Business

Surging gold price brings new life to old mines

Many long-abandoned gold mines in northern Ontario have been getting a whole new chance to shine, thanks to record gold prices.

Many long-abandoned gold mines in northern Ontario have been getting a whole new chance to shine, thanks to record gold prices.

Workers prepare an underground gold mine that's getting a second life near Matachewan, Ont. ((Havard Gould/CBC) )

The new gold rush has given a well-paying job to 19-year-old Melissa Gilbert, who now works helping to develop and reopen a mine that was shut down long before she was born.

"I hope to retire here in 25 years," she said from the cab of a massive mining machine at the Northgate Minerals Corp. mine that's being brought back to life near Matachewan.

Northgate Minerals is resurrecting what used to be known as the Matachewan Consolidated mine — a project that closed two generations ago.

"They say that the best place to look for new gold is where they found old gold," said Northgate's Andrew Cormier.

$1,350 US gold

The same story is being played out across northern Ontario's gold belt. With gold futures north of $1,350 US an ounce, the new economics of gold mining have meant that mine reopenings are the new reality.

In Kirkland Lake, for instance, five mines that had been closed just a few years ago are all open now and are being folded into one big operation.

"We don't know how big we can make this thing, but we are going to make it as big as we can," said Mark Tessier of Kirkland Lake Gold Inc.

A truck leaves the Northgate Minerals gold mining project near Matachewan, Ont. ((Havard Gould/CBC))

The new gold rush has given a huge boost to many local businesses. A motel operator said she sometimes turns away 30 or 40 would-be customers a night as mining contractors pour into town. A maker of explosives for the mining industry reports his company now takes in more money in a week than it used to in a year.

While the main street of Kirkland Lake still features its share of boarded-up stores — legacies of mining's familiar boom and bust cycle — locals hope this latest gold rush will have enough staying power to deliver a few nuggets of prosperity to an area that could use it.

But that all hinges on whether the price of gold stays at its lofty perch — or slides back as it did following gold's last great rise and fall in the late 1970s and early '80s.

For now at least, Kirkland Lake is facing a worry they haven't had to contend with for quite a while — whether they'll have enough qualified miners to meet all the demand.

With files from the CBC's Havard Gould

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