Hans Lundberg, Canada’s greatest mineral detective, Part 5

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One of the Bell Model 47s ordered by Lindberg-Ryan Air Exploration during a pre-delivery test flight at the Bell Aircraft factory in Niagara Falls, New York. Lundberg is in the right hand seat. Anon., “The aviation news.” Aviation, March 1947, 61.

Greetings, patient reader, as we embark on the final chapter of this examination of the life of a truly original Canadian. Quite satisfied with the results of his 1946 expedition, Lundberg may have taken delivery of one, if not two specially equipped Bell Model 47s in 1947. He wanted to use these helicopters to conduct surveys in Canada, Mexico, the United States and Venezuela before too long. His son Sten was to accompany him on these expeditions. The information available does not allow us to say if things happened as planned.

Another example of Lundberg’s innovative spirit came in the early 1950s, when he became one of the first people to conduct so called radiometric surveys using airborne equipment that could detect the radiation emitted by uranium deposits. Restrictions on prospecting and / or a slump in the market meant that this approach failed to take off until the rush of the 1960s and 1970s, which was linked to the growth of the civilian nuclear industry worldwide. Yet again, Lundberg was ahead of his time.

By the late 1950s, Lundberg and his company had discovered ore deposits of many types, worth 5 billion dollars, in 28 countries and colonies around the globe. No other Canadian prospector even came close to that achievement. The Canadian geophysicist could have claimed many of these discoveries for himself, thus becoming fabulously wealthy. He chose not to. Even so, his family lived very comfortably indeed. The thrill of the search meant more for Lundberg than money. Indeed, he had gone as far as India and Spain by the early 1950s. In the latter case, Lundberg rediscovered some mines dating from the time of the Roman Empire. This being said, his interests went beyond mineral exploration.

Lundberg pioneered the use in Canada of the airborne scintillation counter / scintillometer, an at least partly Canadian-developed device far more sensitive than the Geiger counters used until then to detect uranium deposits. This being said, he used his scintillometer for a rather different purpose. Lundberg’s 1950 announcement that he would seek oil was rejected as utter nonsense. He challenged an oil company to compare its examination of a site of its choice with what the scintillometer would come up with. Both sets of results matched. In the early 1950s, Lundberg and his team spent hundreds of hours in the air looking for oil in four Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Québec) and seven American states. The airborne scintillometer used at that time may have been the first example delivered by a newly formed company, Nuclear Enterprises Limited of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The results of the trials greatly impressed the oil industry but the technology of the time may not have allowed Lundberg to fully exploit them. The Canadian geophysicist may well have been ahead of his time yet again.

Over the years, Lundberg published more than 70 papers in several Canadian and foreign scientific journals, with or without co-authors. He also obtained more than 30 patents. Better yet, Lundberg played a crucial role in the early careers of well known North American geophysicists. One only needs to mention Canada’s Robert William Boyle, Deshbandha Sikka and Harry Verney Warren, as well as an American colleague, Herbert Edwin Hawkes, Jr. This citizen of the world spoke and read eight languages (Swedish, Spanish, Russian, Norwegian, German, French, English and Danish).

For Lundberg, geophysical exploration was more an art than a science. Indeed, several of his colleagues thought he was more a gadgeteer than a theoretician. In turn, Lindberg gently mocked some of these people, who spent far more time in their office or in classrooms than in the field. Deep down, this researcher was something of a scientific rebel at heart.

It should be noted that Lundberg was an avid philatelist whose 200 thematic albums earned him more international gold medals than any other Canadian collector of his day. In the fall of 1952, he even came very close to buying the rarest and most valuable stamp in the world, the Tre skilling banco yellow, a unique example of an 1855 Swedish stamp that came out yellow rather than blue. A young journalist from a Toronto newspaper broke the story and inadvertently killed the deal.

Hans Lundberg, the father of Canadian geophysics according to many, died on 9 March 1971, in Toronto, at age 77. His many contributions to the development of Canada’s mining industry, one of the most active in the world, are well worth remembering.

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Rénald Fortier