Eight years after discussions first began to re-open a mine 15 kilometres west of Kamloops, New Gold marked the grand opening of its New Afton Mine on Sunday with a TNT blast that sent a mushroom cloud high above the industrial site.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., hundreds of workers and the general public roamed the grounds of New Afton Mine, which started production on June 28, 2012.
Visitors checked out dozens of trade booths, rescue demonstrations and clown acts and enjoyed free food provided by the Lions Club.
They also filled seating to capacity around a bandstand as representatives from New Afton, government and the Tk'emlups and Skeetchestn Indian Bands paid tribute to the project.
Much was said about the work it took between First Nations stakeholders and the company to come to a meeting of the minds.
Tk'emlups Chief Shane Gottfriedsen told the crowd that New Afton CEO Bob Gallagher was the fourth company head to come to the table, and he brought good ideas.
"I think we wore out three other CEOs from that company," laughed Gottfriedsen. "I'm proud we were tough negotiators."
Over its currently estimated 12-year mine life, New Afton is expected to produce an average of 85,000 ounces of gold and 75 million pounds of copper annually.
But for First Nations members it will pay dividends beyond its production life and for generations to come, said Shuswap elder Bernadette Dodson during a ceremonial prayer.
"It makes me feel good to see so many children here," she said. "One day they'll say 'Yes, I was there on opening day.'"
The project will also pay off for the entire province, said Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Terry Lake.
More than 400 people are currently employed at the New Afton Mine, 75 percent of which were hired locally, including more than 100 B.C. Aboriginal Mine Training Association candidates.
Among those in the crowd was Kathy Moore, whose 29-year-old son-in-law has worked at New Afton since November and was featured in a full page newspaper ad inviting locals to the party.
Chris Gamble had been a landscaper when a New Afton manager suggested he apply, said Moore.
Now he and his wife and their two little children are overjoyed with his new job, where he operates heavy equipment.
"He's already moved up the ladder and they've been very generous with raises," she said. "He absolutely loves the job."
Another worker checking out the grounds dressed in his work duds said he's been at the mine for a week and is amazed at how well they're are treated.
"The benefits plan is surreal," said Greg Pigeon, a 38-year-old father of three from Savona.
Pigeon had been in forestry for 18 years but decided to try something new when the industry's downturn made him nervous.
"It's good we can be so close to home and raise our kids rather than having to be in a camp," he said. "I know some guys who never saw their kids grow up."
Vancouver geologist Catherine Banfield has been at the project for about a week helping to assess a potential for diamonds.
She said as a woman, she's experienced all kinds of "old school thinking" on mining operations, but the attitude depends on the project.
From what she's seen so far, she said, New Afton workers "seem quite happy to be here."
In terms of environmental impact, Lake who retained the Ministry of Environment portfolio after last week's cabinet shuffle, said the mine has been recognized for its sustainable practices.
New Gold is the winner of the 2011 Mining and Sustainability Award.
The award, which recognizes the New Afton project, is a joint initiative of the Mining Association of British Columbia and the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas, and recognizes companies, communities, First Nations, non-governmental organizations, government agencies and individuals committed to advancing sustainable development in the B.C. mining sector.
One of the innovative practices is that the soil is being saved after removal for the land's rehabilitation, said Lake, and plans are to return the site to grazing land.
"In fact the land here will be in better shape when this mine is finished than when it began."