Manitoba has ranked in the top 20 of the Fraser Institute’s annual list of the most attractive mining jurisdictions for 21 of the last 23 years, and has an exceptional mineral profile across an entire suite of metals — from copper, nickel, zinc and gold to diamonds, graphite and strategic minerals. Eighteen of the 31 minerals that Canada placed on its new list of critical minerals released at the PDAC Convention in March, are either being explored for or are being produced in the province.
“We know that the pre-Cambrian Shield is well-endowed with world-class deposits that have been mined for decades, however as we’ve talked about often, there’s large areas that were under-explored and these are areas that have a huge amount of potential for Tier-One discoveries,” Shastri Ramnath, the founding president and CEO of privately held Exiro Minerals Corp., told participants in The Northern Miner’s second-quarter Global Mining Symposium this week.
“Manitoba’s goal is to be the top most attractive mining jurisdiction on the planet and that’s what we’re going to be and that’s what’s going to happen,” Blaine Pedersen, the provincial government’s Minister of Agriculture and Resource Development, told Ramnath and his fellow panelists, Scott Parsons, vice-president exploration at Alamos Gold (TSX: AGI; NYSE: AGI); Felix Lee, president and CEO of Willeson Metals; and Don McCallum of the Marcel Colomb First Nation (Black Sturgeon) near Lynn Lake.
In addition to the province’s vast mineral wealth, it has an abundance of clean green renewable energy, Pedersen said, is strategically located in North America with road, rail and port connections, and recently the put $20 million into a provincial Mineral Development Fund to jumpstart mineral development initiatives. The government has also cut its provincial sales tax from 8% to 7%, the minister said, while reducing other taxes, despite the pandemic.
“Every government says they’re open for business but we want to show that we’re open for business and look to earn your investments,” he said. “In 2020 at PDAC, back when we could meet in person, I made a commitment to fix the permitting system and am very happy to say we now have a single window permitting service within the department, and we also have our First Nations Mineral Development Protocal.”
In addition, Manitoba has adopted a “concierge service” allowing companies to connect with the right services within the government, Pedersen said. “There’s more than just the permitting, there’s the infrastructure issues, and we can connect you with those needed departments in order to make your development go forward. We’ll continue to work with the industry and Manitoba Mining Liaison Committee to advance our mining industry, and we invite companies to come and have a look at what Manitoba has to offer.”
The minister added the government of Manitoba is looking forward to the Central Canada Mining Exploration Convention in November. “Mining is the right place to be right now and we welcome you to Manitoba to come here and make it happen,” he said.
Ramnath noted that many mining and exploration companies have been active in the province for many years, including some of the bigger names like Hudbay Minerals (TSX: HBM; NYSE: HBM), Vale (NYSE: VALE), Yamana Gold (TSX: YRI; NYSE: AUY; LSE: AUY), and Alamos Gold. The province is also buzzing with a bunch of junior companies like Rockcliff Metals (CSE: RCLF; US-OTC: RKCLF), 1911 Gold (TSXV: AUMB), CanAlaska Uranium (TSXV: CVV; US-OTC: CVVUF), and Voyageur Mineral Explorers (CSE: VOY). Ramnath’s own Orix Geoscience Inc., a consulting firm she co-founded in 2012 and still currently owns, is headquartered in Winnipeg, and partners with exploration and mining companies to provide front-end geological support.
Alamos Gold has worked in northern Manitoba for the last six years and is advancing its 100%-owned Lynn Lake project, just east of the town of Lynn Lake. The project, which it acquired in 2015, has two deposits—the MacLellan mine and the Gordon mine — and a feasibility study completed in December 2017 outlined a ten-year open-pit mine life with average production of 143,000 ounces of gold a year at all-in sustaining costs of US$745 per ounce. The company submitted its environmental impact study (EIS) in May 2020. If built, the mine will provide 400 full-time jobs, and contribute over $1 billion to the province’s GDP during the life of the project.
“For me as a geologist what I like most about Manitoba is the exploration potential,” says Alamos Gold’s vice president exploration, Scott Parsons, who has been running regional exploration programs in the Lynn Lake belt for the last three and a half years. “It’s under-explored compared to other jurisdictions.”
Parsons noted that since completing the feasibility study based on reserves of 1.6 million oz. gold, the company had delineated another 500,000 oz., bringing the project’s reserves to 2.1 million oz. by the end of 2020.
The 2021 summer drill program is about to start, he added, and will be looking at a number of greenfield targets across the belt. “There’s significant potential for new discoveries across the Lynn Lake greenstone belt,” he told the panel.
He also pointed to the high number of mineral belts in the province—from the world-class Thompson nickel belt, to gold deposits in multiple terrains; to the Rice Lake, FlinFlon, Stone Lake and Moon Rapids areas.
“I can say with really high levels of confidence as a geologist that there are other significant mineral deposits to be discovered in Manitoba,” he said, “and hopefully at Lynn Lake as well.”
Of course it’s not always easy finding them, however.
“One of the challenges if you look at exploring in the Canadian Shield,” he says, “and it’s no different whether you’re in northern Ontario or northern Manitoba in Lynn Lake, is that we are exploring in areas of extensive surficial cover, these are glacial deposits … so they are complex in terms of where they formed and where they came from. So needless to say, when you get prospective geology it doesn’t always equal an easy discovery … but what it does equal is allow you to use these surficial materials as a tool rather than a hindrance, and you’re going to have discoveries.”
Parsons also noted that the province has a competitive advantage when it comes to costs. “Manitoba is one of the lowest cost jurisdictions in Canada for green energy; it’s an extremely attractive proposition if you’re looking at developing a mining project.”
Operating in Manitoba like all provinces in Canada also means engaging early and often with local First Nations.
Don McCallum, a councillor for the Marcel Colomb First Nation, which has been working with Alamos, joined the panel from his band office in Lynn Lake and emphasized the importance of pre-engagement. “We would like to be informed, and have plans that benefit our First Nation, not just for a company to come in and go, and those are the things we can discuss,” he explained, adding that mining and exploration companies need to understand what the land claim agreements are in the areas they work in.
“We have our traditional territories and our traditional cultural areas,” he explained. “We have been nomadic for quite some time and use a lot of this land and the companies have to understand that — like where they are exploring for metals, they have to do minimal damage, and that’s something we need to discuss.”
Developing a resource management system and monitoring, McCallum said, was critical, “so our traditional lands are kept in pristine condition.”
He also underscored the importance of supporting endeavours that would benefit First Nations including training and employment with both mining and drilling companies, and “sharing with the First Nations the benefits that come” from mining and exploration work.
Felix Lee, president and CEO of privately held Willeson Metals, the latest junior to start working in Manitoba, told the panel that he has been exposed to a number of mining jurisdictions over the course of his 35-year career, and was excited to be back in Canada and in Manitoba in particular.
“It’s one of the great mining regions in the world — it has great geology and has enjoyed a very long history of exploration,” he said of the province. “It’s probably known to most people as a base metals area, but let’s not kid ourselves, there is gold in Manitoba.”
The junior explorer has four properties stretching a total of about 240 sq. km across some of the key structures that define the Lynn Lake greenstone belt, and Lee noted that securing that amount of land was remarkable. “It astonished me to be able to assemble such a large land position because it’s very hard to do,” he said. “That in itself speaks to how the province has been kind of overlooked in a way and gives you some sense of the opportunities that exist in the province.”