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If gold had a fragrance, it would be the whiff of desperation. And come early March in Toronto, someone would bottle it, relabel it as “Hope” and attempt to sell it at a booth at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual convention.
For four days every March, Toronto is centre ice in the world of mining. Frankly, it is anyway—nearly half of the world’s equity transactions related to extracting goodies from the planet’s crust flow through Toronto’s exchanges—but it’s during these four days that the mining world comes to set up its booths, paste on a smile and make a lot of those deals happen. And then, at the end of each day, because the mining business is hard, the world retires to a hotel suite and drinks as much as humanly possible.
This is how it has been since 1942. That first year, when the price of an ounce of gold sat at $33.85 (U.S.), several hundred prospectors and mine developers decided to gather for a single day in Toronto’s King Edward Hotel, talk a great deal about their industry and then head to the bar.
Everybody enjoyed themselves immensely, so the next year they did it again. In 1944, attendance was too high for the King Eddy, so the convention moved to the Royal York Hotel. By 2012, a few months after gold had hit its $1,896.50 (U.S.) peak, the event was a four-day affair at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC), and the attendance, drawn from 125 countries, stood at more than 30,000. It is the biggest and most important event of its kind in the world.
This year, as sure as the spring runoff, it happened again. Room rates in some downtown Toronto hotels doubled, even tripled, while more than 500 junior exploration and mining development companies, and a greater number of supply and service companies, set up their booths in anticipation of the tens of thousands who’d registered to come.
Amid such a concentrated de-posit of mining-related humanity, an interested observer can learn a few things.
The Mining Industry Gets Marks for Attendance
“Everybody is here,” says a woman from Western Potash. Who is everybody? Everybody is prospectors (who don’t always look the way you’d expect them to look), junior exploration company executives (who do), Barrick-style bigwigs (who really do), retail investors (often wearing leather jackets, or sweaters) and institutional investors (many in suits, but some of them incognito).
Then there are the representatives of drilling contractors, drilling equipment supply companies, companies that advise where to drill (geological survey companies), companies that look at the things that get drilled (assay laboratories), and governments by the dozen who would really like you to come drill (some of whom will give you a nice scarf).
And why is everybody here? Because everybody else is here. James Johnson, deputy CEO and chief of the resources division of Geoscience Australia, is not—a brief conversation would suggest—passionate about many things. But one thing that revs him up is the thought of what would happen if Australia didn’t set up an enormous gold-coloured booth in the middle of the trade-show section of the PDAC convention every year.
“We are a major mining jurisdiction globally,” says Johnson. “If Australia said, ‘Well, you know, we can’t demonstrate on a strictly quantum basis what we get out of it, we’re not coming,’ the message that would send would be terrible. It’s like, ‘Well, Australia’s not really interested any more.’ We have to have a presence here.”
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