A century of Premier northern BC mining
100 years after the first large mine, a new gold rush emerges
Last updated 3/1/2019 at 4:54am
In 1918, the Premier gold mine opened a few miles north of Stewart, a mining town that is the southern gateway to British Columbia's famed Golden Triangle. Over the ensuing 34 years, this underground operation churned out some 2 million ounces of gold and 45 million oz of silver, making it the largest gold producer in North America during that era.
A century later, Premier continues to be in play and modern exploration is unveiling the vast mineral potential that northern British Columbia has to offer. Not only the gold, silver and copper renowned in the Golden Triangle of northern B.C., but also zinc, lead, nickel and cobalt farther east.
With these new discoveries, along with paved roads and industrial-grade hydroelectric power delivered via the Northwest Transmission Line, northern B.C. is experiencing a renaissance in mineral exploration and mine development that harkens back to gold rushes at the end of the 19th Century and the Premier mining that took place at the dawn of the 20th.
While the original Premier Mine closed in 1952, a more modern operation since has been established on this prolific gold-silver property.
Today, Ascot Resources Ltd. hopes to use the mill, assay lab, crusher, tailing storage area and underground workings established by Westin Resources during its operation of Premier from 1991 until 2001.
"Our principal business objective is to maximize the utilization of the existing infrastructure, specifically with regard to the mill throughput of up to 3,000 tonnes (metric tons) per day," said Ascot Resources President and CEO Derek White.
Ascot believes the resumption of underground mining with a focus on higher-grade resources is the most efficient way to begin the next chapter of mining at Premier.
This strategy is reflected in a maiden high-grade resource for Premier-Northern Lights, which is located at and adjacent to the historical mine areas in the southern part of the property.
Premier-Northern Lights hosts 1.21 million metric tons of indicated resource averaging 7.02 grams per metric ton (273,000 oz) gold and 30.6 g/t (1.19 million oz) silver; and 1.64 million metric tons of inferred resource averaging 6.01 g/t (317,000 oz) gold and 24.9 g/t (1.31 million oz) silver.
"This resource will be the first step in a series of resource developments, which we believe will add significant ounces with each resource update," said White.
The explorer is unveiling these developments with a 45,000-meter drill program this year that is targeting high-grade zones at Premier-Northern Lights and Big Missouri, an area about 5,000 meters to the north.
In a move that will likely add to the resources available for the Premier mill, Ascot cut a deal in August to acquire Silver Coin, an advanced stage, gold-silver property about 800 meters west of Big Missouri.
The high-grade core of Silver Coin hosts 702,000 metric tons of indicated resource grading 4.46 g/t (100,660 ounces) gold and 967,000 metric tons of inferred resource grading 4.39 g/t (136,480 oz) gold.
"Material from the Silver Coin property was successfully mined and processed in the early 1990s at the Premier mill," said White. "The project's proximity to Ascot's infrastructure and the identical metallurgical characteristics create key synergies with Ascot's existing resources."
Ascot is not the only company looking at developing a mine a few miles from Stewart. IDM Mining Ltd. is wrapping up permitting for its Red Mountain gold-silver project about nine miles (15 kilometers) northeast of the mining town.
A feasibility study completed in 2017 outlines plans for a 1,000-metric-ton-per-day operation that is expected to average roughly 78,000 oz of gold per year over an initial six-year mine-life.
The study identified several areas to enhance the proposed Red Mountain Mine.
An updated feasibility study and the provincial and federal environmental assessment processes for developing a gold-silver mine at Red Mountain are nearly complete.
"Our vision for BC's next high-grade bulk underground gold mine is another step closer. We believe that the proposed low-footprint Red Mountain operation will have obvious benefits to my hometown of Stewart, to Nisga'a citizens and to residents throughout northwestern BC," said IDM Mining President and CEO Robert McLeod.
As Ascot and IDM Mining are looking toward mining on the outskirts of Stewart, StrikePoint Gold Inc. is exploring for the next generation of mines at Porter Idaho, a historic high-grade silver mining property that lies even closer to town.
Located about three kilometers (two miles) southeast of Stewart, Porter Idaho hosts the historic Silverado and Prosperity-Porter Idaho mines, silver-rich vein systems situated about 2,000 meters apart.
According to a resource estimate prepared for Mount Rainey Silver in 2012, Porter Idaho has 394,700 metric tons of indicated resource averaging 868 g/t silver (11 million oz) silver; and 88,900 metric tons of inferred resources grading 595 g/t (1.7 million oz) silver.
StrikePoint said recent glacial retreat has exposed the ground between this high-grade resource and the historic Idaho Mine on opposite sides of Mount Rainey and provide the first opportunity to explore for a connection between the two deposits.
StrikePoint, which closed a deal in July to acquire full ownership of Porter Idaho, said its initial work on the historic property will focus on bridging these high-grade silver zones through a combination of mapping and drilling.
High-grade south of Stewart
Roughly 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Stewart, Dolly Varden Silver Corp. is expanding zones of very high-grade silver on another property that hosted an exciting mine at the dawn of the 20th Century.
Discovered in 1910, the Dolly Varden property produced roughly 20 million oz of silver from 1919 until 1958 – 1.5 million oz from Dolly Varden Mine ore that averaged 35.7 oz/ton silver and 18.5 million oz from Torbit Mine ore that averaged 13.58 oz/t silver.
In 2015, Dolly Varden published a maiden indicated resource of 3.07 million metric tons averaging 321.6 g/t (31.8 million oz) silver in four zones associated with historic mining on the property – Dolly Varden, North Star, Torbrit and Wolf.
This year, Dolly Varden is conducting a 25,000-meter drill program focused primarily on expanding the property's high-grade silver resource.
"The 2018 exploration program will be larger than last year's program and is divided 80 percent for mineral resource purposes and 20 percent for exploration in this highly prospective mineral camp," said Dolly Varden President and CEO Gary Cope.
The exploration portion of the program includes investigating a gold belt that extends from Auryn Resources Inc.'s Homestake Ridge gold-silver property immediately to the northwest.
For its part, Auryn Resources completed roughly 3,000 meters of drilling this year at Homestake Ridge, a high-grade gold project it acquired in 2016.
The three main deposits at Homestake Ridge – Homestake, Homestake Silver and South Reef –host 604,000 metric tons of indicated resource averaging 6.4 g/t (124,000 oz) gold; 48.3 g/t (939,000 oz) silver; and 0.18 percent (2.4 million lb) copper. These zones host another 6.77 million metric tons of inferred resource averaging 4.2 g/t (911,000 oz) gold; 93.6 g/t (20.37 million oz) silver; and 0.11 percent (16.3 million lb) copper.
Auryn's 2017 drill program outlined the geometry of high-grade mineralization at the South Reef zone and discovered an emerging parallel high-grade structure (Upper zone) 175 meters to the north.
The goal of this year's program, which got underway on Aug. 7, is to significantly expand the high-grade mineralization found at South Reef.
"The high-grade resource at the Homestake Ridge project has an exceptional opportunity for expansion along the South Reef mineralized corridor," said Auryn Resources COO Michael Henrichsen.
Auryn plans to incorporate the results from its exploration into a preliminary economic assessment for the high-grade precious metals project in B.C.'s Golden Triangle.
Hecla, which owns a 12 percent equity interest in Dolly Varden (the company), continues to explore Kinskuch, a silver property near the Dolly Varden property.
Three holes drilled at Kinskuch in 2011 cut significant widths of high-grade silver mineralization, including a 2.8-meter interval averaging 318 g/t silver, 0.40 g/t gold, 6.5 percent zinc and 2.2 percent lead.
Hecla, which acquired Kinskuch in 2016, has completed drill programs on the property during the past two seasons but did not reported assay results from this work.
North to Golden Triangle
North from Stewart, the heart of the Golden Triangle boasts one new high-grade gold mine and a bevy of exciting gold and copper exploration projects that could follow it into production in the coming years.
Pretium Resources' Brucejack Mine began commercial operation in mid-2017. While start-up went smoothly, gold grades of the ore from the Valley of the Kings deposit were lower than expected.
To rectify this, Pretium implemented a grade-control program that reduced dilution and optimized grade to the mill.
The success of this work is reflected in the 111,340 oz produced at Brucejack during the second quarter from 236,990 metric tons (2,604 metric tons per day) of ore that averaged 14.9 g/t gold.
As the Brucejack mill was churning out more than 1,200 oz of gold per day, drills were testing eastern extensions of Valley of the Kings with two long underground holes drilled to beneath Flow Dome, a gold zone about 1,000 meters east.
Surface drilling encountered bonanza grade gold at Flow Dome in 2015, including 2.05 meters of 2,100 g/t (67.52 oz/t) gold.
The two holes drilled this year identified Brucejack-style mineralization in several locations, indicating that Flow Dome represents an extension of the Valley of the Kings deposit, as well as copper and gold mineralization that hint that a porphyry deposit like those found at the nearby KSM project could be lurking at depth.
Pretium also carried out a 1,500-meter regional exploration drill program at Brucejack this summer.
Immediately northwest of Brucejack, Seabridge Gold Corp. continues to expand the enormous porphyry deposits on its KSM property.
Four zones at KSM – Kerr, Sulphurets, Mitchell and Iron Cap – host 2.2 billion metric tons of proven and probable reserves averaging 0.55 grams per metric ton (38.8 million ounces) gold, 0.21 percent (10.2 billion pounds) copper, 2.6 g/t (183 million oz) silver, and 42.6 parts-per-million (207 million lbs.) molybdenum.
These reserves support a 53-year mine that would average 540,000 oz gold, 156 million lbs. copper, 2.2 million oz silver, and 1.2 million lbs. molybdenum annually, according to a prefeasibility study published in 2016.
Despite the project's world-class stature, Seabridge continues to find high-quality extensions to the porphyry copper-gold deposits found there.
This year's C$19.7 million exploration program at KSM focused on Iron Cap, a zone with potential gold grades and size to change the entire KSM mine-plan.
"This year's exploration program at KSM will follow up on the tremendous success we achieved last year at KSM's Iron Cap deposit where inferred gold resources increased by 302 percent, to 20 million ounces, and inferred copper resources increased by 379 percent, to 8.6 billion pounds," said Seabridge Chairman and CEO Rudi Fronk.
Seabridge said its geological model for Iron Cap suggests this deposit is likely to get much bigger.
Golden Iskut district
Roughly 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of KSM, Seabridge returned this year a second round of drilling at Quartz Rise, a high-grade gold target on the company's Iskut project.
Seabridge's 2017 drill program, the first ever at Quartz Rise, cut several narrow, discontinuous intervals of high-grade gold. While this drilling confirmed Seabridge's concept, it may not have been oriented correctly to encounter the targeted zone.
A subsequent 3D induced polarization geophysical survey, together with detailed geological mapping and sampling of available rock faces is helping to target 3,000 meters of drilling, a program that could grow with promising results.
Just northeast of Quartz Rise, Skeena Resources Ltd. is carrying out some 11,000 meters of underground drilling at Snip.
The historic underground mine at Snip, which Barrick Gold operated from 1991 to 1999, produced 1.1 million ounces of gold from 1.25 million metric tons of ore averaging 27.5 g/t gold.
Building upon the data gathered from 62 underground holes drilled in 2017, this year's program is designed to further delineate areas of known mineralization and expand newly modeled zones via widely spaced exploratory drill step outs.
The company is pleased with the gold zones encountered this year.
"The respectable grades and widths that we are delineating in the phase II program should be amenable to underground mining scenarios that historically would have been below the necessary cut-off grade," said Skeena Vice President of Exploration Paul Geddes.
Late in 2017, Skeena cut a deal to buy all of Barrick's interest in Eskay Creek, another historic mine property about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Snip.
Discovered in 1988, the former Eskay Creek mine produced roughly 3.3 million ounces of gold and 160 million oz of silver at average grades of 45 grams per metric ton gold and 2,224 g/t, which at the time made it the world's highest-grade gold mine and fifth-largest silver mine by volume.
In August, Skeena began an exploration and definition drill program at Eskay Creek.
"The project has been dormant since 2008, and we see an opportunity to identify a substantial resource that was left unmined due to lower historical metal prices and higher historical operating costs, relative to today. In addition, we believe that the potential exists for meaningful base metal credits, which were largely ignored by previous operators," said Skeena President and CEO Walter Coles.
Colorado Resources continues to explore KSP, an expansive gold property that lies about midway between Snip and Eskay Creek.
The roughly 4,500-meter drill program carried out this year at KSP tested for high-grade gold and zinc-rich massive sulfides.
The first hole of the 2018 program cut four high-grade zones at North Boundary: 13 meters of 3.9 g/t gold, 4 g/t silver and 0.62 percent copper from 61 meters; 4 meters of 22 g/t gold, 22.4 g/t silver and 0.17 percent copper from 84 meters; 10 meters of 38.7 g/t gold, 2.9 g/t silver, 0.09 percent copper from 114 meters; and six meter of 8.2 g/t gold, 1.4 g/t silver and 0.11 percent copper from 183 meters.
"The high-grade gold and base metal values in the first hole of the 2018 drill program have far exceeded our expectations and confirm the presence of a robust and strong mineralizing system at the recently discovered North Boundary zone," said Aben Resources President and CEO Jim Pettit.
Aben's 2018 drilling also discovered South Boundary, a prominent gold-copper soil geochemical anomaly about 1,500 meters south of North Boundary.
A significant August financing is funding an expanded drill program at Forrest Kerr.
The northern half of the Golden Triangle is known for its large copper-gold porphyry deposits such as Galore Creek, Schaft Creek and potentially Tatogga.
One of the biggest developments in the Golden Triangle this year was Newmont Mining Corp.'s acquisition of Novagold Resources Inc.'s 50 percent stake in Galore Creek. The global gold miner agreed to pay Novagold up to US$275 million for this world-class copper asset in payments spread out until a decision is made to develop a mine at the huge copper-gold project.
A feasibility study completed in 2011 envisioned a mine at Galore Creek producing 6.2 billion lb of copper over an 18-year span, which would rank it as the largest copper operation in Canada.
Crediting the value of the 4 million oz of gold and 65.8 million oz of silver also forecast to be recovered over that mine-life, Galore Creek also would be the lowest cost copper producer in the country.
Newmont and Teck Resources Ltd., which owns the other half of Galore Creek, plan to invest a combined US$20 million to US$30 million annually to carry out the work needed to complete an updated prefeasibility study for the world-class copper project.
"Partnering with Teck allows us to bring both organizations' considerable technical, financial and sustainability strengths to bear in evaluating and refining development plans for Galore Creek, and to build on the strong relationships Teck has established with the Tahltan First Nation and British Columbia," said Newmont President and CEO Gary Goldberg.
About 35 kilometers (22 miles) northwest of Galore Creek, Teck (75 percent) and JV partner Copper Fox Metals Inc. (25 percent) are incrementally advancing the Schaft Creek copper-gold project.
A 2013 feasibility study outlined a 130,000-metric-ton-per-day open-pit mine operating for 21 years at Schaft Creek based on proven and probable reserves of 940.8 million metric tons averaging 0.27 percent copper, 0.19 g/t gold, 0.018 percent molybdenum and 1.72 g/t silver.
The 2018 program at Schaft Creek continued desktop engineering and trade-off studies; ongoing environmental baseline data collection; and permitting-social engagement activities.
While Galore Creek and Schaft Creek are nearing the development phase, GT Gold Corp. is expanding Saddle South, the high-grade gold discovery it made at Tatogga, and is beginning to explore the porphyry copper-gold potential across the wider Tatogga property in the northern reaches of the Golden Triangle.
GT Gold's 16,000-meter discovery drill program in 2017 primarily focused on the Saddle South discovery.
Highlights from this drilling include: 51.53 g/t gold and 117.38 g/t silver; 12.2 meters of 14.75 g/t gold; 3.4 meters of 48.85 g/t gold; 8.3 meters of 20.02 g/t gold; and three meters averaging 31.79 g/t gold and 1,141 g/t silver.
Late in the 2017 season, the company tapped Saddle North, a parallel copper-gold-silver porphyry system about 1,000 meters to the northeast.
The Saddle North reconnaissance hole TTD062 cut 210.5 meters averaging 0.14 g/t gold, 0.28 g/t silver, and 0.16 percent copper.
GT Gold is drilling both Saddle discoveries this year with the goal of publishing a maiden resource early in 2019.
Beyond Golden Triangle
Not everything that glimmers in northern B.C. is found within the Golden Triangle. To the north of this famed region, Coeur Mining Inc. is expanding high-grade silver at its newly acquired Silvertip Mine and to the east, explorers are expanding rich deposits of zinc, nickel, cobalt and copper.
Toward the end of 2017, Coeur agreed to pay US$250 million to acquire Silvertip, a newly built mine just a few miles south of the Yukon border.
With six rigs turning on the property, Coeur had completed 44,500 meters of drilling by mid-2018 that has tapped silver mineralization with grades and thickness that exceeded expectations.
"Results from exploration at Silvertip during the first half of 2018 have demonstrated both the quality of the known resource and the strong potential for significant mine life extensions," said Coeur President and CEO Mitchell Krebs.
Given the success of the initial program, Coeur has budgeted US$4 million for a second phase of drilling, focusing on expanding resources and testing prospective targets across the 93,000-acre (37,650 hectares) land package at Silvertip.
Coeur is ramping up production at Silvertip. This work began in March with the goal of achieving 750 metric tons per day by the end of 2018.
While Coeur did not report metal recoveries at Silvertip during the second quarter, the company anticipates the mine will produce 1.5 million to 2 million oz silver, along with 23 million to 28 million pounds of both zinc and lead this year.
An updated resource model with a maiden reserve estimate is slated for completion this year.
ZincX Resources Corp. (formerly Canada Zinc Metals) continues to explore its zinc-lead-silver properties that cover a 140-kilometer (85 miles) stretch of the Kechika SEDEX (sedimentary exhalative) belt in northeastern British Columbia.
The work is primarily focused on Cardiac Creek, a zinc-lead deposit on the Akie property, one of 11 claim blocks that make up the company's larger land package.
In June, ZincX published a preliminary economic assessment for Cardiac Creek that envisions a 3,000-metric-ton-per-day mill, producing 3.27 billion lb of zinc and 362 million lb of lead over an initial 18-year mine life.
With the PEA in-hand, ZincX is working with advisors to determine the most cost-effective and efficient development of the Cardiac Creek deposit.
"We are delighted with the strong results of the PEA and intend to now move to advance the project through feasibility, permitting and towards production," said ZincX President and CEO Peeyush Varshney.
Giga Metals Corp. (formerly Hard Creek Metals Corp.) is focused on getting its Turnagain nickel-cobalt project in north-central British Columbia ready for production.
"Our goal is to have the project shovel-ready by 2021," said Giga Metals CEO Mark Jarvis.
This goal got a boost from Cobalt 27 Capital Corp., which paid Giga Metals roughly US$7.8 million in cash and Cobalt 27 shares (considering the value of the Cobalt 27 shares at the time) in exchange for a 2 percent net smelter return royalty on all future metal production from Turnagain.
A resource calculated in 2011 outlines 865 million metric tons of measured and indicated resources at Turnagain averaging 0.21 percent (4 billion lb) nickel and 0.013 percent (250 million lb) cobalt; plus 976 million metric tons of inferred resource averaging 0.2 (4 billion lb) nickel and 0.013 (280 million lb) cobalt.
A 9,600-meter drill program carried out this year tested several "high impact" exploration targets and is providing data to support the pre-feasibility study for this battery metals deposit.
South of Turnagain, Kutcho Copper is advancing its namesake property toward feasibility.
A prefeasibility study prepared for Kutcho Copper at the time of the acquisition outlines a mine that would produce 378 million lb of copper and 473 million lb of zinc, plus by-product gold and silver, over 12 years of production.
In preparation for a feasibility study expected to be completed in 2019, the 2018 program includes additional geotechnical work on the deposits; a drill program to upgrade a portion of the inferred mineral resources; additional metallurgical test work; and environmental baseline studies.
Kutcho Copper is just another example of the next generation of premier mines being envisioned for northern British Columbia, one of the richest and fastest growing mining regions in the world.