Dec '10/Jan '11

Easing into retirement

Phil Olson’s dedication to industry is far from waning

By C. Baldwin

Phil OlsonIt was a love of the outdoors that first drew Philip Olson, this year’s Julian Boldy Memorial Award recipient, to geology.

Olson studied geology at the University of Saskatchewan, the province to which his family moved during his youth to work in the potash industry. He also met his wife in Saskatchewan. He has, he says, “developed an attachment to this province where the outdoors is never far away and rarely obscured by trees.”

Olson went on to a varied and impressive career in exploration geology. The field suited him; not only did it provide opportunities for working outdoors, but it allowed him to work “in a field that is challenging but on occasion returns meaningful rewards.” After working throughout central and eastern Canada, he eventually returned to Saskatchewan in 1996 to explore for gold with Claude Resources.

“I would be remiss,” says Olson, “if I didn’t acknowledge the freedoms Claude gave me in participating in local and regional associations.” He served for three years as a councillor for the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan and for seven years as exploration chair for the Saskatchewan Mining Association. The latter position naturally led him to join the Saskatchewan Mineral Exploration Government Advisory Committee as co-chair, at a time when the committee was reformulating and revamping the province’s exploration guidelines.

“I think I was also viewed as the token representative of junior mining in the Prairies,” says Olson, who was then appointed industry representative to the Mining Technical Advisory and Monitoring Committee — the group that oversaw the refining and implementation of National Instrument 43-101. “It was educational to work with this group to develop a universal set of guidelines that would apply to mineral deposits that were very different in character.”

Olson also became actively involved with CIM’s Geological Society, serving as both councillor and field trip coordinator. “Field trips,” he says, “are an integral part of ongoing education.” The importance of education was a sentiment likely first picked up from the memorable summers that he spent during university as a field assistant with the Saskatchewan Geological Survey, learning from “great teachers who were passionate about geology.”

After studying at the University of Saskatchewan’s Regina campus, Olson got a taste for working in the field, as an exploration geologist in northern Manitoba. Then came a Master’s of Science degree obtained at the University of Manitoba and further graduate studies at the University of New Brunswick.

He then went to northern Ontario, eventually settling down in Timmins for 10 years and finding employment with the Corona group, and then with Giant Yellowknife Mines, Falconbridge at Kidd Creek, and later Hemlo Gold. Northern Ontario was already home to Olson, who grew up in the mining towns of Red Lake and Elliot Lake while his father worked as a mining engineer in the gold and uranium sectors, respectively.

Uranium was Olson’s first connection to the mining industry, and he would return to it years later when he left Claude Resources in 2005 to help launch Titan Uranium Inc., a junior uranium explorer for which Olson served as president, then president and CEO, and finally chairman and CEO.

“I don’t think any position in my career was more challenging and fulfilling than my time at Titan,” he recalls. “Uranium exploration, particularly for high-grade deposits in Saskatchewan, is an extraordinarily challenging and expensive proposition. The risk/reward relationship for investment defies logic and the uranium market is opaque.”

Titan has capped off a varied and impressive career. Olson’s dedication and strong sense of duty to his field has motivated his involvement in the advancement of exploration geology. He is modest about his accomplishments and quick to acknowledge the contributions of those he has worked with. “I have been fortunate,” he says, “to work in an industry where most fellow workers have been quick to volunteer their time and efforts.”

Although Olson retired from Titan Uranium in 2009 after more than 30 years in the industry, he maintained his connection to the industry via directorships with Detour Gold Corporation, Pelangio Exploration Inc., and Prairie Hunter Energy Corp. Olson says he is “easing into retirement,” although he is doing so with well-deserved recognition from his peers.

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