The Sudbury Star, the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.
I don’t know where I am. I don’t know the people around me and I can’t pronounce the word palladium. Actually, I’m not even sure what it is. A mineral, I suppose, because Harry Barr, of Pacific North West Capital Corp., seems really excited about it.
Palladium’s price, it seems, has soared, making the River Valley exploration project, just outside of Sudbury, a possible financial gold mine. The mining exploration company specializes in platinum group metals, which includes platinum, palladium, ruthenium, rhodium, osmium and iridium.
These metals can be as rare as gold. And as profitable.
Standing around River Valley, an exploration site owned by Pacific North West about 100 km from Sudbury, I realize what this article has turned into. Far from an introduction to mining, it’s more like one of those “What doesn’t belong” games. And the answer, in case you haven’t guessed, is me.
I’m not a miner. My father’s not a miner, my grandfather wasn’t a miner and, although I’ve never met him, I’d bet that my great grandfather wasn’t a miner, either.
This isn’t necessarily true of the dozen or so brokers and investors who joined Barr and several River Valley project geologists on a site visit this week.
While the men, and all but one of them are men, may not be miners, they certainly understand the market value of platinum group metals.
“What am I looking at?” I ask during the site visit, unsure why we’ve hiked up a steep trail only to stare at long, skinny rods. But they’re not rods, I’m told. These are samples taken while drilling. Samples that can prove to be extremely lucrative.
“This company specializes in platinum group metals. They’re very hard to find in Canada,” said Barr, whose company is based in Vancouver, B.C.
Early tests suggest that the River Valley site is rich in these minerals, he says, adding that the property was originally bought from several Timmins prospectors. Barr hopes to get the money needed to fully explore the site, which runs about nine kilometers long.
Barr, like most prospectors, lives for the thrill of the find. All the drills, funding requests, presentations and site visits are caused by one thing.
“I got caught up with the fever,” Barr said of his career choice. “I had a crazy old uncle when I was 23 who decided he wanted to buy a gold mine in the jungles of Columbia. In February 1979, he asked me to go.”
Prospecting is the first step of
mining. A single drill hole, a single rock can lead to mines, economic surges and, like in the case of Sudbury, the creation of whole cities.
“It’s an exciting business,” Barr said. “A business of characters, each one of them thinking they have the next gold mine. (It’s) starting from scratch, flying into (foreign) countries, not even knowing how to start. (It’s) extremely exciting.”
And not that difficult to get into. Throughout the week, as I talk to more and more prospectors, I’m told the same thing. Anyone can do it. Anyone can stake a claim.
There’s even a course about it.
“Basically, prospecting is looking for minerals that might be mined. It begins with educating yourself. It’s really something that’s available to anybody,” said Joshua Bailey, the manager for joint ventures with Wallbridge Mining Company Limited, as well as the second vice president of the Sudbury Prospectors and Developers Association.
Bailey organized a prospecting course earlier in the summer at Laurentian University, and will be organizing another in October or November.
“Really, it begins with doing some research,” he said.
A lot of research.
“It’s digging through available information and selecting an area you’re interested in.”
Sites are usually selected based on the geology of the area and the amount of prospectors and mining companies that are interested in it. Once a prospector chooses a site, they buy a license, (which costs $25.50, an amount that goes to the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry.) Then they register a claim, which costs anywhere from $20.40 to $61, according to the ministry. Finally, they stake the claim, which means paying a company to physically go out and mark the area of land you’d like to claim. Then the actual exploration begins and samples are sent to be tested.
“Sometimes it involves stripping off areas by hand, and then there’s a number of different types of surveys that can be done,” Bailey said. “All that work is geared towards developing drilling targets. You don’t know what’s down there until you set up a diamond drill and extract the core from the ground.”
Usually, prospectors will try to get junior companies to buy their claims and do most of the drilling.
Prospecting in northeastern Ontario is a popular venture. According to the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, there have been 265 claims made in the Sudbury area from January 2011 to now. This takes up around 29,847 hectares of land. Last year, there were 310 claims, which added up to 46,896 hectares. This number was an increase from 2009, which saw 249 claims in the Sudbury area, taking up about 28,752 hectares.
Gordon Salo, a prospector and past president of the Sudbury Prospectors and Developers Association, explains it best.
“It’s the geology. (Sudbury’s) a good place to explore because, how can I say it? The best place to look for a mine is in the shadow of a mine,” Salo said.
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