Thunder Bay·Video

Put the axe away: Claim staking now digital in Ontario

It's the end of an era for prospectors in Ontario who now have to use a keyboard, instead of an axe, to stake their mineral claims.

Century old practice phased out; staking now done digitally

The Bjorkman family (l to r) Karl, Veronique, Ruth, Matt and Jessica, standing behind the final manually staked claim near Atikokan, Ont. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

It's the end of an era for prospectors in Ontario who now have to use a keyboard, instead of an axe, to stake their mineral claims.

The century-old method of trekking through the bush of remote areas with an axe, compass and map is now a thing of the past. Mineral claims must now be done digitally, changing how prospectors will work in the winter.

"This is the last corner post for me for staking in Ontario," said Jessica Bjorkman, who sheared down a pine tree to mark the corner of a claim her father found years ago. Bjorkman, along with two of her sisters and her father, were re-staking the claim on Monday, the last day to do so.

"It's sad. I really enjoyed this job, and it's a really hard job, but it's really rewarding and you feel good at the end of the day."

The challenge of the job is obvious when you look at the terrain Bjorkman climbs through, usually on her own, to stake a claim.

The trees are close together, and there's no path. She's breaking trail for the entire day, getting snow down her collar when it gets shaken loose from trees.
Jessica Bjorkman shaves the bark off of a pine tree, to be used as a claim stake near Atikokan, Ont. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

And, watch out. The razor sharp axe is swung thousands of times a day to help cut trail, mark trail, and of course, ensure the claim is properly marked.

Bjorkman explains how the posts on the claim post must face north, south, east and west. Small plates acquired from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines are attached to each post, noting the claim number, and its location.

'Bit of an adventure'

The claim Bjorkman re-staked, along with her father Karl and sisters Ruth and Veronique, is close to Atikokan, Ont. Even getting to the claim is a challenge, driving on unplowed bush roads, and finding the right mileage marker to know where to park, and then find the existing stake in the bush.

"It's a bit of an adventure to go out and know you're going to be claiming a piece of land that's going to be yours," said Karl Bjorkman. He has prospected throughout northwestern Ontario and Canada for 25 years.

"Even today, we were out there, and it's cold. The snow's falling on you, and it's like, 'this is nice, you know.'"

"It's a sense of accomplishment. You're out there on the land, you've got your feet out on the ground instead of doing it by computer."

Karl Bjorkman said while he understands digital claim staking is how the industry is headed, there is an advantage to independent prospectors with the physical claim staking method.
Jessica Bjorkman stands beside the last claim she will physically stake in Ontario. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

"From a business side, the ability to have lots of land, rather cheaply, because you don't have to have deep pockets," he said. The new digital method is more expensive to register claims, than the method of physically driving stakes into the ground.

"You can go out and do your own work, and get it done," he said, referring to prospectors staking claims, and then attempting to sell them to mining companies.

All in the family

What made Monday so unique is how the Bjorkman's were able to re-stake a claim, together, for the last time. Karl's six children have all been involved in the prospecting business, with Jessica serving as the Vice President of the Northwestern Ontario Prospector's Association.
Karl and Jessica Bjorkman discuss how to re-stake their last claim on a snowy bush road near Atikokan, Ont. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

After driving his last stake into the ground, Karl Bjorkman said his best memory of his years of prospecting, was being able to share the experience with his children.

"Really good memories. Being able to work with my kids," he said.

"There's a lot of good people in this industry."

Bjorkman family stakes its last claim 1:37

About the Author

Jeff Walters


Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.


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