Michigan's role in the development of mineral properties north of the Arctic Circle was a topic of a two-day symposium in April 2005. Events were scheduled in Marquette on Tuesday, April 26, and in Houghton on Thursday, April 28 , 2005. The event was open to the public.
Located north of Scandinavia, and only 750 miles below the North Pole, the Svalbard archipelago is the site of significant coal deposits. Mining proved difficult at such latitude, with long winters, treacherous marine navigation and engineering challenges due to the harsh climate. Marquette-area capitalist John M. Longyear was drawn to the region in 1903 and eventually established the largest and most significant historic coalmine in Svalbard. His Arctic Coal Company, with the assistance of mining engineers from the Michigan College of Mines, was the first to successfully implement modern mining methods on the archipelago.
The two-day symposium explored the legacy of John Longyear and the Michigan College of Mines, now known as Michigan Technological University, in developing Svalbard's arctic coalfields. Scholars from the United States, Sweden and Norway reviewed the historic events that lead to the success of the Arctic Coal Company and reviewed current archeological fieldwork underway to document and preserve this important industrial landscape. Representatives from Store Norske Spitsbergen Grubekompani, the Norwegian mining company which continues to mine coal near the community of Longyearbyen, premiered a documentary film celebrating the mine's Michigan roots.
Michigan Technological University, Northern Michigan University, the Marquette County History Museum and the MTU Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections sponsored the events.