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THE DRIFT 2019: The King of Cobalt

Gino Chitaroni is the go-to pathfinder in the Cobalt exploration camp
PolyMet Labs president and Cobalt legend Gino Chitaroni is a colourful and outspoken advocate of Northern Ontario's mineral exploration sector. (Photo supplied)

Like generations of his family before him, Gino Chitaroni is a jack-of-all-trades.

He’s a prospector, developer, business owner, tourist camp operator, and staunch advocate for the mineral exploration industry.

The third-generation resident of Cobalt (population 1,100) comes from a proud and tough stock of miners, mechanics, contractors and equipment suppliers on both sides of his family dating back to the Silver Rush days of the early 1900s.

During the 2016-2017 cobalt-staking rush in northeastern Ontario, Chitaroni became the to-go guy for industry and media types who trekked up Highway 11 and stopped at in PolyMet Labs to talk to the colourful and outspoken president of what was happening on the ground.

Few people in the industry can put the history and activity of the Cobalt camp in the proper context.

Being the brand ambassador for the Cobalt camp is a “burden I don’t mind, but it’s also been a pain, too.

"It’s sometimes not respected by certain mining companies but at the same time I get good respect from the press, that’s for sure.”

With family roots in Italy and the U.S., Chitaroni comes from an entrepreneurial family, which settled in northeastern Ontario to work blue-collar jobs in the mining and supply industries.

In the early 1960s, Chitaroni’s father, Albert, was introduced to the founders of Agnico Mines (forerunner to Agnico Eagle Mines) and brokered a lease to mine a portion of the Nipissing Mine, near Cobalt. With two of his brothers, Albert formed Chitaroni Minerals and, over a 10-year period, mined 300,000 ounces of silver before a family feud split up the partnership in 1972.

The brothers also ran a tourist camp, Portage Bay Lodge on the Montreal River, a property they picked up in the late 1940s, which still remains in the family hands today.

It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that Chitaroni would follow his family’s footsteps into mining.

Coming from an athletic family, his aspirations in the early 1980s were to land a scholarship to play Division 1 college hockey in the U.S.

Frustrated at not being offered a scholarship, Chitaroni followed his father’s suggestion and decided to attend the Haileybury School of Mines.

Summers were spent working as a miner for Agnico-Eagle and as a geological technician with Teck-Corona in Hemlo while earning a geology degree at Lake Superior State University.

During the early 1990s, Chitaroni decided to take up prospecting, something he still does today in the Temagami area.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, exploration activity was stagnating and the region took a tough economic hit with the closures of the Sherman and Adams iron mines, and Agnico shuttering all of its area operations.

“There were no jobs. I took up prospecting because I was bored.” 

After a stint as project geologist for EGO Resources, Chitaroni formed Blackstone Development in 1997 to handle the management of various exploration, tourism and economic development projects in the Temagami-Matachewan-Cobalt areas, and later started PolyMet Labs, a fire assay analytical lab, in 2000.

A political career followed with an 18-year stint on Cobalt town council while also working as a campaign organizer for local Liberal federal and provincial candidates.

Queen’s Park’s treatment of the mining industry, Chitaroni said, forced him to change his allegiance to the Northern Ontario Heritage Party, where he briefly served as president.

“My belief system has changed to where it’s more Northern Ontario-centric and more entrepreneurial.”

His formal career in politics put aside, Chitaroni still remains political in other areas.

As the four-year president of the Northern Prospectors Association – and from his seat on the Ontario Prospectors Association Board – he remains an outspoken industry supporter.

Saddled with constant revisions to the Mining Act, Chitaroni and his membership remain upset with the rushed implementation of digital claimstaking in Ontario, a roll-out he calls “nothing short of a disaster” to the industry.

“What the Liberal party has done to this province, since its inception in 2003, has been nothing short of a concentrated effort to hurt our industry,” said Chitaroni, blaming the influence of special interests in the premier’s office.

Much of that, he said, has to do with the general misunderstanding of the difference between the exploration and the mining industry. 

“Exploration is largely a benign activity to the natural environment. What we do there repairs itself in a short period of time. The rules we have to endure are traumatic to our industry.

“As an association, we spend most of our time putting out fires instead of extolling the virtues of exploration, talking about the positives instead of dealing with the negativity.”

The arrival of the pro-business, red-taping Ford government provides a “breath of fresh air” to the exploration industry, and has them very keen on ensuring the premier makes good on his campaign promises.

“In Ontario, you can feel a collective weight coming off our shoulders.”

The Drift magazine, a new publication from Northern Ontario Business, features profiles on the people and companies making important contributions to the Northern Ontario mining service and supply industry.