Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada 75 Years of industry support
It all started during the depths of the Great Depression when a small group of Toronto-based prospectors decided they had had enough. It was already difficult making a living at their chosen trade, especially in those days. But the Ontario government was planning to make it even more difficult by requiring an engineer’s signature before an assessment report would be accepted. Money was scarce, and this added expense was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
On Feb. 29, 1932, mining engineer Walter Segsworth called together a dozen prospectors and they decided to fight the Engineers Bill. The next day they rounded up 132 prospectors for a meeting at the King Edward Hotel and formed the Ontario Prospectors Association. A hat was passed around, $168.45 was collected and Arthur Cockeran was elected the first president.
Under Segsworth’s guidance the new group successfully fought the offending bill, and the beleaguered prospectors claimed a victory. This was the humble but feisty beginning of today’s PDAC.
In 1933, the name was changed to reflect the interests of the wider mining community. The Ontario Prospectors and Developers Association grew rapidly, with over 900 members in only its second year.
Founded to protect the interests of the province’s prospectors, the organization has metamorphosed into a skilled, professional industry lobbyist looking after the interests of prospectors and explorers. It has not lost sight of its original raison d’tre, but as the world has changed in 75 years so has the association.
The changes came slowly.
Membership was free until Viola MacMillan became president. A woman of small stature, she was a giant in the industry. By the time she became president in 1944, MacMillan had turned the annual meeting from a low-key half-day discussion into an event that ran from one day to two days and then into a full-blown three-day convention. She instituted a modest membership fee and arranged a swell time for delegates and their wives.
A dynamo of energy, MacMillan was known affectionately as the Queen Bee. She ran the association professionally, expanding its public presence and working behind the scenes to improve the lot of the explorer and the developer. She arranged for prospecting classes during the Second World War to help with the war effort, and she even pledged her diamond ring as collateral for the down payment at the Royal York Hotel in 1944, the first time the convention was held there.
Shedding its provincial image, the association changed its name to the Prospectors and Developers Association in 1957.
MacMillan reigned for 20 years until her sudden resignation in 1964 after being charged with wash trading her Windfall Oils & Mines stock during the Texas Gulf rush in Timmins. Her resignation caught the association flat-footed. Nobody else was capable of organizing the convention, so in 1965 there was no convention.
It was a difficult time for the association. Mining companies withdrew their support and discouraged their employees from belonging, lest they get tainted with MacMillan’s scandal.
Following this near-death experience, the PDA underwent some changes to ensure its continued existence. No longer was one person going to run the association. The board was expanded to 36 directors. This brought in new blood and enlarged the pool of members who became familiar with the workings of the association. Board meetings were held on a regular basis so that directors could participate in decisions.
In 1978 the association instituted the first of its awards, to recognize the achievements of members who had made outstanding contributions to the industry and the association.
The Prospector of the Year award was first given in 1978 to Bill Dennis who had recently passed away. A renowned prospector, Bill Dennis was a great supporter of the association, having served on the executive committee for 25 years and as president following MacMillan’s resignation.
Other awards have since been instituted including the Distinguished Service, Special Achievements, and Thayer Lindsley International Discovery awards, the Viola R. MacMillan Developer’s award, the E3 Environmental award, and the Special Achievement award.
Going professional and international
In the late 1970s and early ’80s, exploration and mining were struggling in Canada, so companies were looking beyond Canada’s borders for new opportunities. Mexico and Latin America particularly beckoned. Canadian entrepreneurs started to take on international partners, and when it came time for the annual convention they brought their new partners to the “Prospectors” convention in Toronto. The explorers continued to expand their horizons and were soon searching around the globe.
In 1986, the association’s name changed to the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC). For years it had been run by volunteers who contributed their time and knowledge. As the organization grew, it became evident that full-time professional management was needed to guide the association. A geologist and academic with field experience, Tony Andrews, was hired in 1987 as general manager and continues in that role today.
In 1993, Andrews and the PDAC’s then-president John Hansuld took a gamble: they decided to make the convention international by designing a program that would attract international delegates. This move was questioned by some, but time has proven them wrong.
In 1996 the convention moved from the Royal York Hotel to the Metro Convention Centre. This larger venue allowed the Trade Show and the Investors Exchange to thrive. The Exchange is the best place for investors to evaluate the merits of companies and projects, because senior management and exploration people are accessible at their booths. At the same time there is a Speakers’ Forum for companies and newsletter writers to discuss projects, trends and predictions.
Another venue that appeals particularly to geologists and prospectors is the Core Shack, where companies can display core from their latest hot projects.
Behind the scenes
The convention is the face of the association that is best known to its members and the public. But the PDAC carries out extensive work on behalf of its members and the mining and exploration community behind the scenes.
Protecting the interests of its members has been the association’s first priority since its inception. Over the years it has lobbied for access to land (the Lands for Life campaign in Ontario), and for improved mapping and geoinformation databases by the provincial surveys and the Geological Survey of Canada. The association has campaigned for security regulations more favourable to the industry and, most successfully, for the acceptance of flow-through share financing.
Flow-through financing has supported Canadian explorers through lean times with the added benefit of financing new discoveries. When the first Mineral Exploration Depletion Allowance (MEDA) was instituted, exploration expenditures rose from $472 million (in 1983) to $1.35 billion (in 1987), resulting in 57 new discoveries and 22 operating mines.
The Mineral Exploration Tax Credit (MITEC)–the current flow-through program–was originally included in the October 2000 federal budget. It has generated more than $1.9 billion in investment to date. This has kept many people employed in Canada and added to the natural resource wealth of the country.
Education has been a concern of the association since the 1940s, when Viola MacMillan twisted the arms of government geologists to train would-be prospectors. Today that tradition continues with the PDAC-sponsored Mining Matters program. Geology, rocks and minerals are being brought into classrooms in Ontario and Nunavut, as part of a program that teaches schoolchildren about Canada’s mineral resources.
The PDAC has helped develop an Internet-based toolkit called Environmental Excellence in Exploration, bet
ter known as “E3”, which is available at no cost. It offers examples of environmental and social responsibility best practices in the minerals industry.
Although the association has a paid staff of 11, it is the volunteers who actually carry out its mandate. The numerous committees consist of people from all aspects of the industry including exploration, legal, finance, securities, Aboriginal affairs, etc. It is their unique knowledge, experience and skills that make the association an effective lobbying force. These volunteers are unpaid, but dedicated to the association’s goals.
From humble beginnings 75 years ago, the PDAC has grown into not only an effective advocate for mineral exploration in Canada and abroad, but also a promoter of the industry’s responsibilities toward society and the environment.
George Werniuk is a geologist and freelance writer, and can be contacted at [email protected].