The Drift is an ongoing editorial series by Northern Ontario Business about the people, companies, projects, technologies, and innovation that encompass the mining industry in northeastern Ontario.
Exploration players are bringing fresh eyes and are testing out new geological theories in making gold discoveries in an outlying area of the Timmins gold camp.
The area east of Timmins, toward Matheson, has attracted a cluster of junior mining companies that might unlock the next generation of gold production in the camp for years to come.
Executives from three companies — GFG Resources, Moneta Gold and Onyx Gold — rounded up with this week for a 6ix webinar, hosted by Junior Resource Investing, that highlighted their activity and their approach to exploration in the East Timmins part of the camp.
There’s been gold mining in Timmins since the 1930s, but the new arrivals maintain there’s economic gold to be mined in unexplored and underappreciated places.
A big reason why there’s plenty of unearthed potential in such a historic camp is the nature of the fragmented land ownership with privately owned patented land that’s hindered geologists from getting a big regional picture.
Assembling a land package for exploration was “tough sledding” for Onyx Gold, according to CEO Brock Colterjohn, which made a flurry of deals over the years that involved tracking down individual owners of ground.
In one instance, a key piece of ground was held in a bank trust and owned, unknowingly, by a gunshop owner in Tennessee. “He had no idea he even held title to a patented claim in a very important part of our land package,” said Colterjohn.
Onyx Gold is a new presence in Timmins, born out of a predecessor company, HighGold Mining, that had been exploring in the camp for decades. They see a gold revival at the Munro Croesus property, 75 kilometres east of the city, home to Ontario’s highest grade past-producing gold mine.
The Timmins name alone, as an industry brand, makes it easier to source capital to finance projects.
Brian Skanderbeg, president-CEO of GFG Resources, said Timmins remains “sought-after” ground because of its prospectivity. For a gold camp that’s produced 100 million ounces over its history, he believes there are many more millions of ounces to be had.
His Saskatoon-based outfit has been working in Timmins for five years. Its focus, among its three blocks of ground, is its advanced Montclerg Project, east of the city, where it’s spending $3 million in drilling this year in an area that’s seen past gold production.
Skanderbeg and the other executives noted that compared to other Canadian gold camps, Timmins provides all the infrastructure an aspiring gold company requires with processing mills, knowledgeable people who know the camp, available power, roads running everywhere, and a politically stable environment, nationally and globally speaking, for junior miners to do their work.
The area’s two biggest gold miners, Newmont and Pan American Silver, control huge swaths of ground, along with secondary players such as Agnico Eagle and McEwen Mining.
Being in the shadow of those headframes improves an exploration company’s odds of securing capital when working in a camp like Timmins, said Skanderbeg, provided you can demonstrate the probability of finding gold.
Alamos Gold, one of GFG’s largest shareholders, Skanderbeg said, is firmly entrenched in the Abitibi gold belt with a dominant land position and processing plants.
“They believe in this camp and they believe in the people.”
In the Matheson area, 100 kilometres east of Timmins, Moneta Gold is moving its Tower Gold Project toward production in 2029 as both an open pit and underground mine. So far, they’ve banked 12.8 million ounces of indicated and inferred gold.
Jason Dankowski, Moneta’s vice-president of technical services and geology, said his company is driving a culture of innovation toward finding new resources around Tower Gold.
That’s being enabled by the geologists in Timmins who’ve worked in the camp for decades, who are familiar with different mineralization styles in different mines, and who remain “true geologists.”
“That’s something that’s sort of lacking in the industry,” said Dankowski.
Timmins, he said, seems to attract those people who want to test new model methodologies. “That drives that explorationist point of view.”
That combination, he said, will “get you that initial success.”
“If you can get that through the drill bit, capital will come.”
New mill infrastructure in East Timmins, Dankowski said, will “open the door to all kinds of new ways of thinking” to both pit and underground operations. The nearest mill is 100 kilometres away in Timmins and available haulage is limited.
He believes Moneta can be a catalyst to attract other big and mid-tier miners that will breathe new life into the camp.
Colterjohn of Onyx views East Timmins as “the next generation of production.”
His company’s mantra is all about finding new value in unexplored places in established mining camps through a combination of traditional knowledge and progressive thinking.
He claimed there’s been an evolving geological understanding of where gold should exist, particularly in exploring the underexplored breaks off the main geological structures.
To find inspiration, he points to northwestern Ontario and the Great Bear discovery in Red Lake, where gold was discovered in a place of that high-grade camp where it “shouldn’t exist,” based on traditional geological knowledge.
“Great Bear in Red Lake rewrote the geological handbook on that mature mining camp.”
Closer to home, Colterjohn said their other project, Golden Mile, a 15-kilometre-long by 10-kilometre-wide strip of property, east of Timmins, has only seen 15 drill holes over several decades. Yet it’s on a trend with the Bell Creek, Hoyle Pond and the McIntyre Mines.
The area went largely untouched, he explained, because the mining companies historically went after the low-hanging fruit, where gold was outcropping at surface. Newer exploration players have stepped out from the main Timmins camp over the years and found success, drilling sometimes blindly through many metres of rock and soil overburden where there are gold extensions.
“There’s certainly lots of ounces to be discovered in this camp,” he said.
Skanderbeg is keen to see how development in the Timmins camp unfolds over the next few years.
He’s “quite optimistic” in its immediate future as new discoveries will reinvigorate investment in the camp, with new companies like Moneta looking to grow the region’s production and build new pieces of mine infrastructure.