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Deep in the boreal forest, 1,200 labourers are working to construct the Detour Lake gold mine, while the nearby town of Cochrane readies itself for the economic benefits

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Gold specks can be seen in a core sample from the Detour Lake property north of Cochrane, Ont. Gold's remarkable upswing over the past decade has sparked a new wave of exploration, prompting prospectors to take a second look at deposits once considered too remote or uneconomical to develop.

Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

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The site of the Detour Lake mine site, almost 200 kilometres north of Cochrane, Ont. For a long time, few thought the mine would ever be resurrected. The mill and other buildings were torn down, the land reclaimed, after gold giant Placer Dome halted operations in 1998.

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For more than a year, hundreds of workers have been pounding, welding and digging, building the infrastructure needed for Detour Gold Corp. to tap the largest undeveloped pure gold deposit in Canada. With roughly 1,200 labourers, construction at the site is now halfway done.

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Acquired for $75-million in 2007, Detour Lake's reserves have been pegged at 14.9 million ounces, making it the biggest pure gold play on the continent. The new mine will be much larger than before, operating as an open pit.

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Taykwa Tagamou Chief Linda Job receives a ceremonial share certificate from Detour Gold Corp. as part of a joint venture that will see co-operation between the native community and the mining company.

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Rows of trailers house Detour Gold contractors and employees. Most shifts at the mine will be one week on, one week off. The mine is expected to have 500 permanent employees.

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Anticipating a flood of new workers at the Detour Lake mine, Lynne Cheff-Lawson and her husband have recently opened a laundromat and hair salon in downtown Cochrane. The salon has long been a dream of hers; the laundromat a direct response to Detour's arrival.

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Rosanna Ulvstal, 35, with daughter Sarah and husband Scott, recently returned to Cochrane from Edmonton in hopes of landing work at the Detour Lake gold mine. Ms. Ulstval graduated in June from the Niska Career Academy's heavy-equipment operation program.

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Rosanna Ulvstal applied in October to work at the Detour Lake mine but hasn't received a response from its owner, Detour Gold Corp. She's now driving a rock hauler at a mine in Kapuskasing, where she's renting a room and commuting to Cochrane on her days off to see her husband and daughter.

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Detour Gold's presence has kindled optimism not felt in Cochrane for decades. The company is building a regional office, along with 59 houses and three low-rise apartment buildings to house mine employees.

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The value of construction permits in Cochrane hit a record in 2011, reaching nearly $13-million, compared with about $4-million in 2010. Rents and housing prices have soared and more people are using the town's food bank.

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Cochrane Mayor Peter Politis points to the site of a proposed new housing development on the town's northern fringe. If all goes as planned, 400 houses will be built in the town's first major development in 30 years.

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Cochrane's tired-looking downtown is gradually being revitalized. One of the pharmacies is moving to a much bigger location, a women's clothing store has opened, and a second taxi company has hung its shingle.

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Former police officer Jaime Mageau recently opened the Ice Hut Bar and Grill, with a dance floor, big-screen TVs and sleek black stools, in downtown Cochrane. He expects the Detour Lake gold mine workers to have a big impact on his business.

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Buses transport workers along Highway 652, the only access road to the Detour Lake mine project, about 180 kilometres northeast of Cochrane, Ont. The trip takes about three hours.

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