August 2011

Leading by example

Ingenuity and imagination driving the industry

By Richard Andrews, Ryan Bergen, Peter Diekmeyer, Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco, Eavan Moore, Dan Zlotnikov

King of the Klondike

Shawn-RyanShawn Ryan, together with his wife and business partner Cathy Wood, owns 20 per cent of the Yukon’s gold claims and has been credited with starting the territory’s largest gold rush in a century. Has the good fortune meant he has hung up his boots? “No,” he tells CIM Magazine on a shaky cell phone connection from out in the field on a damp and long Yukon summer day, “we’re not done yet.”

Initially, Ryan, an Ontario-born hunter and trapper, moved to the Yukon in 1991 to harvest wild gourmet mushrooms. He turned his attention to prospecting and has spent almost two decades looking for gold in the Yukon’s Klondike region near Dawson City. A string of discoveries led Underworld Resources Ltd. to its massive White Gold deposit in 2004.

He is now president of Ryan Gold Corp., a mineral exploration company that has the backing of top financiers and geologists. With gold reaching record prices this year, Ryan is sitting on deposits potentially worth billions of dollars. He owns 35,000 claims, which he options off to other prospectors and junior mining companies, giving them access to his properties.

He emphasizes he is not your 19th century gold prospector hoping to get lucky overnight. “The day of being a prospector coming out with a rock in your hand and getting a quick deal is pretty well over,” he says. “It’s all science now.”

“Nobody believed there were these big gold deposits in the Yukon, but we persevered,” says Ryan. “I worked on some projects for five or six years.”

In 2002, Ryan started his soil sampling programs using GPS; he believes a successful gold prospector needs a large data base “to get the big picture” before drilling starts. “Soil geochemistry is our primary exploration tool,” he explains. “Ten years ago, 300 or 400 soil samples were a lot of soils for a company. We’re aiming for185,000 soils this summer. Our business is still in a rush to drill too quickly. It’s like playing pool. You have to set up your shots,” he adds.

“We’ve already seen about a six-fold increase in staked claims in two years,” Ryan says. “In 2002, two million dollars was spent on exploration, and $250 million will be spent this year.”

In recognition of his achievements, Ryan was named the 2010 Prospector of the Year by the BC/Yukon Chamber of Mines. This year, he received the Prospector’s & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Bill Dennis award for prospecting success with a Canadian discovery.

Ryan gives much credit to his wife’s encouragement, research efforts and negotiation skills. “Cathy was my biggest supporter and partner,” he says. “She was the people person and I was the bush person.” 

– R. Andrews | Photo courtesy of Cathy Wood

Doing it right – from the ground on down

Presented with a challenge, Noront Resources has shown itself willing to try novel solutions. The exploration company's polymetallic deposits in the Ring of Fire of Northern Ontario have already provided it with numerous opportunities for innovation, both technical and social.

Some of that innovation was on display at the 2011 PDAC event in Toronto, where curious conference-goers visited Noront's booth to see the 3D ore body models it had commissioned for easy visualizing. Other bright ideas appear in the Eagle's Nest project description. For example, Noront's deposits are located under wetlands, rendering it difficult to find enough dry ground for a traditional milling circuit. The company instead plans to build an underground mill, as studies to date suggest that is a more cost-effective alternative than surface construction.

Going underground has the added benefit of reducing the mine's environmental footprint and preserving the traditional lands of local Aboriginal communities. Noront's leadership has committed to responsible development from the start.

CEO Wes Hanson points out that Aboriginal communities are struggling to survive, even with the available government support. Noront’s objective is to work with local communities to identify jobs and sustainable business opportunities that future development of the region will introduce, allowing the communities to benefit directly.

Noront's first priority is working with stakeholders to assess their needs. "We want to develop a model program for community consultation," says Hanson. The company employs a First Nations advisory panel and meets often with the communities in the region. Noront has also gone the social media route, building a website with social networking functions in order to facilitate information sharing and dialogue. With the project still in the planning stages, Noront's power to act remains limited, but it aims to eventually support and encourage education among young people in the Ring of Fire.

According to Hanson, feedback through these channels has been largely positive. The Marten Falls First Nation staged two blockades in 2010 and 2011 to protest a general lack of consultation in Ring of Fire exploration activities, but Noront was not named as a chief offender. Hanson reports that Noront received support from other First Nations communities, including individuals working for the company. Currently, 22 per cent of Noront’s workforce is self-identified First Nations.

The incidents do illustrate the challenges of earning community trust, however. Hanson believes working with Aboriginal groups requires hard work. "People understand the environmental impact of mining," he explains, "and they have experienced previous mining operations that promised benefits, but left communities worse off, not better. There are many instances where First Nations felt ignored. They now have a sense of wariness and, as a result, have adopted a cautious approach focused on establishing the correct relationship at the onset. That's one of the reasons we've chosen this very upfront approach." 

– E. Moore

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