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Multinational mining company surrenders land rights to area which inspired Group of Seven

The view from Willisville Mountain in May, 2010.

A multinational mining company has agreed to surrender control over portions of land near Ontario's Willisville Mountain after a local campaign to save the area, which has inspired artists including members of the Group of Seven.

The Brazilian owned mining company Vale, which had the rights to the mountain southwest of Sudbury and all of the land surrounding it, will officially announce at 11 a.m. ET on Friday that it will amend its aggregate licence and relinquish their control of three portions of land in the area.

Jon Treen, general manager of Vale's Ontario operations, said the company will remove the site from its aggregate licence and begin talks with the Ministry of Natural Resources on its future use.

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The decision was made largely in response to the community activism organized by Willisville resident Jon Butler, who maintained that the location, part of the LaCloche Mountains, was historically important to local residents, artists and tourists.

Mr. Butler said that in May, 2010, he noticed that Vale had cleared some portions of the land surrounding the mountain. He learned from the Ministry of Natural Resources that Vale not only had rights to the land, but could develop it without consulting the local residents.

"Initially, I was shocked, and concerned," said Mr. Butler, a former newspaper executive and president of the LaCloche Mountains Preservation Society.

"This is such a historic area, from an artist's stance, because of the beauty of the area and because its really one of the only access points in LaCloche that you can actually drive through to experience the mountains."

Vale has had quarrying rights since 1914. It operates a quarry nearby that provides 300 tons of silica per day for the company's smelting operations in Sudbury.

Mr. Butler said he was told Vale planned to make a space for a new aggregate crusher. In response to concern from Mr. Butler and others, Vale held a public meeting at a local community centre, and announced that it would keep the crusher in the existing quarry.

The company also told people at the meeting that there were no plans to mine near Willisville Mountain because the existing quarry would provide enough resources for the next 80 years.

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Mr. Butler and others banded together to lobby Vale to relinquish its rights to the land, so that it would never be mined or quarried.

"There have been so many people who passed through the area over the years that they all rallied behind us when this came up," said Mr. Butler, who got more than 1,000 signatures on a petition and nearly 200 supporters on a Willisville Mountain Facebook page. "I was positive that we were going to be successful - this is an area that just has to be preserved."

Vale says it is committed to being environmentally responsible.

"It's a great area of the community, and we will be leaving it untouched for people to see," Mr. Treen said.

Mr. Butler said Vale should be applauded for its willingness to listen and comply with the community's demands, especially in only about eight months time.

"What Vale has done is made sure that Willisville Mountain is going to be here for generations to come, and people can continue to enjoy the beautiful scenery and climb to the top of the mountain as thousands of people do every year."

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