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Metis mining supplier set to open second shop

Two years after operating out of a small garage in Elk Lake, a growing Kirkland Lake mining services company is making a move into the northwest.
Sharpening bits and straightening steel has been the backbone of Excalibur Bits and Steel.

Two years after operating out of a small garage in Elk Lake, a growing Kirkland Lake mining services company is making a move into the northwest.

Excalibur Bits and Steel is opening a second location in Dryden this fall to be closer to a potential base of mining clients in that region.

As the name implies, the 10-employee company sharpens drill bits and reconditions steel; a job most mining companies usually contract out.

Company president Gerry Lafontaine saw an opportunity to go into business while working as an underground supervisor for a Timmins mining contractor at AuRico Gold’s Young-Davidson Mine in Matachewan.

Another supplier had been doing a substandard job of bit sharpening.

“It was very poor service,” said Lafontaine. “They came in once, maybe twice a week, if that. They would pick up 200 bits, return 100, and throw away the rest as scrap. We don’t do it that way. We pick up 200, we bring back 200.”

Lafontaine set up the Elk Lake shop with one other employee in 2013. Taurus Drilling was their first contract.

He introduced himself to Kirkland Lake Gold’s senior managers who visited his shop to gauge the quality of his work and his capability to handle a big contract.

“They gave us 100 bits to sharpen as a trial and we brought them back the next day,” said Lafontaine. “From that point on it’s never been slow.”

Lafontaine purchased a 9,000-square-foot former tire dealership on Duncan Avenue in Kirkland Lake a year ago. “The volume was massive. I ended up doing 1,200 bits a week.”

The company also reconditions jackleg steel for its clients, which also include Cementation and Primero Mining.

“We straighten out the steel, clean it all out and rebuff it, repaint the collar, and it’s good to go back into circulation,” said Lafontaine.

Securing financing was tough as traditional lenders were reluctant to assist a new start-up.

Lafontaine and his wife, Carole, largely funded the half-million dollar Kirkland Lake shop renovation by dipping into his pension to do the shop fixes and to purchase steel straighteners, taper machines, grinders, a compressor, a five-tonne truck, loader, and two delivery trucks.

The Métis Voyageur Development Fund also came through with $150,000. He has another application submitted for $300,000 to finance the Dryden expansion.

Many in the company’s workforce are Métis, Aboriginal and female as Lafontaine works closer with the Aboriginal Women in Mining Program to introduce young women into the industry.

With a government and industry push to involve Aboriginal people in the mining sector, Lafontaine envisions contracting opportunities to hire and train locals in the Ring of Fire.

“That’s where I’m pushing to go, wherever I can open up in remote areas.”