Volvo dealer, financing and equipment play a key role in the birth of Canada’s newest marble quarry
The large deposits of white, blue and green marble met or exceeded the quality of the world-famous quarries in Carrara, Italy
From the time that Captain James Cook landed in British Columbia's Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1778, the area has been a magnet for various types of commerce. In 1789, the Spanish established a naval post here, called Santa Cruz de Nuca, and it very quickly became an important focal point for the Spanish, English and American maritime fur trade. Following the decline of this resource, fishing and forestry, along with a smattering of mines, became the main industries in this remote, mountainous area, the traditional territory of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht (Nuu-chah-nulth) First Nations people.
It is to this craggy, rugged and scenically beautiful area that two modern-day prospecting entrepreneurs came in search of an illusive and highly sought-after rock: marble.
Discovery of a major source of prized marble
Belgium-born and raised, Philip Callant, a man with a self-proclaimed "nose for valuable stone" is the third generation to take up his family's pursuits in the natural stone industry. He worked in his family's business until its sale in 2004. Following that, he further developed the European stone industry and was instrumental in opening several limestone quarries in Sinai, Egypt. He immigrated to Canada, bringing with him over two decades of experience and knowledge, as well as a deep desire to bring European quarrying techniques and the beauty of natural stone to North America.
Callant settled in Vancouver, B.C., and it was here that he met his Canadian partner, Christene Sache. It was a marriage, literally, hewn in stone. She had an extensive background in international consulting, as well as operations and project management. Her career was driven by her passion for creativity, design and the use of natural, sustainable products.
They spent several years researching the local geology, bushwhacking and exploratory test drilling, finally ending up on the Mowachaht/Muchalaht traditional territory. But before Callant and Sache considered staking claims in the area, they established key personal and working relationships with the local Mowachaht/Muchalaht peoples. Following this, they staked mineral claims to over 2,600 hectares (6,425 acres) in the jagged mountains along the Pacific coast, with estimated amounts of marble to keep quarrying active in the area for up to 300 years.
It was just a few kilometres east from Yuquot, and a little south of the small community of Tahsis, that these two passionate prospectors discovered large deposits of white, blue and green marble. The quality met or exceeded that of the world-famous quarries in Carrara, Italy. This signaled the birth of Canada's newest, premier marble quarry, Callache Stone Quarries, with the first extractions made in February 2016. Currently, the quarry is only accessible via rough forestry service roads or by helicopter.
Marble is a semi-precious, metamorphic rock. It is formed from sedimentary limestone or dolomite that has recrystallized under heat and pressure in the earth's crust. Pure white marble is the result of the metamorphism of a very pure limestone. The characteristic swirls and veins of many coloured marble varieties are usually the result of the presence of various mineral impurities, such as clay, silt, sand and iron oxides originally present as grains or layers in the limestone. Marble is globally sought after as a valuable base for sculptures and as a building material.
The quarrying of marble in Canada is a relatively small industry in comparison to the country's total commercial production of natural stone. However, worldwide demand for high-quality marble continues to grow. Callache Stone Quarries have developed markets in Canada, the United States and Europe. As well, the company's products are in high demand in Asia and the luxurious and opulent buildings of Dubai and the Middle East.
Equipment suited to the conditions
To mine the marble, the company needed the right equipment to work on the rugged, very wet coast where space was often limited, and the right company to help them.
"We were a startup company, and many equipment companies and financiers were hesitant to do business with us," states Callant. Fortunately, while he and Sache were exploring the area, they met Doug Meir, the general manager of Great West Equipment, the Volvo Construction Equipment dealer in Campbell River on the east coast of Vancouver Island.
"[We] were quickly able to establish that the Great West team, along with Volvo and Volvo Financial Services, were willing to work with us. In our travels around the world, we became very familiar with Volvo and Volvo quality," says Callant, so the equipment and business support suited them very well.
The company had to start out with smaller equipment for two reasons. First, the area where the first marble was available was steep and cramped. Second, there were no roads into the area that were compatible with bringing in large equipment. The first piece of equipment purchased was a Volvo EC480D tracked excavator, and a short time later a Volvo L350F wheel loader was added.
"For extraction, we typically don't blast in marble as it can fracture the deposit," says Callant. "So the 480 is equipped with a breaker to remove disturbed areas and intrusive dykes (magmatic material) that isn't commercially viable as blocks (i.e. fractured marble not worth extracting). Once the waste rock is removed, we use diamond drills, diamond wires and diamond chainsaws specialized for marble extraction from Benetti Macchine in Carrara, Italy. We only use the best equipment, from the specialized extraction equipment to the earth moving and heavy equipment."
Today, Callache Stone Quarries owns seven pieces of Volvo equipment, including three crawler excavators – the original EC480D, an EC700CL and an EC35D compact excavator, a pair of L350F wheel loaders, an A35C articulated hauler and G976 motor grader. All are financed through Volvo Financial Services and are on Volvo Service Contracts with Volvo's exclusive CareTrack and ActiveCare Direct systems.
Scott Cairns, regional manager for Great West Equipment in Campbell River, explained that getting the larger pieces of equipment onto the Callache quarry site was not an easy task. For example, the 70-ton Volvo EC700CL crawler excavator had to be brought to Vancouver on two transport trucks from Great West's Fort St. John, B.C., location – a distance of over 1,240 kilometres (770 miles). It was then shipped by ocean barge to their Nanaimo facility on Vancouver Island, where it underwent a few minor quarry-ready modifications. Next, it was loaded and trucked to Gold River, another 250 kilometres (155 miles), where it was assembled and loaded onto another barge that travelled 40 kilometres (25 miles) along the rugged B.C. coastline to a landing site near the quarry. But the 700's journey was not over yet. This new Volvo excavator was then moved another few kilometres to the quarry before it could go to work.
Moving huge 25- and 35-ton blocks of high-quality marble to global customers follows much the same path, but in reverse. Once cut, measured and graded, the marble blocks are carefully loaded onto an off-road truck in the quarry using the Volvo wheel loaders. Then they are driven a few kilometres to a decommissioned, ocean-side forestry log-sort landing where they are loaded onto a barge. They are then barged to Gold River where they are carefully packed into sea containers and reloaded onto an ocean-capable barge and taken to Vancouver. From there, various methods of shipping are used to get these very valuable blocks of marble to processing facilities around the globe.
"We did our research and knew that Volvo had the right equipment for us," explains Sache. "We don't have a lot of room up at the quarry site yet so the equipment has to be compact, but we have to get maximum performance out of our machines as well. We are constantly handling 20- to 35-ton, and often larger, blocks of marble."
Callant continues, "For me it was a no-brainer. Volvo for us was the leading supplier of equipment. The performance we get out of the 350 heavy-duty block-loader [wheel-loader] and the 700 and 480 [excavators] we have is impressive, and the footprint of each machine is easily 10 to 15 percent smaller than its nearest competitors. After the compactness, maneuverability and agility of the machines, there is the consumption – we are running consumptions which are between 20 and 34 percent less than its biggest competitor. The service that we get from Great West makes it a walk in the park to go with Volvo and to see our production running as smoothly as is possible."
But compact power and fuel savings are just part of the Volvo performance equation. Not only are the machines working in the close confines of the quarry, they have to contend with Mother Nature as well. This rather inhospitable area on the west coast, where the wind blows from many directions, also receives up to four metres (157 inches) of rain annually.
When asked, Trevor Bergh, operations manager, was very emphatic, "We are very happy with Volvo [equipment]. They handle this varied terrain with ease, good performance [and] easy maneuverability. Fuel consumption is lower than the competitors – which is a bonus. They don't seem to have any issues with being out in the rain, the cabs are comfortable and quiet. The operators like them. They are excellent machines for our needs."
Sache concluded, "One of our biggest challenges was finding the right people to perform in our Volvo ballet, expertly and safely harvest the marble and get it to market. We have been lucky to find an Italian quarry master who specializes in marble extraction, and skilled Canadians with mining expertise, and are working very closely with the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations to train their people in the fine art of marble harvesting."