A former mine shaft reaching almost two kilometres beneath Yellowknife may reopen if gold mining resumes south of the city in years to come.
Junior mining company Gold Terra, which recently signed a deal allowing it to purchase the former Con gold mine at a later date, says Con’s Robertson shaft could still form a useful part of a future mining operation.
The Robertson Headframe, a 76-metre structure that stood above the shaft from 1977 until its demolition in 2016, became a Yellowknife icon as an instantly recognizable feature of the city’s skyline.
Yellowknife’s Con Mine, for many years a major gold producer, closed in 2003 and is in the final stages of remediation.
In November, Gold Terra announced a deal that gives it “the option, upon meeting certain minimum requirements,” to buy Con’s current owner Miramar, a subsidiary of mining company Newmont.
If the purchase is completed it would include all of the assets, mineral leases and claims, and surface rights at Con, alongside some surrounding land.
Around six million ounces of gold were extracted from Con between 1938 and 2003. Gold Terra thinks up to another 1.5 million ounces remain.
The company now plans an expanded two-year drilling program south of the original Con Mine.
Gold Terra already owns a crescent of land around Yellowknife that shows promise. However, on a call with investors on Wednesday, Gold Terra chief executive Gerald Panneton said the Con agreement was a “cornerstone” and a “game-changer.”
“We have a good targets, we have plenty of targets, there’s no question,” Panneton said of the other tracts of land Gold Terra is studying, “but which one can generate the most value for our shareholders, up front, very quickly? That’s basically the Con Mine and that’s what we worked for two years to get.”
Much now relies on the results that come back from drilling south of Con.
If Gold Terra finds the prospect of enough gold, the company hopes by the end of 2022 to initiate a pre-feasibility study – a standard early-stage analysis in mining that helps people decide whether to press ahead with turning an area into a mine.
“Eventually, by the end of 2023, we could have a decision to go into production,” said Panneton.
Any actual work to turn a region near Con, or anywhere else around Yellowknife, into a mine is still likely at least five to 10 years away – and even then, only if things go well for the company.
Gold Terra remains an exploration company, and the work involved in securing the permits from environmental regulators for a new mine is nowhere near beginning as Gold Terra has yet to attract sufficient interest.
Even so – and despite the toxic legacy left by both Yellowknife’s Giant Mine and, to a lesser extent, Con – Panneton said he felt comfortable the city’s residents would welcome a return to gold mining.
“Yellowknife has a history of mining, has a lot of miners still working in the diamond mines, and has all the legacy, understanding, and support to open mining again,” Panneton told investors on Wednesday.
‘Far away from knowing’
In many respects, Gold Terra’s plan to mine around Yellowknife is at far too early a stage to contemplate how it might look and work.
However, residents who live a stone’s throw from the former Con site – still fenced-off in part – will take a keen interest in suggestions that the area could be reborn as another mine.
Panneton acknowledged this on Wednesday as he described how a future operation might work. “People don’t necessarily like to have a mine in their backyard,” he said, suggesting that ore from the Con area could be trucked to a mill outside the city should mining ever go ahead.
The Robertson shaft is attractive to Gold Terra because, Panneton said, building a new shaft would cost many millions of dollars and take two years, but the existing 1,900-metre shaft was well-constructed and is thought to be comparatively easy to restore to service.
The shaft could help to retrieve ore from mining south of the original Con site, though Gold Terra’s plans are still speculative in nature.
“I think we’re far away from knowing whether this is going to be a mine,” David Suda told Cabin Radio late last year, shortly before stepping down as Gold Terra’s president and chief executive, a role assumed by Panneton.
“For the time being, our plan is to continue to explore for gold south of the mine site,” said Suda.
“What we find, and how things progress, will be the result of many things – including an open dialogue with all of the community, including both municipal and territorial governments, all the regulators, the First Nations, and all the different land users.”
Why the Con area is still attractive
Con Mine and the area south of the mine sit on the Campbell Shear, a “gold-bearing structure” discovered by Neil Campbell in the 1940s, which proved profitable for Con’s owners.
Speaking in October last year, geologist Eric Hebert said the age of the rock where Gold Terra is drilling is similar to rock in the Atibi gold belt in Ontario and Quebec – a mineral-rich area where many mines produced gold.
“That’s the right rock to be in,” he said.
“It’s pretty rare to have this access, this amount of property. Usually all the companies are there, so this is a huge opportunity. We have the entire belt.”
When drilling is taking place, helicopters carry core samples from the field to buildings near Yellowknife’s airport. There, Gold Terra staff log the cores, examine them for signs of gold, and send the most promising ones to a lab for further analysis.
“Gold plays hide and seek, but there’s a lot of mineral tattling on it,” Hebert explained. “Most of the time we don’t see it, but there are a lot of minerals that tell you there’s probably gold.”
Hebert said each result that comes back from the lab tells geologists more about the cores and how to spot gold in Gold Terra’s samples.
“We plan to continue to drill throughout the course of the winter,” said Suda late last year.
“This agreement opens the door to some access. It’s great for us. We’re really looking forward to engaging with all of the community on the plan as we move forward.”
Emily Blake contributed reporting.