Two of Canada’s more isolated mines continue to impress: Raglan and Eleonore – by Russell Noble (Canadian Mining Journal – October 2013)

Russell Noble is the editor for the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication.

Nunavik and Quebec’s Raglan Mine and Éléonore, operated by Glencore and Goldcorp respectively, are two of the larger and more successful mining operations in the country, but their locations are about as unfamiliar to most people as the northern landscapes where they are located.

In other words, most people don’t have a clue where they are on the map, let alone what the surroundings are like that far north. Both mines are indeed, remote and somewhat isolated, but when it comes to mineral deposits, Raglan Mine and Éléonore are at the forefront and envy of the mining community across the country.

In fact, the world is also keeping watch as Glencore and Goldcorp continue to move towards making their Canadian operations two of the more productive mines on the globe.

Starting at the farthest point north at the Raglan Mine, which is located in Nunavik approximately 1800 km northwest of Montreal or, about the same as Cuba is to the south, is near Deception Bay on the Hudson Straight and is linked by all-weather roads to an airstrip at Donaldson.

About 900 people call the Raglan Mine home and since the mine was discovered in 1995, and started producing in December 1997, it has been a mainstay for employment in the area for the Inuit of Nunavik with the Makivik Corporation (which oversees the political, social and economic development of the Nunavik territory) and the two communities of Kangiqsujuaq and Salluit.

Raglan Mine is a nickel and copper operation that is located on high-grade ore deposits that stretch more than 70 kilometres from east to west, with a series of deposits scattered along its length.

To access the deposits, Glencore has built four underground mines along with a concentrator, a power plant, fuel storage tanks, and a fresh water supply, as well as accommodations and administration buildings.

The company has built a totally self-contained operation and with a capacity to treat 3,800 tonnes of ore per day with an estimated production capacity of 30,000 tonnes of nickel-in-concentrate annually, it has also created one of the company’s major business units in the supply of nickel to the world.

With 3.59 million (Proven) tonnes and 4.13 (Probable) tonnes of mineral reserves, the company is well positioned to continue shipping its concentrate south by icebreaker at least six times a year during the nine-month Arctic shipping season.

The nickel-copper concentrate from Raglan Mine is then sent to the smelter of the Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations for additional processing before reaching Glencore’s Nikkelverk refinery in Kristiansand, Norway for refining.

As mentioned earlier, the Raglan Mine operation involves four underground mines and in keeping with the company’s business approach of moving forward, it continues to dig deeper and farther out in search of minerals.

And why not? Mineral resources show 4.41 million (Measured), 9.39 million (Indicated), and 19.3 million (Inferred) tonnes of mineral on the property.

Knowing what’s there is one thing but getting at it is another because the site, as already described, is situated in a sub-arctic permafrost region where the average annual temperatures are about -10 C with an average ambient temperature underground (in existing permafrost operations) is around – 15C.

The climate is severe in both wind and temperature conditions. Winters are understandably very cold, but relatively dry, with temperatures remaining below – 30 C for extended periods and often dipping below -40 C.

Because of these extreme conditions, working at the site is always a challenge and one company that knows this really well is J.S. Redpath Limited, headquartered in North Bay, ON.

Known for its work in underground mining construction, the company has been working at the Raglan Mine since the middle of the 90s. In fact, Redpath — and the joint venture Redpath-Nuvumuit (2007) — contributed to the construction of all Raglan Mine’s mines and the development of two of its mines, namely Kikialik (2008) and Qakimajurq (2012).

At Mine 2, for example, Redpath-Nuvumuit will be developing 420 m of Alimak raises, including vent raises and manways, until 2014, and at the Qakimajurq mine, the company has almost 100 workers involved to help develop 8200 m of ramp and lateral accesses, 580 m of Alimak raises, construction of electrical substations, explosives and detonator magazines, refuge stations, a service bay, underground fan room and other underground infrastructure.

Redpath will complete the work in 2014. The company has worked at the Raglan Mine for more than five years without a lost-time accident.

While the environmental conditions farther south at Goldcorp’s Éléonore mine aren’t nearly as severe as those at Raglan Mine, working at the mine is nonetheless, just as challenging… and rewarding.

As mentioned at the outset, the Éléonore mine is one of the more talked-about mining projects in Canada as Goldcorp continues to work towards its first production of gold in late 2014.

Located about 800 kilometres northwest of Montreal, the Éléonore mine is one of the main mines in the company’s development program that calls for a 7,000-ton per day facility, contributing to an average of more than 600,000 ounces of gold per year once the mine has ramped up to full capacity.

It’s an ambitious goal, but given Goldcorp’s long history of coming through and fulfilling its promises, it’s one the company says will happen.

In fact, with the amount of work that has already taken place at the mine, as well as the money spent on getting that work done, investors and other observers are confident that the mine will produce as promised.

Like most underground mines, much of the mining technology is out-of-sight but as every mine owner and operator knows, it’s those underground workings (and naturally, what they find) that make or break any project.

And Éléonore is no exception in that regard.

Starting with the development of the exploration ramp from surface, miners were given access through the 7 metre-wide by 5 metre-high passage for more than 2.3 km into the ground.

Adding to the mine’s sophisticated design and in keeping with Goldcorp’s business motto of “Safe enough for our families,” a concrete-lined Gaumond exploration shaft was also sunk to the 725m level to provide access through a safe and properly ventilated route.

The shaft is 7 m in diameter and in addition to providing proper ventilation, it will be also used by miners for exploration access and preliminary production for the mine.

Also in preparation for the start up of production, contractors are excavating another concrete-lined shaft, this one is 7 m wide and 1500 deep with six stations that is designed to hoist ore and waste at 7000 tonnes per day as well as transport personnel and material between surface and various work levels.

In addition to the two shafts at the mine, lateral development on the 650 and 690 levels is also ongoing off the Gaumond exploration shaft.

The shafts and drifts are now complete or on going and much of the success of the project is credited to the “family” approach taken by Goldcorp and its contractors at Éléonore.

One of the main members of this family insofar as the ‘out-of-site’ shaft and drift work is concerned is Redpath-Tawich-Norascon (RTN), a joint venture between Tawich Construction Inc., J.S. Redpath Limited, and Norascon Mining Inc.

This joint venture was initially established in 2011 to support the development of the Éléonore Mine and its 130 employees are fully qualified to undertake projects anywhere in Eeyou Istchee (territory represented by the Grand Council of the Crees in Québec).