2018 was a promising year for Yukon's mining sector
'There's mines being built, and the next mines being found,' says territory's mines minister
Despite the closure of its last operational hard-rock mine in October, early indicators suggest 2018 was a promising year for Yukon's mining sector. The prospect of three new mines on the not-so-distant horizon has attracted some of the biggest players in the game to the territory.
A recent report from the Conference Board of Canada points to Yukon's mining sector as getting ready for another boom period — though nothing is written in stone just yet.
The board predicts Yukon will have the fastest growing economy in Canada in the next few years, but that forecast is also based on the expectation that all three proposed mines (Eagle, Coffee, and Casino) eventually go into production.
Victoria Gold broke ground at its Eagle mine site near Mayo in August 2017 and the company says it's on track to be the largest gold mine in Yukon history. Eagle's expenditures account for a significant portion of the increase in mine development spending in 2018. It currently employs 250 people and could potentially employ another 150 workers when in full swing.
Eagle is fully permitted and has completed the environmental assessment process, and the company has an agreement with the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation. Eagle is expected to pour its first bar of gold this fall.
The Conference Board expects the project to bump Yukon's mining output by almost 40 per cent next year and reach peak production by 2021.
Goldcorp recently reached an agreement with the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation over the company's Coffee mine project. Goldcorp plans to upgrade site infrastructure this year, complete permitting and break ground next year, and enter commercial production by 2021.
Coffee will benefit from the Yukon Resource Gateway Project, a pool of funding from private industry as well as the territorial and federal governments. The project has allocated $360 million to developing roads in the area around the mine.
Western Copper and Gold owns the Casino mine project, which is still several years away from construction and would take about $2.5 billion to get to production.
The company says the mine will produce mainly gold and copper, would be operational for roughly 22 years, and could employ up to 1,000 people at peak production. The proposed site is enormous, features a controversial dam, and could double Yukon's total gold production.
The Casino project still needs an environmental assessment. The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) has sent the project for its highest level of review, citing concerns about tailings, waste management, and impacts on caribou.
The Conference Board says the three mines would contribute roughly $3 billion in capital expenditures to the Yukon.
While mineral production was down in 2018 because of the closure of the Minto mine, exploration spending was up.
Natural Resources Canada estimates Yukon's spending for exploration grew to $250 million last year, up from $168 million invested in 2017 (estimates for 2018 are based on spending intentions submitted by mining companies and won't be verified for a few months).
Ranj Pillai, Yukon's Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources says it would be the second highest amount ever invested into exploration in the territory's history.
The Conference Board also says placer mining did well in 2018, with roughly 70,000 crude ounces of gold produced, and about $95 million contributed to the annual value of mineral production.
Pillai says it's an exciting time for the industry.
"There's mines being built, and the next mines being found," he said.
Pillai points to the Eagle project as a sign of good things yet to come, saying it has "led to a tremendous amount of economic development and growth in our communities."
Still, Pillai says it's important that exploration continues in Yukon, for the mining industry to remain stable. He believes that billions of dollars in potential investment is now being pulled into new sectors, like cannabis.
There are also some concerns about whether Yukon has the infrastructure to sustain an economic boom.
Samson Hartland, executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, says the potential economic benefits from the three proposed mines are evident. He cites the Alaska Highway, Whitehorse dam and the Mount McIntyre ski facility as tangible legacies of earlier mining boom periods.
But Hartland says there need to be affordable places to live if there's any hope of attracting new workers to the territory.
"Housing is the number one issue and it needs to be addressed," Hartland says.