But the paperwork was getting out of hand.
“I’m just a one-man operation,” said English in an interview from his home in Souris, Manitoba. “My wife helps me with the books, but when you start getting thousands of claim units, it’s too much for one person.”
English extricated himself from the clerical burden by selling most of his portfolio to Rubicon Minerals Corporation.
“I saw it as a win-win situation,” he said. “They would generate cash from the option payments (he had 90 option agreements on the go when he did the deal) and pay me so much per month to look after opportunities for them and keep peddling properties.”
While his home is in Manitoba, English grew up in Red Lake and all of his properties are in northwestern Ontario.
He spent 18 years working as a surveyor and electrician for mines in the region before getting hooked on prospecting.
“I used to hang out at the Red Lake Inn where the real old prospectors used to go,” he recalled. “It was the only place in town where you could get the Globe and Mail. I’d listen to those guys talking and it got me interested.
“One day, one of the guys approached me looking for some money to help him stake some claims. He told me he’d give me half of the claims, so that’s what I did. I put up the money. We staked the claims and we sold them, so I thought this was pretty easy. It was a lucky shot, but it got me hooked.”
English prospected for six years on a part-time basis and, finally, decided to give up his weekly pay cheque and go full time.
“I’d been at the mine for a long time and, to be honest, I was fed up. I wasn’t enjoying my job. One day, I went home and discussed it with my wife, and she said, ‘Go ahead, quit,’ so I did.”
By that time, he had already acquired a lot of ground and had started to sell a lot of properties, so he was confident that he could make a good living at it.
“Business-wise, it was probably the best move I ever made.”
English has enthusiastically embraced computer technology.
“I live 450 miles from Red Lake, but I get up every morning and, before I even have a coffee, I’m on the computer. I check every claim that’s coming open in northwestern Ontario, and if it’s something I like, I’ll have guys ready to go stake it.
“We have areas where we know there’s good ground, but a lot of times the ground is tied up, so we’ll wait guys out. Sometimes, these companies – even majors – fall asleep at the wheel. They may even have a property with a small deposit on it, but they forget to get their paperwork in. They’re not paying attention, so the property comes open and we stake it.
“Sometimes you get a bad reputation for doing that, but you have to be Johnny-on-the-spot. That’s the way we do it.”
Other interesting opportunities come his way through a partner, Jerry Williamson, who works in the bush harvesting timber and building new logging roads.
“If Jerry sees something he likes, we’ll stake it.”
English, 57, also has a knack for seeing opportunities that wouldn’t register with anyone else.
For years, he stared at a pile of waste rock at the old Griffith Mine, a former iron ore mine in Red Lake.
“There were over 20 million yards of crushed rock there and I thought there must be a market for this. I was gonna stake it, but I got hold of the government and it turned out I had to apply for an aggregate permit. It took a year, but I got the rights to it for a fee of $200 a year.”
He sold some of the material last year to a company doing roadwork in the Red Lake area.
He and his partner also discovered a quartz deposit and subsequently sold it to someone who comes all the way up from Wisconsin, blasts it, trucks it to Red Lake Rd. and puts it on a train.
“He takes so many tonnes per year,” said English. “It’s really worked out well.”
While honoured to be named Prospector of the Year, English is quick to credit the many prospectors and geologists who showed him the ropes along the way.
“Guys like Brian Atkinson (a former resident geologist in Red Lake) and Jack Parker were great. They’d take me out on weekends or on their days off and show me things. There were a lot of other guys I learned a lot from – guys like Dave Adamson, Ewan Downie and Craig McDougall. Without their help, I would never have won this award.”