from 1940 to 1947. After he left the army he completed his high school diploma and a university degree at St. Michael's College, U of T.  This education was funded by the army. He joined INCO on a full-time basis He joined INCO on a full-time basis as a laborer on May 23rd, 1950.  In other words, he joined INCO a couple of years after my grandfather left it.

During that summer he decided that he liked to work at INCO. He had confidence in his ability to support a family.  As a result, he married on September 2nd, 1950. A month later he was promoted to Research Laboratory (Instrumentation).

He advanced in his career. By 1955 he was made Foreman of Instrumentation. In 1960, he was made Product Inspector. He then became Assistant Superintendent of the Shearing, Shipping and Yard in 1966. He rose to the level of Safety Supervisor at the Port Colborne plant in 1971. He was then transferred to  Copper Cliff where he became INCO Claims Administrator of the Ontario Division. Finally, he advanced to INCO Rehabilitation Co-ordinator of the Ontario Division in 1980 until 1985. 

At times, my father was called on to guard an armoured vehicle to takes precious metals to the airport so that they could be refined in England. They called on him because he had a firearms permit, knew how to use a gun from the war and was trusted. The precious metals such as gold, silver, osmium, platinum, palladium and rhenium that he guarded covered the entire wages of 2000 men plus 400 in the research station. The refinery of nickel was pure profit.

Everything was not exactly harmonious at the plant all the time. A particularly violent strike kept everyone from entering the plant. My dad was one of the few who was flown into the plant by helicopter to ensure that the processes and machinery could be used after the strike.

My dad finished his career in Copper Cliff. He lived at the base of the large smokestack. He also lived over the mine which was thousands of feet below his house. Twice a day the house would rock from the explosions in the mine. He was head of all health and safety for INCO. It is my understanding that the big stack at Copper Cliff will be dismantled shortly. I had seen the small stack at the Port refinery destroyed decades earlier on a cold winter day.

I should mention my mother, too. In 1945, she finished first in her business class at high school. That meant that she got first choice to go for job interviews through the head of the department. They sent her to INCO for an interview as a secretary. When the interview was finished they promised to contact her.  In the meantime, she went for another interview at Maple Leaf Mills which was also in my hometown. They hired her on the spot with a pay of $18 a week. That is not a typo. INCO phoned back and offered her $25 dollars a week. However, she felt committed to the job at Maple Leaf Mills.


              Removing nickel sheets from presses

My own experience at INCO began in 1972 when I was a summer student. At that time my dad was in charge of health and safety or should I say "hair cuts". I had long hair at that time and was told that it had to be cut or I wouldn't be hired. So, I had a haircut and returned. I was told it still wasn't short enough so I needed another haircut. I didn't meet the weight requirement either so I cut out pieces of lead and put them inside my boots. The doctor probably had seen this kind of trick before and remarked that I looked lighter than my weight as measured on the scale.

Basically, I did every labour job in the plant as a summer student for three years. I filled in for men as they went on vacation. I would report to the labour pool at the beginning of the shift and be sent to a new job everyday by the plant superintendent. This was a good learning experience for me and I became very versatile. On holidays I would receive triple pay if it were also on the midnight shift. No wonder that I could afford to own three sports cars at the same time; namely, a 1965 MGB Roadster, a 1967 MGB Roadster and a 1971 MG Midget.

These jobs entailed real work. I was also working to completely pay for my university education, too. It was nothing like work today where someone exercises his fingers on a keyboard. The work took place during the hot days of the summer and there was no air conditioning. There were large fans in many locations. At the end of the shift we would place our shirts on the fans to dry them off. We needed to take salt tablets because of the enormous amounts of sweat that were released. For example, I would measure myself on a scale in the morning and at the end of the shift I was five pounds lighter.

I participated in something that became a milestone at the refinery. I was in No. 6 building when the first shipment of nickel rounds went to the People's Republic of China in 1972 during Mao's Chairmanship. I packed those containers, sealed them, banded the shipment and then loaded it onto trucks. The shipment went out by ship on the Welland Canal which runs through Port Colborne. My roommate at Victoria College of the U of T in that year was Zhou who came from Beijing.

The hardest job that I ever did at the plant was in the cobalt presses. The temperature of the air reached 150 degrees fahrenheit. The presses were much hotter as we lifted out the slabs of cobalt. My safety glasses would steam over from the heat. It was also the most dangerous area of the plant. I would walk on a single board over the cobalt bath. There were no guardrails. In the bath a large mixer would revolve. I was told that if I fell in it would be instant death. Later, a worker did fall in when the board broke. He was terminated, so to speak, in molten metal. 

                  Port Colborne Vale cobalt presses

It was with all these memories that I revisited the cobalt presses in 2018 on the 100th anniversary. The cobalt plant had been modernized in 1982. The plant was nothing like I remembered. There were lots of guardrails everywhere. The ambient air temperature was just slightly higher than the outside air temperature.


                              Barrels of cobalt  

Cobalt is the name of the game today. It is a metal which is in high demand for batteries. In fact, the entire cobalt press is virtually one big cobalt dc battery. One container of cobalt which is about two feet high is valued at $18,000 dollars. The cobalt rounds are made slightly larger than the nickel rounds because they are the same color, but of exceedingly greater value. The daily dollar output of the whole refinery in terms of nickel, cobalt and precious metals is $10 million a day. That is done with less than 200 men and women. 


                       Number 6 Shipping Building

We were also given a tour of Building No. 6. It was very quiet compared to what I remember. That is because the shearing machinery was not operating.  I remember one worker cutting off his finger on the shears. That was the building in which I learned shipping. I could operate all kinds of forklifts. Today, one needs a piece of paper to say that they can operate these devices. There are perhaps only three workers in the entire building in 2018. The shipping process is mechanized.

The most interesting part of the tour for me was when I was leafing through some old INCO Triangles which were on display. I entered into conversation with a chemist. I asked him if he was ever abroad with Vale; for example, to Indonesia or Guatemala. He laughed at the question because he said that he is abroad. He comes to Canada from England after the refinery there was shutdown.

I told him of my experience at INCO headquarters. He knew where it was on the 43rd and 44th floor of the Bank of Montreal building in Toronto. I worked there for a year as mail boy. However, I was a mail boy to all the executives from the CEO who was J. Edwin Carter down to the various Vice-Presidents. It was I who had to deliver the cheque to the landlord for over a million dollars in rent. It is I who did the banking for the CEO who made more in one day than I made in a year. It was I who delivered the bonds from a Japanese company that were given as gifts or pay-offs for business. It was I who had to deliver the lay-off notices to the press and head of the Steel Workers Union regarding the layoff of three thousand men. That was hard for me because I had been a member of the union as a worker at the refinery. I knew how it would impact the workers among whom I had been one. I quit. 

Yet, the benefit program of INCO had been excellent. I learned of the matching gift program. I could make a donation to an educational institution and that donation would be matched by the company. Even though I was just a mail boy I contribued $1000 to Victoria College which was to become Victoria University of the University of Toronto.

INCO would also pay for my education and textbook. Therefore, I took a night course at the Sheppard campus of Sheridan College. The course was in Management Informaton Systems and I achieved an A grade. 

I also asked the chemist if he was familiar with MRT or Magnetic Resonance Technology. He was not. Therefore, I told him of the process developed by Ucore Rare Metals and IBC Advanced Technologies. There was no need to use hydrochloric acid and the same result could be achieved in separation of nickel and cobalt to achieve 99% purity. He was most interested though in its application with regard to the recycling of palladium.

I also participated in INCO in a way that none of my family had done. At age fifteen before I worked at INCO and before the legal age of owning stocks at age sixteen I owned 50 shares of common stock. It paid a dividend of 5% while I waited for a capital gain through my university years. Later, when I worked at head office the mail boy was buying stock on the INCO plan which meant that I didn't have to pay commission and dividends were reinvested in common stock on a commission free basis.

Most of you will at some time in your lives be invited to a school reunion. Our high school was actually built in 1918 with the building of the refinery. You may or may not attend such a reunion. However, it is something else to attend an anniversary at a workplace where you and your whole family have worked. It is also something else to return to the refinery where you worked as a student some forty-six years ago. How Green was My Valley before the environment was degraded as the movie title relates to coal mining. It could also be applied to nickel mining and refining. The refinery is now operated by Vale. It is more relevant than ever since it refines cobalt to power driverless cars. The refinery begins its next one hundred years.

D.卡尔顿 罗西
D. Carlton Rossi


                    Cobalt Refinery of INCO Vale at Port Colborne


                            The PGM's are in our blood


I received an early education at the INCO refinery in my hometown of Port Colborne. It was here for three summers that I was a laborer.  Among other things I had to wash screens in an acidic bath. While I gained a good wage I lost about five pounds of sweat a day.  This is not an exaggeration since I weighed myself at the beginning and end of a shift. I had to take salt tablets, too. 


The primary metal refined at the refinery was nickel. At that time INCO had a monopoly on nickel. There were by-products of refining.  These included copper, cobalt and the PGM's from the collision of neutron stars. 


It was the PGM's that were of interest to me.  These were collected by special screens at the smokestacks. How valuable were the PGM's?


There were 3000 workers employed at the refinery.  The PGM's paid for the entire wages of the workforce at the nickel refinery.  My father's military background meant that he was chosen to protect the armored truck which went to Toronto.  The PGM's were then shipped to England.  




The  year is 1972.  This is part of a shipment of refined nickel loaded aboard ship in Montreal. It is bound for China. The nickel was refined at the Port Colborne Refinery. As a United Steelworker, I helped cut the sheets on the presses and then ship it out of No. 5 Warehouse. 


My entire family had been employed at the refinery.  My grandfather built the stack and also operated a pneumatic drill. My grandmother contributed to the war effort at the plant during World War II.  My father began as a summer laborer, became Warehouse Supervisor, was promoted to Health and Safety in both Port Colborne and Sudbury. He was a universal donor and gave his blood to hundreds. I worked at the refinery and then at Head Office in Toronto.  We breathed the air and handled the mattes.  The PGM's are in our blood.



Signature of Mao