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Mining the Northwest: North shore booming with mine building and mineral exploration

Critical, high-tech minerals activity surging from Thunder Bay to Marathon
Palladium One Tyko
Drill rig on the way to Palladium One's Tyko Project, north of the Hemlo gold mine complex (Palladium One photo)

Lake Superior's north shore remains abuzz with exploration and mine construction activity, spurred by high gold prices and the global demand for critical minerals.

Gold mining has historically been the region’s economic backbone as Greenstone Gold Mines is plowing ahead with construction of a new open-pit operation outside Geraldton this summer.

But exploration firms are putting in the groundwork to discover and prove up industrial and high-tech metals as well.

Metallum Resources is eager to put the former Winston Lake zinc mine near Schreiber back into production as early as next year. Meanwhile, Nuinsco Resources is taking a hard look at whether its rare earth metals property near Terrace Bay can be developed as a quarry.

Scattered around the region there are a handful of junior mining hopefuls who have entered the fray to see if they can deliver the next wave of mines.

The Hercules Gold Project is proving to be a target-rich environment for Vancouver’s Gold’n Futures Mineral Corp working ground near the town of Jellicoe.

The company picked up Hercules two years ago, signing an option agreement with Argonaut Gold.

Once heralded as the Discovery of the Year by the Northwestern Ontario Prospectors Association in 2008, the 10,000-hectare Lake Nipigon-area property has an extensive exploration history.

The company inherited a historic resource of 56,970 ounces of indicated gold, averaging 14.95 grams per tonne, and an inferred resource of 74,380 ounces at 4.13 grams per tonne.

Gold’n Futures has been wading through a mountain of old drill core, samples and other exploration data. Kodiak Exploration once spent more than $25 million on exploration, amassing more than 100 kilometres of drill core.

Gold’n Futures first drilling program around some Kodiak trenches, launched last December, produced some high-grade gold hits. 

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But the company decided to apply some artificial intelligence (AI) to come up with a new exploration model. They hired AI experts GoldSpot Discoveries to run a property-wide geophysical survey last fall and examine the old data with their computer-aided analytical techniques.

The results have served up a tabletop of targets showing gold extensions trending to the northwest, something the junior miner is keen to check out this summer.

Gold’n Futures strongly believes Hercules can become a “world-class gold deposit.” The property sits on the same archean greenstone belt as Greenstone Gold Mines,70 kilometres to the east.

In a recent news release, Gold’n Futures CEO Stephen Wilkinson called this northwest mineralized trend “significant and highly encouraging,” suggesting a “robust” gold system was developed.

Between Marathon and White River, Palladium One Mining hauled a drill rig last month onto its Tyko Project to start a 15,000-metre program.

The Toronto exploration firm is on the hunt for high-grade nickel and copper on the 25,000-hectare claims package, 25 kilometres north of Barrick's Hemlo Gold Mine Complex.

Palladium One and its Smoke Lake discovery at Tyko was chosen as the 2020 Discovery of the Year by the Northwestern Ontario Prospectors Association.

In a recent news release, the company mentioned it had pocketed three exploration permits to begin drilling and was nudging the province to quickly approve two more.

“With both Ontario’s and Canada’s political focus on increasing domestic supply of critical minerals, we are hopeful that the last two permits will arrive shortly,” said the company in a news release.

Tyko still remains in the early exploration stage, but this year the company wants to build on past exploration success.

“We are launching the 2022 diamond drilling program to expand on our high-grade discovery success, where we intersected up to 10 per cent nickel equivalent over four metres, within a 430-meter strike length that remains open for expansion," said president and CEO Derrick Weyrauch in a statement.

"The three permits will enable us to drill the highly prospective West Pickle Lake and the Bulldozer North and South targets."

The next up-and-coming mine in the region is north of Marathon where Generation Mining is arranging the financing for an open-pit palladium mine.

The Toronto mine developer struck a metal streaming deal with Wheaton Precious Metals in January that’s delivered $20 million in upfront money for construction.

The cost to build the pit is $665 million. Construction could start in early 2023 if the project financing can be put in place over the next several months. There's also an environmental assessment and permitting process taking place at the same time.

The company said in a news release that there’s been no shortage of financing offers that have come forward. There's “significant” interest from more than a dozen lenders including commercial banks, export credit financiers and private equity companies, potential off-take partners, and equipment lessors, all representing a total committed capital in excess of US$1 billion.

Export Development Canada is also interested in supporting the project, which provide up to US$200 million in project financing.

In a statement, Gen Mining president-CEO Jamie Levy said the Wheaton deal provided the initial backing they needed to head out into debt finance markets.

“Sourcing the remaining key components of the project financing continues, and we pleased and gratified to see such strong initial interest which we take as confirmation of the robustness of the project.”

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Outside of Thunder Bay, Clean Air Metals, a local palladium company, keeps advancing its rich Thunder Bay North Project along the mine planning path.

A consulting firm, DRA Americas, has been hired to start a pre-feasibility study to evaluate the metallurgy and marketability of the twin palladium, copper and nickel deposits, 50 kilometres north of the city.

Clean Air Metals envisions a ramp-access underground mine, but has not yet made a construction decision.

In a May 26 news release, Clean Air calls this “an exciting moment in the life of the project” with the pre-feasibility report coming in mid-2023.

A pre-feasibility study is the middle portion of the three order-of-magnitude steps usually followed by mining companies in their due diligence process. Each progressive step gives the company more of the detailed technical and economic information necessary to make a final decision on proceeding with a mine development.

The Current deposit is the more advanced of two on the site. Before Christmas, the company released a preliminary economic assessment estimating a 10-year mine life at Current.

Nearby, the company continues to furiously drill off the Escape deposit to fill in any gaps jn mineral continuity. Those drill results will be folded into an updated mineral resource estimate of the entire Thunder Bay North Project due out by year's end.

North of White River, it’s been crickets from Australia’s Silver Lake Resources by way of news flow ever since they acquired the Sugar Zone Mine from Harte Gold in an insolvency sale last winter.

However, the company's careers page shows they’re on a hiring spree, looking for production miners, maintenance, management and people to fill other positions.