A History of Co-Dependency:
INCO and New Caledonia in the 20th Century
The International Nickel Company of Canada (INCO), founded in 1902, spent the early part of the 20th century threatening to abandon the extensive nickel deposits around Sudbury, Canada, in the process of helping it dominate the nickel industry, in favour of mining nickel in New Caledonia if the government of Ontario insisted that the company refine its nickel domestically rather than in the United States. By the end of the 20th century, INCO was desperately trying to develop a laterite mining and refining project at Goro, New Caledonia, that it hoped would cement the company’s future, maybe even restore some of the global dominance it had lost since the 1950s.
From Ontario’s ‘Nickel Question’ to 1917 through the market sharing agreements with Société Le Nickel in the 1930s, INCO’s rescue of New Caledonia’s nickel industry during the Second World War, New Caledonia’s nickel question in the 1960s, the Tiebaghi interregnum of the 1980s, and the pursuit of the Goro project in the 1990s and early 2000s, INCO and the South Pacific territory shared a deeply, if not always directly or even happily, intertwined history over the course of the 20th century. Co-dependent relationships don’t always work out well, however, for either party.
This paper explores the twists and turns of the connections between INCO and New Caledonia during the 20th century, with a focus on the period from the 1960s to the 1990s when what could have been a promising and beneficial relationship helped set the stage for disappointment for INCO as well as New Caledonians, with some surprising collateral implications for Canada and Canadians to boot.
Robin Gendron is a Professor of History at Nipissing University in North Bay, Ontario. He taught at universities in Alberta, British Columbia, Minnesota, Morocco, and Nova Scotia before joining Nipissing University in 2007. An international historian with interests in the international activities of Canadian resource companies, he is currently revising a book manuscript on INCO and New Caledonia in the 20th century. He has also written a book on Canada’s relations with France and French African countries, co-edited a collection on the global bauxite industry, and numerous articles on Canadian foreign relations and international history.