Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
This is the seventh instalment of a multi-part series looking at the mining sector of Northwestern Ontario and the Ring of Fire.
Author Napoleon Hill, known for his writings on success, said that, “More gold has been mined from the thoughts of men than has been taken from the earth.”
While this may be true, a tremendous amount of gold has been mined out of the ground, but not without the thoughts and vision of the men and women who held firm in their commitment to stay the course of the long road from discovery to production.
Patience and persistence are essential virtues to anyone in the mining business. It can take years from the point of the initial period of exploration to construction of a producing mine. There are many challenges along the way and mining companies need to have a relentless but realistic optimism.
Osisko Mining Corp., the Montreal-based company founded in 1998 that is currently developing the Hammond Reef Gold Mine project 23 kilometres north of Atikokan, is one such company.
Osisko, whose motto professes a “fresh outlook on mining,” first became involved in the Atikokan project when it took over from junior mining company Brett Resources in 2010.
Exploration began in July of that year with the object of bringing the project to the next phase of feasibility.
Definition drilling, which is the stage of the exploration sequence that establishes the size and grade of the deposit, was extended by six months when new discovery holes intersected gold mineralization to the south of the known deposit.
Definition drilling is conducted in a grid fashion. The process is designed to intercept the deposit at regular intervals to obtain core samples for laboratory analysis. A deposit resource can then be calculated illustrating the grade and tonnage of the samples.
For the average layperson, there might be an expectation that the gold, sought after for its beauty, durability and resistance to oxidation, would be easily identifiable to the untrained eye. But the process is far more complex than that.
“The Hammond Reef gold deposit does not fit easily into a traditional geological model, but can be classified as an intrusion hosted and structurally disseminated deposit,” says professional geologist and vice-president of exploration for Canada, Anne Charland.
To understand what that means, one has to “drill down” to some of the basic tenets of geology and rock formation.
The building blocks of gold are actually a series of events and chemical processes that stem from a rock deposit that formed at the site some three billion years ago.
Granite, which is a common type of intrusion or igneous rock, solidified and then became fractured and faulted over a period of time as the result of a sequence of structural events.
Eventually, hydrothermal fluids carrying gold entered the fractured granite and altered the chemistry of the rocks. It is this alteration that results in the presence of minerals such as chlorite, sericite, carbonate and pyrite, which Charland explains are part of an alteration assemblage that are known to be associated with gold deposition.
Unlike what one might expect, geologists usually can’t see the gold when they are drilling. Instead, they have to put their scientific detective skills to work, using the presence of these minerals as clues that gold will be present.
The Hammond Reef site, named after a Thunder Bay businessman who acquired the property in the early 1900s, is potentially a large open-pit, low-grade deposit.
During the drilling and pre-feasibility phase, Osisko had as many as 18 drills turning on the site, peaking to 21 during the fall of 2010. This was occurring simultaneously to the preparation of large volumes of samples for analysis, environmental monitoring, and camp and road maintenance for a crew that varied from 80 to 120 people during this phase of advanced mineral exploration.
Osisko maintained regular and close communication during this period with Atikokan as well as First Nations communities. Relationships and partnerships are critical at all stages of the mining process and Charland points out that during this peak period, Osisko employed more than 90 contractors and a workforce that was 20 per cent Aboriginal.
More than $23 million in contracts were awarded to Aboriginal contractors for services such as exploration, heavy equipment rental, excavating, diamond drilling, site security, and consulting and road construction.
The co-ordination of many minds and skill sets are required as an advanced project moves forward to the construction of a producing mine.
The environmental assessment process is the next phase of that journey, and that entailed more than two years of careful data collection and extensive consultation.
Osisko hosted numerous open houses in the Atikokan area as well as meetings with First Nation and Metis communities.
Recognizing the importance of dialogue with the community, Osisko organized workshops and focus groups with stakeholders at all levels as well, and used various community newspapers to share regular updates.
Osisko’s on-site environmental team also remediated approximately 20 hectares of land to reduce risks to surface and ground water, and planted 1,750 red pine and white spruce saplings in the process.
The Hammond Reef advanced project is moving forward with an eye to future success.
The draft environmental assessment is available for public review until April 15. Furthermore, a draft of the feasibility study will be completed by mid- 2013. Once that is completed, Charland has a clear timeline: “Osisko hopes to receive federal and provincial government EA approvals in the spring of 2014.”
When this milestone is reached, and permits are obtained and the feasibility study is favourable, then the cycle of constructing and mining can begin.
Gold will be mined from the earth, but that wouldn’t have happened without the thoughts, vision and dedication of the people who worked together on the culmination of a dream.