In the February/March 2017 issue of CMJ, I highlighted the top 10 mine builders in Canadian history and lamented that we recently passed the tenth anniversary of the takeover of historic Canadian companies Inco, Noranda and Falconbridge. These companies played a key role in opening up isolated northern regions and trained generations of world-class mine finders and builders.
Notwithstanding an enormous amount of national angst about a “hollowing out” of the Canadian resource sector, the following list of current mine builders – who may end up on some future “Top 10” list – clearly indicates that we still have an enormous talent pool of visionaries who will continue to build and find mines and create the next generation of homegrown corporations.
This list is in no particular order and is a very wide cross-section of industry players that range from junior mine builders to seasoned CEOs of multi-billion dollar corporations and represents a very small selection of Canada’s mining talent.
Robert McEwen founded Goldcorp, with the takeover of the aging and cash-starved Dickinson mine in Red Lake, Ont. The controversial out-of-the-box thinker is widely credited for renewing the Red Lake gold mining camp with his Goldcorp Challenge, which put historic and then current geological data from the mine online and solicited the best geologists around the world to identify new drill targets.
The resulting success turned a 50,000 oz. producer in 1997 into a 500,000 oz. producer in 2001 and lowered cash costs from US$360 per oz. to US$60. McEwen successfully initiated Goldcorp’s merger with Ian Telfer’s Wheaton River Minerals in 2005 and stepped down from his subsequent chairman position by the end of that year. He went on to establish McEwen Mining, which has producing gold/ silver mines in Argentina and Mexico and recently struck a deal to buy Primero Mining’s Black Fox mine in Ontario.
While McEwen founded Goldcorp and turned it into a mid-tier miner, it was Ian Telfer who propelled the rapidly growing company into global significance. Telfer is a well-known mine entrepreneur who is credited with building up several multi-billion-dollar mining firms.
In 2001, he purchased a junior company, Wheaton River Minerals, with legendary financier Frank Giustra. Through an aggressive takeover strategy and taking advantage of the exploding gold price, Telfer turned an insignificant shell company into a billion dollar gold producer in just four years. In 2005, he helped engineered the $2.4-billion share swap that saw Goldcorp absorb Wheaton River.
Within the same year, in a whirlwind of M&A transactions Telfer added another 10 assets to the portfolio, merging with Glamis Gold and acquiring the Canadian assets of Placer Dome, which was being taken over by Barrick, making Goldcorp the second largest gold producer in Canada. It is currently fourth largest in the world, earning Telfer enormous respect for his financial vision.
Terry MacGibbon founded Sudbury-based FNX Mining which discovered the extraordinarily rich (but not yet developed) Victoria deposit. FNX merged with Quadra Mining which in turn was taken over by KGHM, a Polish company. MacGibbon also founded INV Metals which is currently conducting a feasibility study on its Loma Larga gold property in Ecuador. Another company, TMAC Resources recently celebrated its first gold pour at its new Hope Bay gold mine in Nunavut. MacGibbon also guided Torex Gold Resources’ Mexican mine through its early acquisition, exploration and development.
TMAC Resources’ project is located on the 80-km-long, 20-km-wide Hope Bay greenstone belt, which has enormous potential for further gold discoveries. Like many of the visionary mine builders previously profiled, MacGibbon and his team are building and developing a brand new gold camp in the isolated Far North and providing many economic opportunities for the local Inuit who are full supporting partners of the project.
Through FNX Mining, MacGibbon played a key role in highlighting the continued viability of mineral discoveries in the 130-year-old mining camp in the Sudbury Basin at a time when many thought it was in decline. Sudbury continues to be one of the richest mining districts in North America.
John Burzynski, Sean Roosen and Robert Wares
Sean Roosen, John Burzynski and Robert Wares
Sean Roosen, John Burzynski and Robert Wares founded and brought into production the Canadian Malartic Mine – the largest open pit gold producer in Canada. The mine was acquired by Agnico-Eagle Mines and Yamana Gold after a hostile takeover attempt by Goldcorp. The three men changed the paradigm of gold mining in the Abitibi Greenstone belt by proving low-grade, large-tonnage open pit mining could be profitable. In less than the ten largest companies in Quebec.
With their new companies, Osisko Gold Royalties and Osisko Mining, the three mining entrepreneurs are consolidating properties in the Abitibi Greenstone region of Ontario and Quebec and other parts of Canada and are exploring for the next great gold deposit, focusing significant resources on the geologically unique high-grade Windfall Lake gold deposit located between Val-d’Or and Chibougamau.
The extraordinarily rich Abitibi Greenstone Belt – stretching from Timmins, Ont., in the east through Kirkland Lake to Rouyn-Noranda and Chibougamau, Que., in the west, is the source of Canada’s greatest gold mining camps on par with Nevada’s Carlin Trend and the Eastern Goldfields of Australia.
In 2007, B2Gold Corp. was founded by President and CEO Clive Johnson and the former senior management team of Bema Gold Corporation after that company was taken over by Kinross Gold for C$3.5 billion.
Purchasing a gold mine and improving and completing construction of a previously closed gold operation in Nicaragua quickly gave the new company valuable cash flow. This allowed B2Gold to make further strategic acquisitions of a gold mine in the Philippines and a gold project in Nambia.
B2Gold has become one of the fastest growing mid-tier gold producers in the world, increasing gold production from 108,700 ounces in 2010 to between 530,000 and 570,000 ounces in 2017. Their most ambitious project to date is the Fekola gold project in Mali – West Africa’s legendary gold production was one of the major sources of the precious metal between 1000 AD to 1500 AD, well before the gold rushes in Australia and North and South America.
The Fekola mine is three months ahead of schedule for an October 1, 2017 start, on budget and will dramatically increase B2Gold’s production next year to between 900,000 and 950,000 ounces. The company has other deposits in neighbouring Burkina Faso as well as exploration projects in Colombia and Finland.
Exploration geologist and mine developer Robert Quartermain has a long history of acquiring and building precious metal mines during bear markets. In 1985, he took over a small junior called Silver Standard which had a market cap of $2 million and two employees. When he resigned 25 years later in 2010, the company was worth around $2 billion thanks to an aggressive silver acquisition strategy.
One of the companies Quartermain acquired for its silver reserves had the Brucejack project located in Golden Triangle of northwestern British Columbia, which has seen improved hydro, road and port (Stewart B.C.) infrastructure over the past decade. When Silver Standard decided to sell the asset in 2010, Quartermain formed Pretium Resources and bought the project back.
With an average grade of 14.1 g/t, the Brucejack mine – which recently made its first gold pour – is estimated to be one of the highest grade new underground projects in the world, with proven and probable reserves of 8.7 million oz. gold and 31.9 million oz. silver – a definite company maker. Pretium is the largest land holder in the Golden Triangle with over 1,210 sq. km of land offering enormous future potential.
Tony Makuch took over the reins at Timmins’ Lake Shore Gold in 2008 to bring a bankable gold deposit into production. Not only was he coming back to his hometown, he was also working in the richest gold camp in the country – 72 million oz. and counting. Makuch had tremendous success finding new gold reserves on the West side of Timmins, which historically had been largely ignored, and significantly increased the company’s land package for future discoveries.
Bought out in early 2016 by Tahoe Resources in an almost $1 billion deal, Makuch had built up measured and indicated resources of 2.4 million oz. gold and inferred resources of 1.1 million oz. gold at Lake Shore’s two operating mines – and resources of about 6 million oz. gold in all categories at four exploration properties in the Timmins area. But most importantly, he significantly revitalized gold mining in the Timmins camp at a time when many thought it was in decline.
Makuch is now CEO at Kirkland Lake Gold, which has properties in Australia and Kirkland Lake – Canada’s second-richest gold camp at 45 million oz. and counting. The company’s legendary Macassa mine in the Kirkland Lake camp was built in 1933 and with about 2 million oz. gold in reserves at 20.8 g/t is among the richest in the country.
Agnico Eagle Mines’ Sean Boyd who has been CEO for an astonishing 19 years (an amazing accomplishment in itself in these volatile times) has successfully grown the gold miner. When he became CEO in 1998, the company produced about 150,000 oz. of gold. Last year the figure was almost 1.7 million oz. and with two new Nunavut projects expected to start production by the end of the decade, Agnico expects to dig 2 million oz. out of the ground by 2020 from global operations that also include Quebec, Mexico and Finland.
Agnico’s Meadowbank gold mine in Nunavut has made a considerable impact on the territory’s economy. A study reported that the mine contributes about 15% to the territory’s GDP and employs slightly over 300 Inuit at an average wage of $107,000 a year – the foundation of an Indigenous middle-class.
Agnico Eagle annually spends about $5 million on extensive internal skill training programs to help Inuit advance in the workforce and generates $280 million yearly in local business procurement.
And royalties will be flowing to the Inuit through their umbrella organization, Nunavut Tunngavik.
Billionaire Robert Friedland’s impact on the Canadian mining sector – and his exceptional tier-1 mineral discoveries over the past 25 years – have been nothing short of astonishing. He continues to be in mining’s international mining limelight and is a huge proponent of minerals, including copper and platinum, that need to be mined to support clean technologies and urbanization.
Discoveries by his flagship Ivanhoe Mines at its Kamoa-Kakula copper project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been independently verified as the largest in the history of African mining. Ivanhoe also is advancing development of its Platreef platinum discovery in South Africa and upgrading of the DRC’s Kipushi mine, whose resources of 34.9% zinc are the world’s richest.
Other high-profile discoveries by companies under Friedland’s leadership include Alaska’s Fort Knox gold, bought by Kinross, Newfoundland & Labrador’s Voisey’s Bay nickel/copper project, bought by Inco for $4.3 billion, and Mongolia’s Oyu Tolgoi – one of the world’s greatest copper/gold finds that saw Rio Tinto brought in to help build the initial mine in 2006 and take majority control in 2012.
Entering Vancouver’s wild junior mining scene in 1980, Friedland later made international headlines when the U.S. government alleged he was solely responsible for environmental conditions behind the failure of Colorado’s Summitville gold mine. A Canadian court issued an extraordinary censure of U.S. misconduct in 1996, including withholding and misrepresenting key evidence, and awarded him costs totalling $1.25 million. He later reached a voluntary settlement to help restore the mine site.
Stephen G. Roman
Stephen G. Roman
Stephen G. Roman was introduced to mining at the very young age of five when he went underground at Denison Mine’s uranium operations, which his father, Stephen B. Roman (one of the most powerful mining magnates during the 1950s to 1980s) – was building in Elliot Lake. His sister, Helen Barber-Roman took over the company when their father died in 1988, becoming the first female CEO of a major mining company.
Stephen G. Roman has a great track record himself, building the Timmins Glimmer mine in 1996 (now known as the Black Fox mine) which was sold to Apollo Gold in 2002. His next significant project was the Gold Eagle mine in the Red Lake camp. He and his partners – who the won the PDAC Bill Dennis discovery award in 2016 – sold the deposit to Goldcorp for $1.5 billion in 2008.
Harte Gold, Roman’s current junior venture, is advancing the Sugar Zone located just 80 km east of the massive Hemlo deposit. Roman and his team are currently developing the deposit and building a mill, with commercial production expected to begin by mid-2018.
So far, the junior has defined roughly half a million ounces of gold and controls the entire, largely unexplored, Dayohessarah greenstone belt. A year end updated gold estimate should considerably increase reserves.
The McLeod family
One can only marvel at the exceptional accomplishments of the multi-generational McLeod family centred around Stewart, B.C. It started with John McLeod, who immigrated from Scotland in the early 1900s to northern B.C. and worked as a miner and prospector. Two of his sons, Don and Ian, stayed connected to the region. Ian worked as a miner, owned the town’s major hotel, was Stewart’s mayor for 15 years as well as a high profile advocate for mining in the north. Don started as a miner but moved into prospecting and promotion. He was integral to the discovery of four producing mines in B.C.
Bruce McLeod and Catherine McLeod-Seltzer
Two of Don’s children – Catherine and Bruce – and one of Ian’s – Robert – are all accomplished mining professionals. Catherine McLeod-Seltzer is well known for her junior mining partnerships that have led to the discovery of Arequipa Resources’ rich gold deposit in Peru that was bought by Barrick for $1.1 billion; the Peru Copper Toromocho copper deposit, which was bought by Chinalco for $840 million; and co-founding Stornoway Diamond, the company that opened Quebec’s first diamond mine, along with her brother Bruce.
Bruce, a mining engineer, has won the E.A. Scholz award for excellence in mine development for his role in building the Minto copper-gold deposit in the Yukon. He founded Sherwood Copper, which was sold to Capstone Mining for $244 million in 2008. He is currently CEO of Sabina Gold & Silver and is working towards building the company’s Back River deposit, which contains about 7.2 million oz. of gold in all categories, in Nunavut.
Bruce and Catherine’s cousin Robert, the youngest of the three, is a geologist. He was founder of Underworld Resources which was acquired by Kinross Gold for $140 million in 2010 for its Yukon White Gold deposit that contained resources of over 1.4 million oz. of gold. Among a variety of exploration projects, he is also currently CEO of IDM Mining and is focused on developing the company’s Red Mountain project – a low cost, high grade gold deposit located near his hometown of Stewart.
And like his father, Robert is an enthusiastic proponent of the enormous mineral potential of northwestern B.C.’s Golden Triangle.
In a recent mining symposium at Canada House in London, U.K. hosted by the Northern Miner, Goldcorp CEO David Garofalo said, “There was a lot of consternation that the base metals sector consolidated quite dramatically about ten years ago, but it’s like chopping off the top of a hedge – it grows back. … There is an entrepreneurial class within the mining space in Canada that is second to none.
I don’t know as robust a junior sector that there is in Canada, and that’s helped regenerate the industry in a significant way, even after a massive consolidation like that.”
Without a doubt, the future for Canadian mine builders and for that matter, mine finders is exceptionally bright in a modernizing and industrializing 21st century world whose population continues to increase and need the products that we sustainably dig out of the ground.
Author’s Note: I consulted with many people during my research for this essay however, the following must be acknowledged for their time and sage advice: David Constable, corporate director, CMJ news editor Marilyn Scales, Peter Koven, former Financial Post mining reporter and currently at Bay Street Communications, Jane Werniuk, geologist at Agnico Eagle and former CMJ editor and John Ing, president and CEO of Maison Placements Canada. However, I take full responsibility for the final list!
Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant and owner/editor of a mining news aggregator website: www.RepublicOfMining.com.