Thunder Bay is the place to be for Quebec contractor – by Ian Ross (Northern Ontario Business – July 8, 2013)

Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North. Ian Ross is the editor of Northern Ontario Business

Thunder Bay’s roster of mining supply companies continues to grow with the latest arrival of Abitibi Geophysics from Quebec. The Val d’Or-based contractor has set up a satellite shop at the city’s waterfront on an industrial brownfield that was once the site of the former Northern Sawmill.

Northwestern Ontario is not new territory for Abitibi Geophysics, said company president Pierre Berube, who estimates his company has worked on more than 300 exploration projects in this province for miners such as Cliffs Natural Resources, Noront Resources, Rainy River Resources, Osisko and Goldcorp.

“We did a lot of work in Ontario in the past, something like 50 per cent of our business came from Ontario, so it’s about time we established an office.” Considered one of Canada’s leading geophysics contractors in performing ground and borehole surveys, the company prides itself on being an innovator in patented surveying technologies.

“Geophysics is to mining exploration what X-rays and scanners are to medicine,” said Berube. “We try to see underground without digging.” The company has moved into offices on the Maureen Street property that’s owned by local contractor and Rockex Mining chairman Pierre Gagne.

“What we will provide is local geophysical expertise that did not exist before,” said Berube, adding that the closest Ontario geophysical companies are based in Toronto.

Berube said the open-ended potential of exploration projects in this part of the province and the Far North was an inducement to set up a regional presence.

“For the past five years Thunder Bay has been the central place for exploration with nine projects that will probably become mines in the near future, and with the Ring of Fire, it’s really the place to be in the future.”

Last winter his company performed 700-line kilometres of geophysics for Goldcorp, east of Red Lake, and is now working for Vancouver’s Rupert Resources, which has a property along the Red Lake gold trend.

“We want to be closer to the activity and reduce our mobilization costs from Val-d’Or,” said Berube. The office is staffed by two employees, a manager and a logistics boss, who have made the move from western Quebec.

The rest will be hired locally with 10 jobs being created this year and 16 new hires expected in 2014. The payroll will blossom to $1 million by next year. Berube said the company is placing an emphasis on hiring people with good bush skills, especially those with forestry backgrounds and from Aboriginal communities.

“First Nation people are the ones who know their territory the best.”

Confederation College is being approached to set up a training program. “

Like in Val-d’Or we established relations with the college for a special 13-month course on geophysical techniques. We train our own field operators and we want to do the same in Thunder Bay.”

While the financing environment for exploration projects is in the doldrums, Berube said if there’s going to be a rebound, he doesn’t expect it to occur before the fall. Summer is traditionally a slack time for raising exploration money.

“Right now it’s the season where we present our proposals and we wait for the answers.”