The Macassa No. 4 shaft project (above) is advancing ahead of schedule.

Demand for metals empowers a mining-friendly Canadian Province

By Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief

Much of Ontario’s mining activity takes place in the mineralized zone that extends laterally in the Great Canadian Shield from the north rim of Lake Superior through the Sudbury Basin to the border with Quebec. Gold camps to the north in Timmins and Red Lake are bustling as well. Each region has its drivers and its drawbacks.

During the last two or three years, many of the mines have changed hands through mergers and acquisitions. Metal prices have improved and the new owners are making investments to capitalize on these properties. While gold mining activity in the Abitibi Greenstone Belt has always attracted attention, new mining projects are moving forward in polymetallic deposits that contain copper, nickel and platinum group metals (PGMs) north of Thunder Bay.

With a rich mining history that dates back to the 1890s, the Sudbury Basin hosts one of the greatest nickel deposits on Earth. The prices for nickel today are relatively high and heading higher with the rush for battery minerals. Knowing that nickel is mostly used for stainless steel, one could debate the sustainability of those nickel prices, but potential consumers are also talking about green nickel, which could change that dynamic.

The miners in Ontario were affected by the global pandemic and many of them found a way to work with it. The province recognizes the importance of its mining industry and quickly deemed the segment essential. Today, many operations are reporting that they have achieved guidance despite the hinderance, an achievement unto itself.

With the help of Kevin Palmer, a marketing professional and mining photographer based in Thunder Bay, E&MJ has produced this 14-page report on Ontario Mining, which has three sections dedicated to mining, exploration and suppliers. What follows on the next few pages is a collection of short reports on mining activities throughout Ontario.

Kirkland Lake Records Best Year

After withdrawing its guidance during April due to uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kirkland Lake Gold reissued a new guidance at the end of June. Gold production for Kirkland Lake in 2020 totaled 1.37 million ounces (oz), in line with the reissued guidance and a 41% increase from 2019. That increase mainly reflected the addition of the Detour Lake mine (517,000 oz in 2020), as well as the impact of record production at Fosterville in Australia. Production at Fosterville for 2020 was a record 640,000 oz, 21,000 oz more than 2019. These factors more than offset a reduction in production at Holt Complex (29,000 oz in 2020), where operations were suspended in April, as well as lower production at Macassa (183,000 oz in 2020).

“Our most significant achievement in 2020 was our extensive response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which clearly demonstrated that, at Kirkland Lake Gold, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our people and the responsible operation of our business,” said Tony Makuch, president and CEO of Kirkland Lake Gold. “Looking at our operating performance, in many respects, our team had its best year ever in 2020, while faced with unprecedented challenges.”

The Detour Lake and Macassa mines were significantly impacted by COVID-19, including being placed on reduced operations at the end of the first quarter. Both operations bounced back later in the year, achieving their best quarters of production in Q4 2020.

At Macassa, the No. 4 Shaft project advanced approximately 3,040 feet during 2020, reaching 4,240 ft by year end. It’s currently advancing ahead of schedule on track for completion in late 2022. This project could allow the mine to more than double its 2020 production to 400,000 oz to 425,000 oz in 2023. Multiple projects are currently under way at Detour Lake to support of future production growth, including investments in mill improvements, expansion of tailings capacity, construction of an assay lab and improvements to other site infrastructure.

Alamos Gold Ramps Up Production at Young-Davidson

Alamos Gold President and CEO John McCluskey referred to 2020 as a transformational year. “Operationally, we continue to execute and remain on track to achieve our 2020 production, cost and capital guidance,” McCluskey said. For its Ontario operations, Alamos completed the lower mine expansion at Young-Davidson and began construction on the Phase III Expansion at the Island Gold mine.

Gold production at Young-Davidson is expected to increase by 41% in 2021. Underground mining rates are expected to ramp up from 7,500 metric tons per day (mt/d) early in 2021 to design rates of 8,000 mt/d in the second half of the year. Grades mined and processed are expected to increase through the year, ranging between 2.20 and 2.65 g/mt of gold. Increasing mining rates and grades are expected to drive gold production higher through the year.

Total cash costs and all-in sustaining costs are expected to decrease 19% and 15%, respectively, from 2020, reflecting higher mining rates and productivity improvements with the transition to a lower mine infrastructure. Capital spending in 2021, excluding exploration, is expected to be between $65 million and $75 million, down significantly from 2020. The 2021 budget includes $14 million of spending on a new tailings facility (TIA 1), that will be used for the remaining mine life at Young-Davidson. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

Island Gold’s gold production is expected to be in the same range as 2020. Capital spending at Island Gold, excluding exploration, is expected to be between $120 million and $130 million in 2021. It includes advancing detailed engineering on the shaft infrastructure and paste plant, procurement of long lead time items, and starting construction on the hoist house and shaft sinking setup. A number of additional surface and underground infrastructure projects are also expected to be completed in 2021 to support the expanding operation. These include the expansion of the tailings facility, the underground workshop and additional camp improvements.

Wesdome Maintains Gold Production at Eagle River

Wesdome Gold Mines has set its sights on building Canada’s next intermediate gold producer by delivering  more than 200,000 oz from two mines in Ontario and Québec. The Eagle River Complex in Wawa, Ontario, is currently producing gold from two mines, the Eagle River underground mine and the Mishi open pit, and a central mill. It is actively exploring its brownfields asset, the Kiena Complex in Val d’Or, Québec. The Kiena Complex is a fully permitted former mine with a 930-m shaft and 2,000 mt/d mill. The company has additional prospects at its Moss Lake gold deposit, located 100 km west of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

A truck dumps ore at the Eagle River mine.

During 2020, the Eagle River mine produced 87,600 oz of gold compared to 88,600 oz in 2019. With the average head grade dropping from 23.1 g/mt to 14.2 g/mt, Eagle River milled an additional 74,000 mt to produce 1,000 less ounces of gold in 2020. Taking this into account along with COVID-19 related disruption, Wesdome’s miners worked hard last year to maintain gold production levels.

The operations have successfully maintained COVID-19 free status with extensive screening and protocols since the outset of the pandemic.

“Our employees and stakeholders worked safely in the challenging circumstances of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which affected quarterly and yearly results since March,” Wesdome Mines President and CEO Duncan Middlemiss said. “Our performance in the fourth quarter was impacted by certain temporary operational challenges that prevented us from achieving the midpoint of guidance.”

Eagle River lost six days of milling in December due to mechanical downtime associated with a cone crusher in the mill, and underground they experienced geotechnical challenges that affected the grade performance in one of the stopes. Both issues were remedied within the month; however, these events resulted in reduced gold production, Middemiss explained. “On a positive note, the company still met its original production guidance at Eagle River,” he said.

Looking ahead to 2021, Eagle River’s guidance is set at 92,000-105,000 oz, and the company expects to produce 15,000-25,000 oz at Kiena if they receive a positive restart decision. Wesdome Mines is also undertaking the largest exploration drilling campaign in its history ($32 million divided equally between Eagle River and Kiena). For Eagle River, the goal is to produce 600 mt/d of ore, which would be a 15% increase over 2020, once a ventilation upgrade is completed in the first quarter. Eagle River production is now approaching the 100,000-oz/y milestone, Middlemiss explained, and he considers this a base case moving forward.

Iamgold’s Côté Gold Project Moves Ahead

Wood said it has received a Full Notice to Proceed, in the delivery of engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) services for the $1.3 billion Côté Gold open-pit gold mine for operator Iamgold Corp., supported by their joint venture partner Sumitomo Metal Mining.

Côté is a world-class deposit located in northern Ontario, with estimated contained gold reserves of more than 7 million oz. Iamgold wants to develop the site to be a model of a modern Canadian mine as it seeks to efficiently unlock the reserves. The project is anticipated to generate more than 1,000 jobs during construction and 450 permanent positions.

“We are pleased to move to construction on the Côté Gold project with our long-time engineering partner Wood,” Iamgold President and CEO Gordon Stothart said. “We look forward to bringing this project from concept to reality with their team.”

Over the last eight years, Wood has been working with Iamgold in every aspect of the Côté Gold project, adding value at every stage with innovative design and project delivery solutions. Wood’s latest scope of work includes EPCM for the 36,000-mt/d conventional gold processing plant, tailings and water management.

“This project strengthens our relationship with Iamgold as a trusted full life-cycle delivery partner and it solidifies Wood’s position as a global leader in the development of gold mines,” said Dave Lawson, president, mining and minerals at Wood.

“Beginning with work on the initial scoping study in 2011, we have worked closely with Iamgold to guide the project toward successful execution, helping to identify more than $450 million of improvements in net present value,” Lawson said.

Construction of the Côté Gold mine commenced in late 2020, and is expected be completed in mid-2023. When fully operational, the mine is expected to produce an average of 367,000 oz/y of gold over the course of its 18-year mine life.

PureGold Pours First Gold

The PureGold mine, near Red Lake, Ontario, poured its first gold on December 29, following the introduction of ore to the mill on December 15. “With our first gold pour, we have transitioned to producer, and delivered on our promise to build Canada’s newest gold mine in the heart of Red Lake Ontario, on budget and on schedule,” PureGold Mining President and CEO Darin Labrenz said. “To build a mine at any time requires a complete team effort comprised of dedicated, driven and focused individuals. To do so under the unique challenges of 2020 speaks to the quality and dedication of the entire team. With this first gold bar, we are now focused on ramping up the operation to steady state production as we continue to build a long-life growth company in Red Lake.”

With the commencement of production at the PureGold mine, activities at site are now concentrated on optimizing the operation, with commercial production anticipated by the end of Q1. The company said it will also continue to pursue an aggressive growth strategy in 2021.

Battle North Gold Approves Bateman Construction Plans

Battle North Gold Corp. is advancing its Bateman gold project to become the next gold producer in Ontario’s Red Lake gold mining camp. The company’s board approved construction of the project and the company anticipates spending approximately C$59.1 million toward initial capital development in 2021, including underground development, construction of an ammonia reactor, upgrades to the tailings management facility, camp and mill, and the purchase of stationary and mobile equipment.

“Construction on critical path items has commenced at the Bateman gold project, with the potential to be pouring first gold by the end of the year,” Battle North President and CEO George Ogilvie said. “In addition, we have commenced drilling of highly-prospective targets on our regional Red Lake Properties and we will be providing an overview of our 2021 exploration plans shortly.”

The project’s feasibility study called for approximately 8,600 m of underground capital development to achieve commercial production. This amount of development is expected to enable nine to 12 months of development flexibility ahead of stope production. Nearly 3,300 m of underground capital development is planned for 2021. To date, the company has completed approximately 100 m of underground capital development.

A contractor has completed the construction of the portal and is currently advancing the ramp decline, which is between the 244-m and 183-m levels. Once the connection has been made, the ramp provides another point of access to transport equipment, personnel and material to and from the underground, as well as the project’s fully operational shaft.

Based on the current construction schedule, the company is targeting the processing of ore at the project by end of 2021 and achieving commercial production by the end of 2022.

Premier Files Hardrock Technical Report

During late January, Premier Gold Mines Ltd. filed a technical report for its Hardrock Mine project, which was completed by G Mining Services. Located on the Trans-Canada Highway near Geraldton, Ontario, it’s a large-scale permitted mine development opportunity.

According to the report, the Hardrock Mine project would have a $1.05 billion after-tax NPV5% based on a $1,400/oz gold price and a $1.30 CAD:USD exchange rate. With an after-tax Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 20.1%, the project payback period would be 3.2 years. All-in sustaining costs were estimated to be $618/oz with an operating cost of $20.39/mt.

The Hardrock Mine project has 5.54 million oz of proven and probable mineral gold reserves averaging 1.27 g/mt gold with a 0.35 g/mt gold cut-off grade. With 91.2% recovery rate, it would produce 5.05 million oz. The average life of mine production would be 358,000 oz/y with 414,000 oz/y in first five years at an average head grade of 1.45 g/mt. gold. The report estimated an initial capital cost of $952 million and total life-of-mine sustaining capital of $323 million.

Generation Mining Moves Forward With Marathon

Generation Mining Ltd. recently completed Phase 2 metallurgical testing and pilot plant trials to advance its feasibility study for the Marathon project, the largest undeveloped PGM deposit in North America. The Marathon property covers a land package of 220 km2 in northwestern Ontario. In November, the company earned an 80% interest in the Marathon project from Sibanye Stillwater.

“We are extremely pleased with the work completed in both the Phase 1 and Phase 2 metallurgical testing programs,” Generation Mining CEO Jamie Levy said. “We have advanced on a feasibility design that includes an annual production rate of 9.2 million mt/y and believe the plant flowsheet and design is an improvement on prior concepts with key elements greatly derisked.” The company expects to make the feasibility study available during the first quarter of 2021.

The internal hoist at the bottom of the Craig mine will eventually lower miners to the 2,630 level.

The Future of Sudbury Lies at Depth

Glencore Canada’s Sudbury Integrated Nickel Operations (INO) are reimagining the future and how to mine at depth (2,400 to 2,600 m). They have focused those efforts on the Onaping Depth project, which could provide a significant new source of high-grade nickel ore beyond year 2035. To safely and cost-effectively operate at those depths and build the mine of the future, Sudbury INO has developed an innovation program that combines new thinking with all available technology, which it is currently testing at it’s other deep mines in the area.

For the last 130 years, nickel miners in the Sudbury Basin have been mining everything that was between the surface and 1,500 m and they have exhausted most of those resources. Now, they need to go deeper.

There are some very rich orebodies at depth, but they also present serious challenges, not only with safety and health issues, but also with logistics, which drives costs higher. It takes longer for the miners to reach the face and the face itself is a more dangerous place to be with seismicity issues. With an ambient temperature of 40°C, the rock will be hot to the touch and that will require more ventilation with refrigerated air. All of this will require considerable supporting infrastructure.

The Sudbury INO crews are some of the best miners in the world. If they were to just carry on the way they mine today, everything would get progressively more difficult until they reach a point where the orebody becomes uneconomic to mine and then they’re finished. By making a fundamental shift as to how they approach the orebody, they are hoping to overcome those constraints by designing them out with the innovation program.

The Onaping Depth project will be viewed by deep mining professionals as a pioneering effort. The plan is to start with an existing mine, the Craig mine, and then drive development down another 1,000 m. They will be essentially building a new mine at depth under an existing operation.

To make this project work, the development teams at Sudbury INO are embracing technology like never before. A prime example would be the advent and use of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), which would lighten the load for the fans and refrigeration units used for the ventilation system. Comparing the BEV model to traditional mining methods with diesel-powered equipment, the company will save more on development and operating costs while improving working conditions underground.

The face is arguably the most dangerous place in the mine. Sudbury INO’s plan is to keep all personnel 5 m from the face, which means running face equipment on remote and using automated systems. Without a digital backbone and WiFi, this would be impossible. Mine-wide WiFi systems will allow systems to track miners and equipment. Telemetry, digital devices and data analytics need that level of connectivity.

Onaping Depth represents a complete break from the traditional idea of underground mining. The digital age will be on full display with real-time remote management, monitoring and control from surface.