Behind the scenes with Eastern Analytical, Atlantic Canada’s boutique geological lab
Eastern Analytical has been looking for gold for more than 32 years. For silver and copper, and some other base metals too—but the search for gold is the company’s “bread and butter.”
“We’re the only mining-based geological lab in Atlantic Canada,” says Brian Wright, Eastern Analytical’s general manager. “There are probably two or three major companies that do this type of work all over the world, with locations everywhere and maybe 50,000 employees. They’re like Ford or Chev—and we’re like the boutique company that makes a custom little car.”
That custom car, to carry the analogy further, is known for precision, competitive price and on-time delivery.
Eastern Analytical is based in Springdale, a town of about 3,000 people in central Newfoundland that has become a service centre for the island’s mining industry. The company is an established assay laboratory (it tests soil or rock samples for composition and quality) and a crucial player in the province’s exploration and mining sector.
“Often we receive samples by the truckload, from companies that have drill programs and are actively exploring,” Wright says. “Other samples come from prospectors, maybe one or two at a time. In all, we probably get 90 per cent of the samples taken out of Newfoundland for gold and base metals.”
They receive samples from elsewhere in Atlantic Canada too, as well as places as far away as the Yukon—Eastern Analytical is known for high-quality work and efficient turnaround times.
The lab was originally built by the operators of Whalesback Copper mine (in operation 1965–1972) as a small facility for their own use. In the early 1980s, the location was revived and opened as Atlantic Analytical, but folded a few years later when the local mining industry hit a downturn.
It was revived again in 1987 as Eastern Analytical by the Halfyards from nearby La Scie (Job Halfyard and Job Halfyard, Sr. are still at the company’s helm) and persevered through a few rough years, particularly in the early 1990s.
“The mining industry is notoriously up and down,” Wright says. “In the 32 years I’ve been here I’ve seen years in which we’ve done very little—6,000 or 7,000 samples per year, that was probably our low. Recently we’ve done upwards of 100,000 samples per year. That’s the fluctuation.”
Wright was one of a handful of employees in the early days of the business; now he is one of 35 or more. Capacity has increased too: Eastern Analytical opened with one fire assay furnace, now it has five. A new sample preparation building means the operation can now prep upwards of 1,000 samples a day, instead of 300.
In 2010, the company made the decision to focus on becoming an ISO-accredited lab. In 2014, it achieved the globally-recognized certification of quality and competence. Wright says monitoring and maintaining processes and equipment to the high ISO standards is a full-time job—but well worth the effort.
“Everything has to be checked, and calibrated constantly. It’s a lot of hoops,” he says. “But we are doing better work, it gives us a better product. And we have gotten additional contracts because of it.”
As well as quality of data and analysis, the company has to maintain confidentiality. “Of course we know the results of the testing before anyone else about what is in the ground,” Wright says. “But anything we learn is not spoken about, ever.”
Mining companies make crucial decisions based on the information Eastern Analytical delivers, the effects of which are felt throughout the province. That’s not lost on Wright or any of his colleagues. “We’re quite proud of what we do here,” he says. “We have great retention of employees, and we work hard to keep our turnaround time good and everyone happy.” •