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Mining the Northwest: Lake Superior's North Shore remains fertile ground for gold, high-tech metals

Gold junior miners still dominate exploration scene but palladium, lithium and critical metals hunters are making their mark
Barrick Hemlo (aerial)
Barrick Gold continues exploration at its Hemlo complex to keep mining on the North Shore beyond the 2030 closure date. (Barrick Gold photo)

While gold mine construction is in full bloom along Lake Superior's North Shore, there are a raft of junior miners conducting exploration on the path toward developing the next generation of operations.

And it's not just gold but in high-tech metals that could help drive the global electrical vehicle revolution.

Outside Dubreuilville, Sudbury's Manitou Gold kicked off an 18,000-metre drilling program to test some promising gold and copper targets at its Goudreau Project.

The company has 350 square kilometres of property in this re-emerging gold camp. Construction of Argonaut's Magino Mine, itself a revitalized mine property, is off to their west and the historic Renabie Mine sits to the east.

Manitou is hitting the west side of a geological structure called the Baltimore deformation zone. These zones seem to be the key to finding gold deposits in the area, based on the history of small producers like the former Cline and Edward Mines and today's bigger operations like Alamos Gold's Island Gold Mine.

Generation Mining has resumed exploration drilling at its Marathon project after the threat of forest fires shut things down.

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The soon-to-be-builders of a palladium and copper mine near Marathon have the go-ahead from the province to finish an 8,000-metre program they were half way through before a government  emergency order brought drilling to a halt last month. The company said its other exploration activities, such as mapping and sampling, were not affected by the order.

Assay results have yet to come in but there's more gold to be found to expand the size of the deposit Gen Mining intends to mine, 10 kilometres north of the town of Marathon.

The big boy in the Hemlo gold camp remains Barrick Gold. Its world famous Hemlo mine complex and the Williams Mine has produced more than 22 million ounces of gold since 1985. 

Hemlo may get lost in the shuffle among Barrick's global assets, but apparently still holds a special place in Mark Bristow's heart.

"I personally believe that Canada is going to be playing an increasing part of Barrick's future," said its president and chief executive in a webcall to analysts on Aug. 10.

Mining at Hemlo has graduated from open pit to underground but those development efforts have been hampered by pandemic-related travel restrictions, particularly as it relates to their Australian contractor, Bristow said.

Hemlo produced 89,000 ounces of gold through the first six months of this year, down from 111,000 ounces at the same point in 2020. 

Production-wise, Bristow said the mine has underperformed and is "trending to the bottom of its guidance" for this year.

But he and Barrick think Hemlo still has multi-million-ounce resource potential waiting to be tapped.

Mining from a new portal is expected to start this quarter to access the Upper C Zone and provide a third mining front.

Through ongoing exploration they intend to post new gold resources through to 2023. Recent drilling identified the E gold zone, below the western side of the open pit. 

Further out, Barrick said they're finding encouraging gold results to the east, deeper down from where they've mined in the past, and are exploring five to eight kilometres west of the pit in looking to extend Hemlo's operating life beyond 2030.

Twenty-five kilometres north of the Hemlo complex, Toronto's Palladium One Mining has expanded the size of their exploration ground in the hunt for nickel, copper and platinum group metals.

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Since the beginning of this year, the company has consistently posted impressive results from a high-grade nickel discovery in an area of the property they call the Smoke Lake Zone.

Tyko is an early stage exploration project, 65 kilometres northeast of Marathon. Most of Tyko has seen "little to no exploration," according to the company.

Their most recent drill program showed one intercept of massive magmatic sulphide of up to 9.9 per cent nickel, 23.0 per cent copper, and 30.1 grams per tonne of gold over 3.8 metres.

The company finished an airborne electromagnetic survey of Tyko and is well into a summer field program to map, prospect and gather soil samples. A thousand soil samples have been sent off to the assay lab.

The size of Tyko has grown by 4,400 hectares to more than 24,500 hectares.

Palladium One recently signed an option agreement with First Class Metals Ltd to acquire 700 hectares on the west side of Tyko and then inked a second agreement with a local prospector for 250 hectares east of the Smoke Lake Zone.

In a late July news release, company president Derrick Weyrauch has been impressed by what he's seen so far.

"Results to date demonstrate robust mineralization spread over at least 18 kilometres, yet the area has seen virtually no government mapping or exploration. We believe that in addition to the high-grade Smoke Lake zone, there are new zones off nickel-copper mineralization yet to be discovered. 

Fifteen kilometres north of Barrick, Hemlo Explorers reported it had intersected a contiguous gold bearing horizon over a 400-metre strike length.

The company has 380 square kilometres of ground, spread out over three project properties, north and west of Barrick's Hemlo operations.

Crews began drilling last January on its North Limb project, near Manitouwadge, looking for favourable geology that resembles Barrick's Hemlo deposit.

"Many assays remain pending, and once results have been received and compiled, we will be in a better position to interpret the potential and plan additional follow-up drilling," said company CEO Brian Howlett late last month. "A surface mapping program is currently underway to assist with this interpretation.”

South of Geraldton, Tombill Mines has been deep drilling and doing surface exploration of its namesake property, which sits west of where Equinox Gold's wants to build an open-pit gold mine. The Vancouver junior miner bill themselves as the "donut hole" in the Geraldton camp.

The Trans-Canada Highway runs through the middle of their property.

Their neighbour, Equinox, holds an 11.5-million-ounce asset that's awaiting the green light from management to start mine construction.

Tombill believes all the future gold resources steadily plunge from Equinox's property in the east, across their property line, to the west. 

A recent drill hole returned 6.23 grams per tonne of gold over 13.3 metres. Tombill said it helped confirm mineralization from the F-Zone of the Equinox property spills over onto their land.

Tombill has recruited an exploration team that once worked on the Equinox's pit property, when it was developed by a predecessor company, Premier Gold Mines.

Near Terrace Bay, Nuinsco Resources is pulling sizeable lengths of mineralized drill core this summer from its Prairie Lake Project.

The company reported 111, 122 and 347-metre intersections containing critical metals of niobium, tantalum, phosphate, and rare earth elements, plus a host of other metals.

Critical minerals are used in various defence, aerospace, digital, electronics, stainless steel, energy, health and life sciences applications.

The company is doing a sampling program to eventual establish a mineral resource estimate at Prairie Lake. The 630-hectare property is 28 kilometres north of the Trans-Canada Highway and is accessible by road.

Near the east shore of Lake Nipigon, Vancouver's Infinite Ore is putting boots on the ground this summer to check out several targets identified in an airborne geophysics at its Jackpot lithium property.

The company said in July it was planning to peal back the vegetation and do some rock and channel sampling.

In 1956, the Ontario Lithium Company calculated a historic deposit of 2 million tonnes of lithium oxide at 1.09 per cent at Jackpot, but Infinite management said there are multiple targets there to further explore. The company has drilled close to 9,500 metres on the property since 2018.

Infinite's Jackpot Project is just south of Rock Tech Lithium's Georgia Lake deposit which that company intends to mine and ship the material off to a proposed lithium sulphate production facility in Thunder Bay.

"I am very excited to get the crew in the field to explore these targets," said company president J.C. St-Amour in a statement. "The goal is to identify and properly explore multiple lithium-bearing-granitic dykes to build a sizeable lithium resource on the property."

North of Thunder Bay, Clean Air Metals continues drilling at its Thunder Bay North Project to firm up the numbers for a preliminary economic assessment coming out late this year on a potential palladium mine.

The Thunder Bay-based junior miner has a drill crew on its Current Lake deposit, the more advanced of two sister deposits, located north of the city.

The company released new assay results on Aug 12 showing a 13-metre section of core grading 2.9 grams per tonne (g/t) of palladium from Current Lake and another result from its Escape Lake deposit yielding 3.3 g/t of palladium. Thunder Bay North also contains platinum, copper and nickel. 

Woodland Heritage Northwest, a Metis-owned consulting firm, has been hired to conduct archaeological studies on the property.