Boots on the ground spur mineral discoveries
Prospectors in need of a helping hand
By Frank Racicot
Many of the areas where mines have been found or mining companies are spending their exploration dollars were discovered by prospectors.
The diamond discovery in Wawa in the 1990s was made by a local prospector, Mickey Clement, who found some heavy, glassy looking ‘quartz fragments’ while panning for gold. Diamond exploration in the Wawa area accelerated after geologist Joan Barry of Sears Barry & Associates passed the ‘quartz fragments’ on to Ontario Geological Survey geologist Ron Sage, who in turn sent them to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto to officially confirm that they were actually diamonds.
Showings in the Hemlo area had been staked and re-staked by various prospectors over the decades, but it was eventually prospectors John Larche and Don McKinnon who finally staked the claims that led to a major staking rush and the establishment of several gold mines in the Hemlo area.
Borden Lake near Chapleau was brought to the attention of Probe Mines by two veteran prospectors, Mike Tremblay and Jack Robert. Interestingly, the area was brought to their attention by an older prospector who in turn knew about the showings in the area, quite possibly because of some old timer who was there before him.
It helps to have a prospecting attitude of breaking open lots of rocks or going over one more hill – as well as having an open mind and trying new things. For instance, there are several low tech, geophysical methods that can assist prospectors and geologists.
The beep mat is a valuable and proven tool that helps locate magnetic rocks or sulphides. Bob Komarechka, a geologist/prospector, once used it in the Timmins area to locate a large quartz vein in mafic volcanic rocks that was buried under several feet of overburden.
In the 1990s, geologist Don Sutherland initiated a prospecting program that used an old flux-gate magnetometer to look for diamond bearing rocks in the Wawa area. Because the flux gate mag only measures the vertical magnetic component, this technique helped uncover 24 lamprophyre dikes that summer. This technique was also used to ground truth Keating anomalies (potential kimberlites) in the winter in the Missanabie area.
VLF (Very Low Frequency) technology has been used in mineral exploration since the 1950s with some degree of success, however, Shaun Parent, president of Superior Exploration, has recently developed an algorithm to use in conjunction with ground VLF surveys. This allows for VLF data to interpret (not see) apparent resistivity down to depths of 150 metres. This is very timely and cost effective because cut grid lines and permits are not required. Harte Gold confirms that there is a very good correlation between the VLF (KH response) and IP chargeability anomalies.
It is not just prospectors who are part of the mineral exploration cycle. Promoters like Murray Pezim and geologist David Bell from Hemlo discovery days, junior exploration companies and bigger senior companies all play a role in the exploration process, but it is often the prospectors and grass root geologists who are the ‘boots on the ground’ that get things started.
Therefore, it makes sense to create an environment that encourages and promotes individual prospectors to go into the field to hunt for elusive minerals.
Currently, the Ontario Prospectors Association administers a prospecting grant program funded by the MNDM (Ministry of Northern Development and Mines) that used to be known as OPAP (Ontario Prospectors Assistance Program). While the existing grant program is similar to OPAP, it does not allow the prospector to pay himself or herself a minimum per diem. And in an attempt to be self-sustaining, the program maintains a one per cent royalty on the claims in the eventuality of a bona fide discovery. While this one per cent royalty can be bought back by the prospector (at a modest, escalating price), for some prospectors it’s a disincentive to use the program.
Perhaps with the new income that MNDM will generate due to higher recording fees for claims, now might be a good time to revamp the existing grant program by increasing the amount of the grant to $15,000, allowing a per diem of $200 for the prospector and either finding a way to encourage prospectors to accept the one per cent royalty holdback or removing it entirely.
The introduction of online staking was inevitable and has a variety of advantages, but many individuals got their start in mineral exploration by working as helpers staking claims in the bush. This is now a lost opportunity and current prospectors will suffer financially. Fewer boots on the ground will also impact the potential for new discoveries by claim stakers coming across old pits, quartz veins and even new sulphide or gold showings.
It therefore behooves the mining community, as well as the various levels of government, especially the provincial government, to make sure that prospectors get ‘a helping hand’ and not be left by the wayside.
Frank Racicot is a geologist and prospector based in Sudbury.