When it comes to reality TV series, the fishing show Deadliest Catch has orange gold, forestry’s Ax Men has green gold, and the oil industry is encapsulated in the show Black Gold. Now, hard-rock gold mining has its own version.
Fool’s Gold, which will premiere on May 13 on the Discovery Channel, follows Todd Ryznar and seven friends as they try their hand at grassroots gold exploration at the former Straw Lake Beach Mine, located about a 90-minute drive from Fort Frances in northwestern Ontario.
“This is hard-rock mining; all the other shows on TV are about placer gold, and that’s something totally different from what we’re dealing with,” said Ryznar, founder of Shotgun Exploration. “It’s something you’ve never seen on TV before, so it’ll be very interesting.”
A former lakefront property realtor, Ryznar purchased the Straw Lake Beach Mine property in 2005, and, five years later, with inspiration from reality television shows like Deadliest Catch, started filming work being done on the property.
After gaining accolades for a 45-minute, documentary-type short film he submitted to the 2012 Banff World Media Festival, he caught the eye of Discovery and struck a deal for the first season of Fool’s Gold. The eight-part series was filmed last fall and follows Ryznar’s crew of family and friends as they clear the property, build equipment out of lawnmower parts, and bicker their way through exploration.
Though Discovery plays up the comedic angle of the “ragtag gang of would-be miners”—neither Ryznar nor any of his crew has any experience in the industry—there really could be something on the property.
Gold was discovered there in 1933, and shaft-sinking and infrastructure construction began the following year. By the time the mine suspended operations in 1941, at the onset of the Second World War, it had produced more than 11,000 ounces of gold, worth about $15 million in today’s market.
Allen Raoul, a geologist who worked out of the Kenora office of the Ontario Geological Society and is now employed as an independent consultant, was hired to come in for a day and provide some insight into the mine’s potential. Ryznar said Raoul, who has consulted for Rainy River Resources (now New Gold) and Western Warrior, said the sample shows promise, and there could be $100 million in gold sitting in the surface reserves alone.
“This material is still a half-inch- and quarter-inch-sized stuff,” Ryznar said. “To get out 100 per cent of the gold, you’ve got to grind that down to a powder and they didn’t have that technology back then, so there’s literally another 11,000 ounces just sitting in a big pile there.”
If results from the surface reserves are promising, Ryznar said the company plans to do some contract drilling in the next year or two. He is not currently looking for investors for the project.
Though he’s only seen the first two episodes of Fool’s Gold, Ryznar believes viewers will get a kick out of his crew’s unscripted, madcap shenanigans.
A pre-screening of the series is being held this week in Fort Francis before the first episode airs. Ryznar said he won’t know until mid-June if the show is getting picked up for a second season, but that’s largely immaterial to him. He vows to continue exploring, regardless of the show’s commercial success.
“We’re definitely on the right track,” he said of his exploration work. “How we left it last year, this is definitely going to be a big year, and whether there are cameras there or not, I still want the gold.”