My Take on Snow Lake: Hard times on display at the Manitoba Mining and Minerals Convention – by Marc Jackon (Thompson Citizen – December 6, 2013)

The Thompson Citizen, which was established in June 1960, covers the City of Thompson and Nickel Belt Region of Northern Manitoba. The city has a population of about 13,500 residents while the regional population is more than 40,000. 

From Nov. 20-22, mining people from around the province, and from across the land, gathered in Winnipeg for the 45th Annual Manitoba Mining and Minerals Convention. Included among them were mining experts, geoscientists, educators, community and aboriginal leaders, as well as resource and industry specialists, a number of them with a connection to the area.

Literature produced for the event advised that the convention highlights the value of minerals and petroleum to Manitoba’s economy and provides insight into the latest developments, opportunities and challenges facing the exploration and mining sector. Additionally, it provides an excellent opportunity for attendees to work together in order to advance Manitoba’s rich mineral potential and geologically diverse land base.

The convention also features a trade show, property showcase and presentations on recent geological findings and exploration projects from around the province. On Nov. 22 the public was invited to participate in various activities including digging for fossils with the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden, panning for gold with champion panner Yukon Dan, and visiting other mineral displays and activities with the Mineral Society of Manitoba.

Having a number of people with a local connection attending the show, allowed the opportunity to canvass many for their opinion of the affair. Snow Lake Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Precourt said that the overall turnout at the conference seemed smaller this year, but he suspected this might have been due to a general slowdown in the industry’s financial markets. “I was pleased that Snow Lake established their own presence at the convention, with a stand-alone trade-show booth,” said the administrator. “This allowed Snow Lake to be more active and independent – beyond the traditionally shared booth with every other Town.” He added that the town’s representatives also had the opportunity to meet with Minister of Mineral Resources Minister Dave Chomiak to discuss core storage, residential subdivision plans, and the planned mining remediation centre.

Precourt also said that he was optimistic about some preliminary discussions the group had with a mineral sector business interested in relocating to Snow Lake. As well the town’s delegation attended the Women in Mining reception, where Snow Lake and the induction of Kate Rice into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame were the main topics. “An actor played Kate Rice during a monologue explaining her life and adventures in the Snow Lake area,” said Precourt. “It was fantastic and well received. It opened my eyes to the broader picture surrounding Kate Rice’s story, her Hall of Fame induction and how it may benefit Snow Lake, with promotion and tourism.”

Snow Lake Coun. Chris Samborski concurred: “The mining conference is a great place to meet, promote and discuss Snow Lake with government, mining and potential businesses looking to grow into our area,” said the first term councillor of the convention. “One common theme concerning everyone is the growth of Snow Lake in conjunction with the development of Hudbay’s new flagship mine at Lalor Lake. Although we were unable to meet with Hudbay at the conference due to scheduling, we are meeting with them in the near future and I look forward to sharing the outcome of those discussions with the community.”

MaryAnn Mihychuk who spearheaded and did a massive amount of work towards ensuring Kate Rice’s induction into the Hall of Fame was no doubt also suitably impressed with the advancement of Rice’s legend, but she was focused on promoting Snow Lake at this year’s conference. “By breaking the norm and having the stand-alone Snow Lake booth, it allowed for more in-depth and productive discussions,” she reported. “We may have been the busiest booth at the show.”

Doug Lauvstad, executive director of the Northern Manitoba Sector Council, said that he found that there are still a lot of people within the industry looking for exploration and project financing. “Having said that, there was a good feeling of optimism at this year’s conference,” he added.

Dave Koop, president and owner of Koop Geotechnical, agreed with the pace of the symposium. “It was a pretty low key conference this year, as most companies are fighting to survive the major slump the industry is currently in,” said the always upbeat and amiable mine finder. “The show room floor was not nearly as full with prospectors, financial people, or regular industry professionals.” Koop said that despite the overall sense of hard times, there appears to be some current jewels and a bright horizon. He points to Hudbay and the presentation they gave on their current mining operations going full speed ahead. “Of course this was in regards to the Reed and Lalor properties, which are both near full production,” he said.

“But they did note in their presentation that the biggest problem they have at the current time is where they are going to put all the men they hope to hire in the next two years. There is nowhere to put them up in Snow Lake… they even talked of the possibility of having to bus them from Flin Flon!”

Koop also highlighted Vale’s presentation on their mining outlook, citing new ore that will extend the Thompson mine life to over 50 years. “It seems the North has been holding its own and there was still excitement in the air over the potential of a lot more to be found where these mines were found.

The true hardcore explorationists that have managed to scrape some money together will continue exploring hard in all the neighbourhoods up North.”

The business owner cited one other change in the Manitoba industry over the past number of months; the fact that there were fewer anti-mining demonstrations from First Nations groups and others. This, he believes, has a lot to do with the formation of a new Northern Mining Council, which has a member from nearly all Northern First Nations at the table. “It was great to hear that something was being done in a productive format instead of needless blockades,” said Koop. “In the last few years, Manitoba had been on the list as one of the worst places to find a mine based on these demonstrations, so hopefully this is a step toward changing that status.”

Koop said one other positive aspect of the conference was that he came back from it with some winter work. “I was very happy to come back with a bit of work scraped up for the winter; really grateful for anything we could get,” he said. “There were a pile of other contractors from all over Canada there who said it seemed that Northern Manitoba was one of very few places in the country where people are spending money in exploration. It’s turning into a rugby match between all the contractors. If you were seen with a map in your hand indicating a job possibility, it was best to drop, turtle, and hold on to it for dear life. Man, they are hungry!”

Finally, Hudbay’s VP Manitoba Business Unit, Brad Lantz agreed with others saying that the convention was much quieter than he’d seen in the past. “With the absence of many junior explorers and prospectors due to the difficult times being experienced by some companies,” Lantz reasoned. “Hudbay was one of the few positive stories at this year’s convention – we need more.”

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