A once-dormant Temagami aggregate pit could become a beehive of activity this year.
Randy Becker, a member of the Temagami First Nation and the new operator of the Frontenac pit, has ambitious plans to use the property as an active exploration site for base metals, establish an aggregate extraction operation, and utilize the site as a training ground for future Indigenous diamond drilling assistants and heavy equipment operators.
The former municipal pit is located just south from the Town of Temagami and west of Highway 11 at the 12-kilometre mark of the Lake Temagami Access Road.
The permit to operate the pit was transferred to one of Becker’s companies, Nimkie Mining Services.
To advance the multi-faceted development, Becker has struck a number of agreements with business partners including Asabanaka Drill Services, a majority First Nation-owned outfit out of Kasabonika Lake First Nation, to assist with the startup of a 10-week diamond driller training course.
Sudbury’s Canadian Driller Training has joined the venture to provide additional safety instruction. Class sizes will be limited to eight trainees with a ratio of students per instructor.
“We have a couple of people signed up for training this summer and are waiting to see about drill availability,” said Becker.
Additional interest has come from individuals in central and southern Ontario.
The eight-week heavy equipment course will be done through Nimkie, but Becker hopes to bring aboard other yet-to-be-named partners to help with the delivery. The equipment on site will include 20-tonne articulated trucks, large Komatsu wheel loaders and Caterpillar excavators, backhoes, bulldozers, and diamond drills, which will be used for a combination of training and production.
Becker’s intent from the beginning has been to make the training as realistic as possible by assembling a roster of experienced lead drillers, driller helpers and instructors.
“Our trainees get coached, monitored and get to watch helpers with years in business. They’ll learn the tricks of trade that aren’t (formally) taught.”
He had hoped to house the students on the pit property with a mine camp setup complete with dormitories and kitchen facilities to mimic a real-life drill site.
Instead, Becker plans to find accommodations for them in the Town of Temagami. Becker worked as a heavy equipment operator beginning in his teens, before taking jobs on highway maintenance, water and sewer projects, in the mineral exploration field and at underground mines and surface mills.
He’s a certified trainer in surface common core and surface diamond driller.
Becker established Nimkie Mining Services in 2014 to offer diamond drilling services, exploration and geophysics, infrastructure project management, and common core training in drilling, surface mining and heavy equipment. It’s also designed to be a vehicle to introduce Indigenous people to the mining industry and smooth relations between miners and communities through working agreements.
“We’re all over Ontario. Any mining company anywhere, we’re happy to work with them and solidify the relationship between First Nations and the mining company.”
Becker said other junior mine companies are working the ground surrounding their pit.
“We’re in a good working relationship with them and if their project needs to proceed, we’re happy to make deal to see it go forward.”
More recently, Becker has launched a junior exploration startup, Gamet Gold, with the aim of purchasing or leasing mining claims across Ontario.
At the pit itself, Becker said most of the esker gravel has been depleted but he’s close to finalizing a permit to allow for drilling and blasting to supply aggregate to the Town of Temagami, Temagami First Nation and area cottagers.
At its peak, the operation would process 3,000 tonnes per day, not a modest operation but certainly not a round-the-clock business. Becker has an agreement with Miron Topsoil, a New Liskeard heavy equipment rental and aggregate business with 26 pits across Ontario. Miron will remove the overgrown trees in the pit, strip the overburden and help with the crushing operation.
To kickstart the development, Becker recently received a federal business grant for Aboriginal entrepreneurs through the Waubetek Business Development Corporation.
The funding is earmarked for clearing the pit of overgrown vegetation and to establish the training site. “It’s a very exhausting process,” said Becker of the pace of the approvals process.
He received the positive news of the funding in mid-June. It will enable Becker to get started on capitalizing on aggregate supply opportunities.
At the same time, Becker wants to fully explore the property’s mineral potential. The pit was once thought to be marginal for gold prospects but Becker said the site has never been drilled deep for platinum and palladium.
“We’re fairly certain when we assay for palladium and platinum we’ll be hitting some for sure.” Nimkie is permitted to drill 8,000 metres at the pit, which Becker plans to do this fall.
“We’re going to start drilling a few holes to find a deep target and doing some wedging off that and down-hole geophysics to get a good idea what’s going on.”
Ideally, Becker would like to develop the pit project to build his own pool of talent for Nimkie. But sometimes his graduates get scooped up by other diamond drilling companies, “which is fine.”
“We can’t tell our trainees to stay at home and wait for us to activate a contract. If they get an opportunity with another company that’s good. “It’s a success either way.”