Ontario’s Ring of Fire Mineral Discovery (2 of 6) – Excerpt from Fortunes Found Canadian Mining Success – by Michael Barnes

Michael Barnes is the author of more than fifty books about characters, communities, mining, and police work. He is a Member of the Order of Canada and makes his home in Haliburton, Ontario, Canada. While living in Northern Ontario most of his life, he has come to know and admire those who make their living in the mining industry.

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

Ontario’s Ring of Fire Discovery

When junior companies take on ambitious exploration projects like the work to develop The Ring of Fire, the rate of burn — the expenditure of hard-won financial investment — is used up at a fast clip. Noront Resources alone spent $19 million in 2009. One industry analyst suggests that the six companies drilling in the area will spend around $250 million over five years on exploration. Since site access is by fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, the budget for transportation is huge.

So it is that the juniors band together in various joint ventures and option agreements, and, since many actually share offices in the same building, there is frequent consultation and shared planning. Nickel ore is considered attractive and would likely bring the fastest payback, but chromite as chrome also has great possibilities for development. If this is the case, concentrate produced on-site could be shipped on the hoped-for road to the south and possibly be processed at a facility set up to produce ferro-chrome, which could be built in Thunder Bay.

Although it is not the first company in the McFauld’s Lake area, Noront Resources has made, within a couple of years, discoveries that have caught the eye of all those interested in the mining industry. This area is the most significant in Canada mining exploration since Voisey’s Bay grabbed the headlines, and there is the promise of both base and precious metals below ground in this remote location.

In 2007, drilling confirmed the presence of a huge ultramafic intrusion that was dubbed Eagle One and that was later revealed to hold three million tonnes of high-grade copper, nickel, and platinum group minerals. That same year, two kilometres away, Eagle Two came up with high nickel grades that could be directly shipped without on-site processing, indicating a seven-year mine life.

In 2008, discoveries Blackbird One and Two, both a short distance from the camp, offered a bonus deposit of massive chromite, in one intersection averaging a handsome 41.56 percent. Smelt this mineral and obtain chromium and ferrochromium. This lustrous hard metal when combined with iron to make stainless steel is highly resistant to corrosion. There is no substitute for chromium in stainless steel, and the demand for this product will be heavy in Canada. Further drilling and metallurgical work in 2009 confirmed the high quality of the Noront deposit.

Noront is the dominant landholder in the Ring of Fire area, is well engaged with the Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations, and has no difficulty finding major financing. Nature has even smiled on the project of this fast-moving junior in placing the deposits in a flat-lying area most convenient for airborne geophysics. Icing on the cake of the nickel and chromite discoveries are associated platinum group minerals and vanadium, a steel additive used also in cladding titanium to steel. Such an endeavour in the James Bay Lowlands accessing such polymetallic finds is well worth a closer look.

Accessing Noront’s Camp in the Ring of Fire

Thunder Bay airport is one of two main entry points for those heading to the James Bay Lowlands ground that has become known as The Ring of Fire. The airport has downsized replicas of freighter canoes and even a trading post storefront, all to advertise Old Fort William, the prime tourist attraction for the Lakehead. There is the usual set-up for security, with manual and electronic checking of people and their belongings, but for passengers heading north there is no security check, just a walk onto the waiting plane. After all, to what destination might one highjack a small, limited flying-time, northern commercial aircraft?

Wasaya, Oji-Cree for “brightness of the rising sun,” provides a northbound flight with its Raytheon eighteen-passenger Beech twin turboprop aircraft. There is one row of seats on either side of the aisle, and no door between pilots and cabin, so their work movements provide an alternative to the view from the small individual seat windows. Along with the author, there are a dental health technician and nine First Nation passengers. The recorded flight announcement welcomes with a hello greeting — Wachiiyeh — and thanks passengers for listening with Megwetch, the traditional Cree for “thank you.” Surprisingly, the recorded voice also indicates the location on the aircraft of the flight data recorder, not normally a concern of airline passengers.

Part 3 of 6 – To be continued