North

2017 brought cash, more big names and good news to Yukon miners

Several of the biggest gold producers in the world have a staked a claim on Yukon's mineral wealth. That's bringing cash and credibility to the territory.

Several of the biggest gold producers in the world have a staked a claim on Yukon's mineral wealth

From left, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, Victoria Gold president John McConnell and Na-Cho Nyak Dun Chief Simon Mervyn at a ceremony in August, to mark the start of construction of the Eagle Gold Mine north of Mayo. The construction work accounted for a big spike in mine development spending in Yukon in 2017. (AMP Alistair Maitland Photography)

People in Yukon's mining industry are optimistic about the future after increased spending and other developments over the past year.

Companies spent about $90 million on mineral exploration in the territory in 2017, according to Scott Casselman, the territorial government's head of mineral services. That's up 57 per cent from 2016, he said.

Spending on mines in the development stage was $68 million — mostly at Victoria Gold's Eagle Gold mine north of Mayo — up from $8 million in 2016.

Scott Casselman, head of mineral services for the Yukon government, says the slide in mineral exploration expenditures reversed this year with a 57 per cent rise in spending. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Casselman said as of early November, placer miners had reported production of 67,000 ounces of gold, worth $87 million.

Majors bring cash and stability

"You know, I think in general it's nice to see we've stopped that downward slide over the last few years. We've started the uptick, and hopefully we can continue on with that," said Casselman.

"It's attributable primarily to the interest of the major mining companies that have come into the territory, over this year and last."

The trend began in 2016 with Goldcorp buying Kaminak's Coffee property south of Dawson City. Other major producers followed, including Agnico Eagle Mines in late 2016, and Newmont Mining and Barrick Gold in 2017.

Kinross is also showing renewed interest in the territory. It's among the biggest gold producers in the world, and its interest in the territory attracts other mining companies as well as cash and stability, said Casselman.

Roads, roads, roads

The mining industry enthusiastically welcomed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's announcement in September promising millions of dollars in funding for new and upgraded mining roads in the territory.

The federal and territorial governments have pledged up to $360 million for the project.

Dawson City, Yukon-based Ground Truth Exploration workers last spring preparing for the 2017 season. Most of their work was in the White Gold district south of Dawson City. (Dave Croft)

Much of that is targeted for an area south of Dawson City known as the White Gold district. White Gold Corp owns almost 20,000 claims in the area, many, if not all, originally staked by prospector Shawn Ryan.

Ryan is also the company's technical director.

"And that's what's been really nice about the government sponsoring this new road program — it'll actually go through the heart of all that area," said Ryan.

He said roads will allow companies to develop gold deposits not rich enough to support a stand-alone mine, but viable when several of them feed a single mill.

Trudeau's announcement was panned by others, however, who questioned environmental risks associated with mining roads and spending public money to benefit mining companies.

Peel decision and indecision

The Supreme Court of Canada's decision on the Peel River watershed land use plan, issued in December, could have a far-reaching impact on the mining industry.

The court upheld Yukon land claim agreements and as a consequence, the territorial government has a duty to work in good faith with First Nations on drafting land use plans for the territory.

A crowd of people gathered at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre in Whitehorse on Dec. 1, to watch an Ottawa news conference, after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on the Peel watershed planning case. (Dave Croft/CBC)

The decision was celebrated by many in the territory as a victory for protecting wilderness areas. Others saw it as bringing more certainty for resource development companies.

Ryan, however, sees more discord ahead. The Peel watershed was only the second Yukon region to go through the planning process.

There are potentially eight more regions to go, and Ryan worries that each could turn into a divisive and costly battle that ends with more land removed from mineral staking.

Prospector Shawn Ryan is technical director for White Gold Corp. The company owns almost 20,000 mining claims south of Dawson City. (Dave Croft/CBC)

A better way, he said, would have been to decide at once which areas of the territory should be protected, and then move on from there.

"We didn't sit back as a society and say, 'well, we want to protect, and let's make it kind of even to each ecosystem or whatever.' But we haven't travelled that route. We've been kind of reacting instead of thinking as a whole here," said Ryan.

About the Author

Dave Croft

Reporter, CBC North

Dave Croft is a reporter in the CBC Yukon newsroom in Whitehorse. He has been been covering Yukon stories since 1990.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now