It is no easy task finding an economicaland worthwhile mineral deposit, and it’s an even harder job turning that discovery into a producing mine, but for Avard D. Hudgins, that’s what he does. And, according to many in the know, nobody does it better.
In fact, precious few prospectors can lay claim to having found one mine, let alone several, but there’s always an exception and one of those exceptions is Avard D. Hudgins, of Truro, Nova Scotia.
While he is always quick to give most, if not all, of the credit of discovery to prospectors who have worked with him, he will also emphasize the remarkable extent to which pure luck and/or serendipity come into play in the process.
Avard grew up in the tiny village of Margretsville on the Bay of Fundy fossicking along the rocky shore for bits of native copper, zeolites, and agate. Later, his formal education at Acadia University in nearby Wolfville, led him to a better understand, among other things, of the nature and identity of minerals and the rocks within which they occur.
He also learned that in Nova Scotia and the United Kingdom, similar rock types of the same geologic age are present and that they represent a substantial portion of geologic time. Indeed, it was this latter feature which in the first place prompted certain gentlemen geologists in the U.K to initiate the fascinating science of geology during mid-18th century enlightenment.
In retrospect, and given the jig-saw puzzle-stamp of continental drift upon the Earth’s crust, it is not surprising that many different kinds of mineral deposits and their respective host rocks match up across the Atlantic. A good example of rich formed during the Carboniferous Period (from about 345 to about 280 million years ago) of Earth history. Although the reality of continental drift would not become scientifically recognized and accepted until the late 1960s, Avard learned from his professors about the rich coal measures found in the upper portion of the Carboniferous, and about the various salt deposits preserved in the lower portion of this geologic interval on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
In Nova Scotia, the lower Carboniferous sedimentary rocks contain oil and gas, and important deposits of halite (NaCl), gypsum (CaSO4.nH2O), barite (BaSO4), celestite (SrSO4.nH2O), and base metals (copper, lead, zinc); in due course, Avard would make notable discoveries in each of the latter three categories.
Side-tracked at first into chemical engineering, Avard was convinced by Professor Rupert MacNeil to switch to geology, a decision never regretted. Financing his way through school was accomplished in part through mineral collecting, a hobby he retains to this day.
Labouring as a geologist underground in the Sudbury nickel mines in the late 1950s, Avard recalls his happiest moment there, underground at the 6800-foot level of the Frood mine, collecting shiny sperrylite crystals (platinum arsenide, PtAs2) by the lonely light of his miner’s lamp.
Sighing, he regrets to admit that he has since given away most of his specimens, including the sperrylites. To wit, in need of cash during his student days, he sold his trove of sperrylites to a visitor at his school for a mere $50.00, whereas, nowadays a single specimen might fetch a $1000.00 or more.
Ever the prospector-geologist, Avard, throughout his career, has always taken any and all opportunities to go prospecting.
“The whole exploration business has been a blast! Prospectors have the most fun of all, I reckon.” he explains enthusiastically. “Take for instance, the time I was prospecting by myself on Long Island up in the Bras d’Or Lakes, Cape Breton. It was a lovely sunny day, with light winds, when this fancy yacht comes drifting by and this fellow starts yelling at me to stop pounding the rocks with my (geological) hammer. So, I say, why? Well, it’s foolish, and you are scaring all the eagles away! So I replied, well if you want to watch eagles, you should sail on down to Grand Narrows at the east end of the Lakes because that is where you will see a lot more eagles. But he would not take my advice. He just couldn’t figure out what I was doing on the shore, and it was a while ’til I was rid of him. Only later did I learn that it was Jack Nicholson, the famous Hollywood actor!”
When pressed, Avard seems reluctant to admit to having, from time to time in the early days, accepted short foreign consulting assignments in places like Michigan State, New Jersey, and even as far afield as Indonesia and Bulgaria. But there’s no mistaking it, his heart is in his Maritime home.
Reminiscing about work back in his student days in 1960, he recalls: “My boss was John Moore, a tough old, hard-driving mine finder, in charge of mineral exploration for MacKintyre-Porcupine Mining Co. Moore was like a bull moose in the bush, nothing could stop him! But there was in fact, one incident that pretty well stopped me in my tracks, and which nearly got me fired.”
That episode, briefly recounted, involved a geochemical soil survey and the taking of numerous samples over a particular stretch of hard scrabble alder bush in northern New Brunswick upon which, in places, there was little or no soil readily available. “So, rather than have a blank sample points on the map, I grabbed some moose shit and filled a couple of sample bags. A few weeks later, after the samples had been analyzed, the boss called me in to review the assay results, asking me what I thought might explain the huge zinc anomaly in samples X and Y
(small duplicates of the same material that had been submitted for assay). This was more or less normal procedure, and I thought no more of it until, of course, when the bags were opened, the ‘shit hit the fan’ if you’ll pardon my French.”
“Is this some kind of joke?” he roared! But, little did John Moore (or anyone else at the time) realize that alders tend naturally to concentrate certain metals (especially zinc) and that moose feeding on alders rooted upon a soil enriched in zinc, will in turn concentrate high levels of that metal in their faecies (intake of this metal may also adversely affect the quality of their teeth). Fortunately, Moore’s roar was worse than his bite. Thus, Avard escaped with a stiff warning, and as time went on, he began launching treasure hunts of his own design and purpose.
Some of the prospectors whom he helped train were promising university students enrolled in geology. Expected to work long days (not hours!), and to traverse hills, gorges, and swamps on diverse sampling/ survey missions with no regard whatever to personal comfort, many morphed into selfreliant bushmen and geologists.
It did take some time however, as Avard illustrates by an experience of one of his sons, Jamie, partnered with fellow field assistant, Alister MacIntyre. The adventure occurred in spring, 1978, along the Fundy shore near Economy in the Minas Basin. Jamie and Alister had scarcely begun their traverse early one morning when, while slogging their way through a very swampy lowland, they were suddenly confronted by large sinister-looking creatures thrashing about in the water. Frightened out of their wits, the two young prospectors came tearing back out of the bush shouting that they had been attacked by alligators while crossing a swampy area. Turns out that the ‘alligators’ were several large sturgeons that a local fisherman, Lamont Linkletter, had initially trapped in his weir along the shore.
It seems that the fish had previously been transported for safe keeping to that particular shallow swampy lagoon until such time as Linkletter could arrange an advantageous sale price in the New York market.
Tolerant of a large range in temperature and salinity, the sturgeon (a fishy holdover from the Mesozoic Era), would quite happily survive indefinitely in brackish swamp water. Doubtle
ss the fear instilled in the boys by the thrashing fish was reciprocated in the fish by the boys’ boisterous passage through the swamp.
After graduating with a M.Sc. in 1960, Avard focused much of his time prospecting Lower Carboniferous rocks. At the time, he had joined in partnership with Randy Mills, a promoter from Montreal (known as “Mr Chibougamou’), and J.H. (Harry) Morgan, a U.S. geological consultant, a relationship which lasted from 1962 to 1988 (when Harry passed away).
In the 60s, mineral exploration was booming in Nova Scotia, and the largest barite mine in the world was in production at Walton. Avard staked a lot of prospective barite-bearing ground at Lake Enon, about 50 km southwest of Sydney, Cape Breton. There, at a place called Pine Brook, a bluish-grey mineral closely resembling barite was found. Trouble was, neither he nor Harry Morgan was happy with this tentative identification, so on a whim, Harry threw a sample of the stuff in with a batch of samples scheduled for assay from a locality in Quebec.
That particular sample subsequently assayed 100% celestite (strontium sulfate). Even so, no one could see any reason to get particularly excited about the stuff. Ironically, Mr. J.P. Nolan, Nova Scotia’s Deputy Minister of Mines, remembered some time later to include a one-liner about this latest Nova Scotia mineral find in Canadian Mining Journal’s sister publication, ‘The Northern Miner.’ This would trigger a curious chain reaction of events, and an epiphany of sorts in the minds of certain mine finders.
Avard had not heard from Harry for over a year until about mid-1968. Then a call came through to him at the University of New Brunswick where he was already well into his Ph.D. program.
“What are you doing this summer Avard?” Harry asked. What transpired next, led to what Avard recalls as the biggest and most successful undertaking of his career. It seems that the Vice President Schoeper, of Kaiser Aluminum Co, and Peter Tyler (mining engineer for Kaiser Aluminum) had been delayed at New York airport while en route to Spain to purchase rights to a Spanish celestite deposit.
Browsing the newsstand, Tyler had evidently seen the latest Northern Miner and had noticed J.P. Nolan’s comments. Ironically, this was the very first time Peter Tyler had ever bothered to read anything in this particular journal.
“Maybe we shouldn’t bother going to Spain,” Tyler suggested to his vice president. In short, they contacted Nolan who gave them Harry Morgan’s phone number, whence the welcome call to Avard. Things moved very quickly. Kaiser Aluminum bought the property of Lake Enon from Cape Chemicals Co, and a contract was signed with the partnership several days later.
It seems that Kaiser Aluminum had to have celestite in order to fulfill an earlier promise to Corning Inc. to supply them with the strontium required to prevent emission of X-rays (this is accomplished by a process during which SrSO4 is fused to carbonate) from the cathode tubes in TV sets. (Strontium also now finds use in everything from cathode tubes to atomic clocks, fireworks, toothpaste, cancer therapy and pottery glazes).
To help facilitate delivery of celestite to Corning, Kaiser gave carte blanche to Avard to demonstrate the economic viability of the deposit. With this powerful incentive in hand, Avard made haste to escape academe and set boldly to work.
At the height of this exploration blitz, Avard employed two D-9 Caterpillers and four diamond drills on the property. The Lake Enon celestite deposit proved to be Canada’s largest strontium producer. It seems fair to record here that Avard did it all: the prospecting, the geology, the development, and the management of the mine – a performance record verging on unique!
Not content with this, Avard went on in the late 1960s to stake and to drill an old, well-known barite occurrence (yet another deposit hosted in the Lower Carboniferous!) at Brookfield (near Walton) and to help develop it into a producing ore deposit for Cape Chemicals Co.
The multifold increase in the price of zinc in 1972 drew Avard’s attention to Gays River where a French company had earlier reported finding ‘jaune blende.’ Earlier still, more exactly during the war of 1812, records showed that lead for musket balls had been produced by reducing the mineral galena (lead sulfide) extracted from shallow pits at the site. Lead and zinc share several important geochemical properties that cause them to usually occur together in sedimentary rocks. Realizing this, Avard and his most reliable prospector, Merton (Mert) Stewart proceeded in 1972 to prove up a metallic ore deposit containing about 22% zinc at Gays River. A significant base metal producer (1979 to 1981), the deposit is currently set for renewed production as Selwyn Resources’ ScoZinc Ltd.
Added to barite, celestite, and a base metal discovery, a couple more examples will serve to illustrate the combo of good fortune and mine finding ability met in treasure hunter Avard D. Hudgins.
By the early 1970s his attention had swung to consider the geological likeness Nova Scotia granites to those of Britain’s mineral-rich Cornwall district. Here, Avard’s uncanny ability to generate ideas again came to the fore. He recalled that granites in Nova Scotia are the same age and mineralogically identical with the Devonian granites in Cornwall. Surely, the occurrence of lithium-bearing phases within and near those Cornish granites is mirrored in those of southwestern Nova Scotia.
Ironically, this indeed turns out to be the case. At a mineral-rich outpost known as Brazil Lake, about 25 km northeast of Yarmouth, a deposit hailed as the highestgrade spodumene (a lithium silicate mineral) deposit in North America is now in the preliminary stages of development. This is yet another significant discovery for which Avard is largely responsible.
In light of these developments, Avard asked himself: “Where then are the tin deposits in Nova Scotia which might reasonably be expected to be associated with the lithium occurrences, as in Cornwall, U.K.?”
In answer to his own question, Avard sent his number one man, Mert Stewart, to southwestern Nova Scotia to extend prospecting efforts in the Brazil Lake area. Early in this exercise, particularly heavy rains having set in, Mert, following a venerable Maritime tradition, drove into town for a weekend supply of rum. En route, and ever alert to prospecting possibilities along the way, Mert spotted some interesting boulders reserved for road making material near Yarmouth airport. Several samples secured for assay would subsequently return 30% tin along with several other metallic ingredients. High grade stuff! A later arrangement made with Ben Baldwin, a New Brunswick business man, and head of Shell Canada Resources, secured financing for two years for one of Avard’s mineral exploration companies (Mex). This allowed sufficient time to complete a regional prospecting survey, and to secure Shell’s controlling interest in what (in 1977) would become the East Kemptville tin mine, North America’s largest producer (1985-1992).
Avard D. Hudgins is a living legend in the mineral exploration community of the Maritimes. His discoveries have led to the creation of hundreds of jobs and the realization of hundreds of millions of dollars of new wealth injected into the economy. His contributions have been recognized by various organizations, including an exceptional in-house official acknowledgement on November 8th, 2001 by the Nova Scotia government. Then, in the spring, 2003, the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) awarded him its Distinguished Service Medal. In the kudos category however, what characteristically pleases Avard most of all is that his prospector colleague and friend of 40 years service, Mert Stewart, received the PDAC’s Prospector of the Year award
Avard’s big three finds (shown on Pages 34-35) are: Lake Enon celestite mine on Cape Breton Island; Gays River lead-zinc mine in central Nova Scotia, and East Kemptville tin-copper-zinc mine, Yarmouth County.
There are yet other discoveries over which Avard D. Hudgins’ name looms large. Unmentioned in this brief overview of one man’s outstanding career are several finds in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in which he has figured prominently and which await more favourable conditions of supply and demand, an d.
d the play of politics. Despite the critical role minerals play in our lives (If it’s not grown it must be mined!), realizing mineral wealth can exact a very steep price in many respects, not least of all, long suffering patience. In the best case scenario following discovery, the latter quality commonly translates to up to 10 years or more lead time before production can begin. Suffice to state here that, economics aside, no one in the business will tell you that mine-finding is easy, although they may be quick to admit the genius of Pasteur’s maxim. And while pundits will argue the exact meaning of the quote, most will find it clearly translated in terms of the success of treasure finders like Avard D. Hudgins.
David Mossman is Research Professor emeritus at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick. Hans Durstling is a journalist (formerly with the CBC).