Northern Ontario’s “Ring of Fire” Mineral Discovery Sets off Staking Rush – Gregory Reynolds

Gregory Reynolds - Timmins Columnist

For an extensive list of articles on this mineral discovery, please go to: Ontario’s Ring of Fire Mineral Discovery

The results of a single diamond drill hole announced in August of 2007 set off a massive staking rush into the muskeg swamps of Northern Ontario’s James Bay Lowlands.Someone, after looking at a satellite picture of the area, came up with a name for it – the Ring of Fire.

The name quickly became a part of Canadian mining lore and today over 100 companies have holdings inside the ring.

It will take several hundred million dollars to determine whether a new Sudbury Basin type base metal mining camp is being born but the promoters’ hype is that it is so.

That original hole was pulled by a junior company that, as did so many other small exploration ventures, survived ups and downs over the years.Still, Noront Resources Ltd. persevered and it appears Lady Luck has finally asked it to the dance.

What is interesting about the Noront discovery, known as the McFaulds Lake area Double Eagle Project, is that the Aug. 28, 2007 announcement merely hinted at a big find.

Two holes had been drilled: Hole 1 had visible copper sulphide mineralization, hole 2 hit similar mineralization.The total mineralized sulphide zones in the two holes was 151.9 metres.

What drew other juniors to speculate about the drill program was the company saying that “all unnecessary communication from the field camp has been curtailed, the local workers (drillers, pilots and First Nation workers) have been briefed on security measures that are now being implemented with respect to information discussion and release.”

Someone knew something about the situation because veteran prospector and claim staker Ed Korba was at his country home outside of Iroquois Falls at 8 a.m. Aug. 28 when he got a call asking if he was available. When he said he was, a mining official said a helicopter would pick him up at his home in a few hours and by 4.30 p.m. he “was swinging an axe staking claims.”

Within three days the Webequie Airport resembled Toronto’s Pearson International with the number of aircraft taking off and landing.

Ed has since worked for several mining companies.

Months later, Noront had completed 5,047 metres of diamond drilling in 27 drill holes and was able to announce that current drill results include 117 metres grading 4.1 per cent nickel, 2.2 per cent copper, 2.1 grams per tonne platinum, and 7.1 grams per tonne palladium beginning seven metres below the surface.

It was a wild ride for Noront and its shareholders in 2007 and it continued into 2008 as favourable results kept coming.In June, Noront was named to the 2008 TSX Venture 50, a ranking of Canada’s top emerging public companies listed on TSX Venture Exchange. Within the TSX Venture 50, Noront Resources was the #1 ranked company in the mining category.

The TSX Venture 50 identifies the top 10 companies in five major industry sectors, based on a ranking formula that includes revenue, return on investment, market cap growth and trading volume

For Korba, being in a muskeg swamp fighting off mosquitoes, black flies, horseflies and other insects he can’t even name, was nothing new. In the last 28 years, he has worked in Tibet, Norway, Colorado, Labrador, Quebec and throughout Ontario.Muskeg comprises large (and often deep) puddles of water surrounding occasional clumps of solid ground.

The vegetation is cranberry-style shrubs and black spruce that stop growing between 15 and 20 feet.“You can walk about but with great difficulty,” says Ed.A few years back Ed decided the solution to the problem of walking through water and mire was to use solid snowshoes.

“A lot of guys laughed at me when I started out on my snowshoes in the middle of summer but soon most of the men were using them in muskeg.”

He estimates there is a 25 per cent saving in energy when one walks on snowshoes.

He recently led a party of five to Webequie, and when he came out for supplies, he talked about the rigors of working in the James Bay Lowlands.

“By the time a drum of jet fuel is poured into a helicopter it costs around $800. A large chopper will burn a drum an hour and all a small chopper gets is about two to two and an half hours.”

It is expensive to provide food and shelter to a field crew but the companies know a major find is made maybe every 20 to 25 years and it’s the devil that gets the hindmost in a staking rush.

For the men the wages are good but working out of doors and having the independence of deciding when and where you will work is equally important.

Everything is done by chopper. Ed books one days in advance as the demand is putting a strain on available machines.His supply flight covered 630 km from Timmins to the First Nation village of Webequie.The Ring of Fire is about 70 km east of Webequie.

There he rents rooms in an eight-bedroom crew house built by the band for visiting contractors and supply personnel. For mining people it is a heaven-sent facility as are the airport and a six-room motel that sleeps 12.

All the rooms are constantly full but since there are several hundred men working on the various exploration sites, the bulk live in prospector’s tents.

These are usually 16 by 14 feet with a plywood floor on spruce logs and four feet high spruce walls topped by a canvas tent.These sleep four people and are heated by an oil furnace with pics (insect repellent) burned at night to keep the insects at bay.

“Every day a chopper takes my party 30 to 90 km into the muskeg for a six to eight hour shift,” Ed said.

“Some men pack a lunch but others prefer to keep moving.You work in a cloud of mosquitoes and black flies. I wear a bug jacket (with a hood over the head) and lots of dope (insect repellent) on my skin.

“Recently, I bent my arm and about a quarter inch of skin was revealed between my glove and my jacket and the mosquitoes got to me. It was painful.”

He grins when he recalls the arrival of four summer students with Vale Inco, a subsidiary of Brazilian mining giant Vale.

“They laughed at my crew on snowshoes in June but after a few hours in the muskeg being bitten by insects and being soaking wet, they saw the value of gliding over the bog rather than sloshing through it.

“It is a cultural shock for university students from the south being dropped into a muskeg swamp but at least the company got them rooms in the village.”

Webequie has a population of about 800 and the mining activity has produced numerous economic benefits.

Many band members get jobs with the mining companies. Ed always hires a cook-cleaning lady for the crew house and at least one claim staker-line cutter.

The flood of money being spent on exploration laps into many Northern communities.

Fixed-wing planes fly out of Timmins but helicopters come from everywhere.Float planes fly in the bulk of supplies out of Nakina and Pickel Lake and groceries come from Thunder Bay.

Timmins supplies most of the ground workers, claim stakers, line cutters, diamond drillers, technologists and other mining experts.

While Noront gets the credit for putting the spotlight on the Ring of Fire, the actual credit should go to Monopros (former exploration arm of diamond giant DeBeers) that made the initial find drilling for gems.

It optioned the ground to Spider Resources Inc. and its partner, KWG Resources Inc. These two announced a base metal discovery in the area several years before Noront but no one paid attention to them.

Today, the roll call of companies in the area is impressive: Metalex Ventures Corp., Freewest Resources Canada Inc., Canadian Orebodies Inc. (Don McKinnon of Hemlo gold discovery fame and his son Gordon), East West Resources Corp., Mill City Gold Corp., MacDonald Mines Exploration Ltd., Probe Mines Ltd. Temex Resources Corp.and Diamondex Resources Ltd. to name a few of the 100 plus.

Gregory Reynolds is a Timmins, Canada-based columnist who writes extensively about mining and northern Ontario issues