By Ian Ross
While much excitement has been generated in Timmins by DeBeers' Victor diamond project in the James Bay lowlands, local exploration activity has slowly been picking up momentum, says the Ontario government's chief resident geologist.
"What's happening is we're seeing base-metal prices are again increasing slowly," says Brian Atkinson. "We're seeing the projections for economic recovery. Copper is back to 69 cents (a pound), it was down at 62 cents, and that's a significant difference.
"Also, with the flow-through shares, people are starting to understand it again, and that's revamped the system. Companies are starting to understand this process and raising new money, and that's really what it takes, new investment to keep exploration going."
The recent launch of Discover Abitibi, an exploration program targeting the Timmins and Kirkland Lake area, will also further exploration efforts, says Atkinson. Funding of up to $10 million, $5 million from FedNor matched by industry funding and other sources, will allow geophysical airborne and ground surveys to be conducted in target areas selected with the assistance of industry, he adds.
In other areas of exploration, Falconbridge was preparing a feasibility study after exploration at its Montcalm property, 70 kilometres west of Timmins, pouring in $13 million to develop a potential nickel mine. The company believes the project holds an estimated five million tonnes of reserve. The company acquired the entire property from the Outokumpu Group last May.
Kinross Gold has commenced a 15-mont- long, $1.5-million gold exploration program on a number of its Timmins properties. The program consists of diamond drilling, geophysical work and evaluations. Though it is not known how much gold could be in their properties, the company says historical data supports further examination of its Pamour site and a number of other area sites.
The latest newcomer is Liberty Mineral Exploration, previously a Yukon-based company, which acquired 11 properties in November and is now focusing its efforts to search for gold, tantalum, nickel, copper and possibly platinum-palladium in the Timmins area.
The company shifted its operations from the Yukon to Ontario, setting up a field office in Timmins last fall. Because of a deal concluded in late November, Liberty now owns 100 per cent of properties located within, and just outside, the city limits.
Local prospectors Don McKinnon Jr. and Steve Anderson had acquired the properties over the last 10 years and were looking for a major funding player for further exploration.
"We're going to help out on the technical end of it," says Anderson, who now sits with McKinnon on Liberty's board of directors. "We've got the geophysical equipment and a couple of diamond drills, and we're in a position to take care of the property."
"We wanted to find a junior (mining company) that we could be directly involved with, not a deal with someone that could turn around and flip the property."
Liberty president Mary Webster met McKinnon and Anderson last spring and began negotiations, joining forces to set up a presence in Timmins.
Though the properties are in various stages of exploration, their priority focus will be directed at suspected nickel deposits on McWatters, Langmuir Number 2 and Steel sites to test for platinum-group metals.
"Our tantalum property (Steel) is right in the middle of a known occurrence," Webster says.
Their efforts will also be concentrated on their suspected gold property at Bob's Lake.
"We believe gold is going to become stronger in the next year," Webster says.
Various major and junior companies have staked these properties in the past, she says, and one - Langmuir Number 2 - had previously been in production for nickel.
"All of these properties staked by Don and Steve have specific targets, whether it’s actual showings or through geophysics," says Webster.
Liberty is in the process of drawing up an exploration budget for this start, says Webster, but how extensive the activity is will depend on the amount of private investment that comes in.