North·Feature

On track to become largest gold mine in Yukon history, Eagle project set for 1st pour

It’s been a busy 10 years of planning, financing, construction, but the open-pit operation is mere weeks away from melting gold into doré​​​​​​​ bars.

The mine, located near Mayo, will eventually employ 400 people

Once fully operational, the Eagle Gold project will employ about 400 workers, says John McConnell, president of Victoria Gold Corp. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

The Eagle Gold mine property is an industrial behemoth of heavy machines, buildings and workers hidden away in a obscure mining valley near Mayo, Yukon.

After two years of construction, the Victoria Gold Corp. project is on track to become the largest gold mine in Yukon's history.

"Building mines is not for the faint of heart, particularly in the North,'' said John McConnell, president of Victoria Gold Corp.

It's been a busy 10 years of planning, financing, and construction, but the open-pit operation is mere weeks away from melting gold into doré bars.

"My guys will tell you I'm a little too hands-on," said McConnell, who lives in Mayo when he's not away for work in B.C.

"I let the managers run the mine and I just look over their shoulders once in a while. I am a miner, I was born at a mine, so they have a hard time keeping me away. I'm not going to be the kind of CEO that sits in an office in Vancouver."

The site is about 85 kilometres from Mayo, Yukon, in an area called the Dublin Gulch property. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

It's an 85-kilometre drive from Mayo northeast to the mine site, past Elsa, an abandoned mining town. Every 10 kilometres, crews driving to and from the mine must report to a dispatch controller who monitors traffic in and out. 

A recently installed power line follows the road into the site, supplying electricity from the Mayo hydro dam.

The area is known as the Dublin Gulch property. Mining companies and prospectors have mined gold in the area for more than 100 years, but not at this scale. 

The site itself is located in a large valley, surrounded by mountains. Parked on the side of the road is one of two yellow Caterpillar 6040 shovels capable of moving 60,000 tonnes of rock a day.

The mine is filled with brand new equipment and trucks. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

From walking into the gold recovery room to seeing the massive new shovels, nicknamed Beauty and the Beast, the mine has a new-car-smell feeling to it. 

Using current gold prices, the $500-million mine is expected to pay for itself in just over two and a half years. It will be a significant economic contributor to the Yukon economy.

"We certainly will be the largest employer after the government, and probably the largest non-government employer," said McConnell. 

In the busy kitchen, camp cooks constantly prepare meals for the 200 workers. Others engineer detailed plans and run last-minute tests on the massive mining equipment that will churn out more than 200,000 ounces of gold per year.

Once fully operational, the mine will employ approximately 400 people full time. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Once the mine is fully operational, it will employ just under 400 people full time.

"We are very close," said McConnell.

The mine features a fly-in, fly-out camp with daily scheduled flights to and from Mayo, and many employees are in the process of moving their families to Mayo and Dawson City, according to McConnell. 

Getting ready to pour

The company has been hauling ore and crushing rock since early July. 

In order to extract the gold, the mine will use a heap leach gold recovery plant, where 80 per cent of the gold is recovered from a pad after 40 days, then the rest is recovered after 150 days. 

Some environmental groups say it's controversial technology, because if there are any leaks, cyanide could get into the groundwater.

McConnell said heap leach mining technology has been used in North America for the last 30 years, and there are protections in place at the site.

Four layers of leak-proof liners are installed in the containment area. There are also monitors to detect any leaks. 

"We take a very — in my case personal — effort towards protecting the environment," said McConnell. "I live here. This is in my backyard."

Hiring policy 

Na-Cho Nyak Dun Chief Simon Mervyn says his First Nation has worked with Victoria Gold for the past 10 years to hammer out a comprehensive benefits agreement. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Nearby Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation has been on board from the beginning, thanks to years of dialogue between both parties.

"It has taken us 10 years to come to a good comprehensive agreement with Victoria Gold and everything is in place with valued consultation with the First Nation and it's been really good," said Chief Simon Mervyn.

He and councillors from his First Nation toured the mine site earlier this summer, seeing for themselves firsthand the size of the operation.

"What really impressed me was they have simulators there so they can train right on the spot," said Mervyn, saying training was one of the benefit agreements his First Nation has with the mine. "They give us money for children in the school, they have programs set up."

Everyone who wants to work is working

The Eagle Gold project is aiming to do its first gold pour on Sept. 17. It will be livestreamed to the Denver Gold Forum. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Scott Bolton is the mayor of Mayo. He said approximately 48 people from Mayo are now employed at the mine.

"Everybody in town is working who wants to work," he said.

"The airport is getting renovated. We got five flights a week out there bringing people back and forth. Although the main purpose is serving the mine, the community gets the benefit of that service." 

For workers on rotation at the mine, McConnell says the two most important things he does to keep his crew happy is fast internet and good food.

He says they have both. 

On top of that, McConnell says he takes worker safety, protecting the environment and local hiring seriously.

The mine will pour its first bar of gold Sept. 17. The event will be livestreamed to the Denver Gold Forum.

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