Two hands wide and it goes on forever!” is what prospector C.J. Johnny Baker is rumoured to have bragged of the gold-riddled quartz vein he and Herb Dixon found on the rocky north arm of Great Slave Lake in 1935.
Twelve years later their find became the Giant Yellowknife gold mine, the largest of a string of historic producers that fostered a 60-year, 14 million-ounce legacy. Then, with Giant’s closing in 1998 and the neighbouring Con Mine’s in 2004, the prolific Yellowknife gold camp went into hibernation.
Today, after a decade-long snooze, it may be waking up again.
A spunky junior, TerraX Minerals Inc., is tickling the sleeping Archaen greenstone belt out of its slumber and could yet again prove up the old adage: your new mine is quite likely next to your old one.
“We’re in the shadow of the headframe,” says TerraX President Joe Campbell, as his trio of exploration programs is within sight of the old, skeletal Giant headframe. “If you take any of the old gold camps in Canada – Timmins,
Val d’Or, Red Lake – they’re [geologically] almost identical to the Yellowknife camp,” says Campbell. “All of those camps have a history of multiple discoveries along the strike length. Yellowknife has had much less exploration along the trend in comparison.”
Campbell is chasing a serendipitous train of events, billed the Yellowknife City Gold Project, uncovered in a quest that began in earnest only a year and a half ago.
Bankruptcy bid yields big return
Campbell partnered with fellow geologist Thomas Setterfield in 2008 to form TerraX Minerals Inc., pooling over six decades of experience with companies including Noranda, Western Mining Corp., and Monster Copper Corp. TerraX’s first play was a joint venture with Kaminak Gold Corp’s Needle Lake property in Nunavut.
However, it was the bankruptcy sale in early 2013 of Century Mining Corp. (after its failed efforts at the Lamaque gold mine in Quebec) that launched TerraX’s Yellowknife program. Among its portfolio was an idle claim bundle called Northbelt that included the long-abandoned Crestaurum mine just 15km north of Giant.
“Northbelt was by far the best property in their portfolio so we put a bid on it,” says Campbell. They didn’t have much to go on; there was no public record of historical drilling results but their $211,000 gamble was driven by two certainties: it was right along the strike trend for both Con and Giant, and the region still had a lot of exploration potential.
“Once we made the purchase we started our research. We got great help from the NWT Government’s Geoscience Office in Yellowknife, which was archiving all the Giant data as those offices were being prepared for teardown as part of the Giant clean-up,” he relates.
“That information included Northbelt, and we were able to copy hundreds of drill holes and logs and dozens of reports.” The real treasure was rescuing 30 000m of historic core from some 200 Northbelt holes, all neatly stacked on the Giant property – and awaiting the bulldozer.
“This is millions of dollars of exploration work that literally fell into our laps. We were vibrating for a few days,” says Campbell. “It was a very quick change from what we thought would be an initial grassroots exploration program to one that looked like we’d been exploring for five years.”
TerraX is looking at three prospects, all of which have historic drill data, over the 65,000 hectares it owns or options.
The main target is the 36.5km Northbelt group which contains a shear, long recognized as an extension of the Yellowknife gold belt (in the 1940s, it was dubbed the “Barney Shear” after a local prospector’s dog). In 2013 the TerraX team located 250 historical drill hole collars and surveyed 156 of the holes associated with known deposits.
“If you’re a betting man on where to find a new deposit, this is obviously an area that you’d want to work on. It’s wide open – we have 13 kilometres of strike length, and hundreds of metres of dip to explore. It’s our favourite place to look.”
Last year, TerraX re-assayed historic core and released results ranging from 1.9 to 3.79 grams per tonne over intersections of up to 28m.
A second target is the old Crestaurum mine, started and soon stopped in the 1940s. Now just a headframe and few crumbling buildings; the 130-m shaft and one crosscut have watered up and the shaft was used as a metal dump. But 187 old drill collars have been traced, and a former road links it to the Ingraham Trail. Its historic high grades and free-milling ore make it a strong potential; one outstanding drill core yielded 62.90 g/t over five metres, less than 50m from surface.
A third prospect is Homer Lake. It’s an unexpected silver/base metal anomaly in the group, showing intriguing returns from 2013 surface sampling. Drilling in 2014 confirmed 3.42m of 3.41 g/t gold, 69.3 g/t silver, 3.67 per cent lead and 3.17 per cent zinc. For now, says Campbell, it remains in the background of TerraX’s plans.
Top of mind for Yellowknifers is whether a new development would mean a repeat of Giant’s dark legacy — tonnes of toxic arsenic trioxide (now under remediation by the federal government) the byproduct of the roasting process used to crack the refractory ore. Campbell says the Crestaurum ore is free-milling, but they have yet to determine the nature of the Barney geochemistry.
“But even if we had Giant-type ore, we would never process it the way that Giant did,” he explains, as there are better methods of processing refractory gold, while free-milling is less expensive, gets better recoveries, and there are no toxic by-products.
“There’s not another project in the Northwest Territories that has the advantages this project has,” says Campbell. “The access to grid power, highways, the airport, and being next to a mine service centre – the City of Yellowknife – are huge advantages.”
He cites the ease of running an airborne geophysics program last year from the nearby Yellowknife airport, and in winter being to drive a mere 15km to drill sites, as major cost and time savers.
Despite the financing drought that’s plaguing all juniors, TerraX’s story has attracted $3.6 million since early 2013, enough to finance this year’s 5,000-m drill program and stay in the black through the winter. Next year, if the results and the market stay with him, Campbell is projecting a $5-million program to triple that amount of drilling, plus more geotech and environment baseline work.
Campbell and his team have made extensive efforts to open the project up to the community and First Nations, a standard condition of getting permits. It also helps set up good relations with recreational users of the TerraX claim block. One goodwill move was to provide funding for six user groups, including Scouts and snowmobilers, to clean up years of garbage along some of the trails. The City of Yellowknife helped too, waiving the tipping fees at the dump.
Community response so far, says Campbell, has been very positive — not unexpected in a town with decades of gold mining heritage. He also credits industry and the NWT Government with fostering a mining-friendly climate. “We’ve been the recipient of that hard work on their part and very appreciative of it.”
But he’s also cautious that not everyone will be on side and he wants to keep communications open.
“We’d be fools to believe that everybody wants to go down that path. All we can do is keep our door open, keep them informed and give them a place to help us do it right.”
Campbell has a prudent eight- to 10-year work plan to balance a big vision for the future.
“Things don’t happen tomorrow. Our vision is to carve a timeline of three to five years to do some relatively intensive exploration to prove up deposits. We feel that within that timeline we can accurately define something and get on to quantifying it.”
He anticipates as many as five more years to develop, permit and finance a plan before production could start. Would Campbell and his TerraX team pour the first gold? Conventional thinking calls for juniors to advance deposits to attract a buyout or a major partner, but Campbell may not stop there.
“There certainly is the expertise in TerraX to bring a project to development, but we would need a lot of multi-disciplinary help to do it. It would be a more challenging path, but not one we’d be afraid to go ahead and do.”