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Gold, silver lure pack to Yukon in 2022

Mineral exploration continues to rally with old and new players Mining Explorers 2022 - January 19, 2023

Though effects of the COVID-19 pandemic lingered, mineral explorers rushed to the Yukon like moths to a flame during 2022. Mining's most daring sector rallied to generate the busiest field season seen in Canada's westernmost territory in years.

In June, Natural Resources Canada projected mineral exploration and deposit appraisal spending in Yukon during 2022 to total C$157.9 million, up 14.5% from C$135.1 million estimated for 2021 and nearly double C$83.6 million in 2020. NRCAN's estimates are based on explorers' spending intentions.

At year-end 2021, the Government of Yukon estimated exploration spending in the territory would total C$184.5 million.

Companies long active in Yukon mineral exploration, along with a flurry of newcomers, fanned out across the territory's mountainous expanse in 2022, searching for everything from aurum to zinc. Some explorers followed up on productive 2021 exploration programs, while others mounted inaugural campaigns based on research and historical activity.

The value of hard rock metal production in 2021 climbed to about C$500 million in Yukon, rallying largely high metal prices and the ongoing ramp-up of production at Victoria Gold's Eagle Gold mine, the tenuous restart of mining at the Keno Hill Silver Mine, and ongoing output at the Minto copper-gold-silver mine.

Yukon placer gold output in 2021 totaled 77,695 crude ounces valued at roughly C$139 million in production revenue, or C$2,243/oz, marking the fifth consecutive year in which the territory's placer output exceeded 70,000 oz. Placer mining also expanded to one new and five formerly dormant creeks.

The number of active hard-rock exploration projects decreased more than 16% to 91 in 2021. Of the 91 projects, 26 spent more than C$1 million, while 44 spent less than C$500 000.

Mining incentives work

The Yukon government welcomed the two-year upsurge in activity as a sign that its multiyear mining incentives program – designed to bring outside investment to the territory – is working.

"In an attempt to provide a level of certainty and confidence in investment, the Government of Yukon includes mineral exploration and mining as essential industries and (it) continues to invest in the Yukon Mining Exploration Program," Yukon Geological Survey geologists noted in the 2021 YGS annual exploration overview.

"The 2021–22 YMEP programs made a substantial contribution to the Yukon economy by leveraging an estimated C$4.3 million in additional investment," the YGS said.

Though the government did not disclose the total amount of financial incentives granted to explorers for 2022-23 projects, more than two-dozen companies won funding for grassroots, target evaluation, and focused regional programs.

YMEP-assisted projects have yielded discoveries that are likely to spur exploration and generate economic benefits well into the future, the government observed.

Examples include Golden Sky Minerals Corp.'s Bull's Eye property, located in the newly emerging Wels gold district, north of Wellesley Lake. It is contiguous to K2 Gold Corp.'s Wels Gold Project.

Golden Sky completed a 384-meter, five-hole target evaluation-supported RC drilling program in 2021 designed to test the Gold Crest zone along a 150-meter strike length and up to 100 meters in depth. Drill results included 25.91 meters averaging 1.88 grams per metric ton gold, with a narrower interval of 12.19 meters averaging 2.54 g/t gold in hole BERC-21-4.

The impact of the incentives program also can be measured by more advanced projects in the exploration-mining cycle. Banyan Gold Corp.'s Aurex-McQuesten Property is one example. The 173-square-kilometer (67 square miles) AurMac Property lies 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the east of Victoria Gold's Eagle Mine and adjacent to Hecla Mining Co.'s high-grade Keno Hill Silver Mine.

After optioning AurMac from Stratagold in 2016, Banyan explored the property in the ensuing years with the help of incentive grants from YMEP. In 2020, the explorer released a NI 43-101-compliant inferred resource estimate for the AurMac Project of nearly 53 million metric tons, grading 0.535 g/t gold for a total of 903,945 contained oz. of gold. After completing one of the largest exploration programs in Yukon in 2021, Banyan updated the resource for AurMac to 4 million oz of gold in May.

On Nov. 5, Banyan reported completing a 50,000-meter drill program in 2022 that included 211 holes designed to expand mineralization around AurMac's Powerline and Aurex Hill deposits.

Gold attracts more hunters

In 2021, explorers staked 3,759 mining claims in Yukon. Claims in good standing in the territory totaled 171,218, down from an all-time high of 252,902 in 2012. Nearly 70% of the claim-staking activity focused on gold in the Mayo district, where the Eagle Gold mine sits on the Dublin Gulch property.

The Eagle mine, owned and operated by Victoria Gold, produced 164,222 oz of gold in 2021, its first full year of output, and during the first nine months of 2022, the mine's output totaled 114,441 oz. The company hopes to ramp up Eagle's annual gold production to 250,000 oz in 2024.

Victoria, meanwhile, is continuing to explore the Eagle claims and other targets at Dublin Gulch with diamond drilling, trenching, soil sampling, prospecting, and mapping.

At the Eagle deposit, the company has focused on key areas for potential mine expansion to the west of the existing pit, drilling 10,342 meters in 23 drill holes in 2021 to average depths of 450 meters, adding roughly 500 meters of mineralized strike length from the current Eagle pit boundary.

"Now that Eagle is operating, our team has turned its attention to the systematic exploration of the numerous targets on the block. We fully expect more discoveries in the future," said Victoria Gold President and CEO John McConnell in early 2022.

The explorer completed 20,000 meters of diamond drilling in 2021 across the claim package, including 8,063 meters in 33 drill holes at the Raven discovery and 2,706 meters in 11 holes at the Lynx target, a newly developed on and near-surface gold target. The 2021 program doubled the strike length of mineralization at Raven to 1.3 kilometers (one mile), particularly to the west.

Victoria followed up in 2022 with another 20,000 meters of drilling over two kilometers (1.24 miles), along with 10 kilometers of surface trenching and related work to "fast-track" Raven's development, McConnell said.

In September, the company released a maiden NI 43-101-compliant resource estimate for Raven of 1.07 million oz. in inferred mineral resources contained in nearly 20 million metric tons of ore, averaging 1.67 g/t gold at a 0.5 g/t cut-off grade.

Victoria's success at Dublin Gulch has attracted other explorers to the area, including Zonte Metals Ltd., a junior that discovered the 2-4 target in 2017 on its MJ Gold Project, which is adjacent to the east side of Dublin Gulch. The Raven deposit appears to be about 2,300 meters on strike from Zonte's claim.

"Importantly, it appears the intrusion hosting the Raven deposit could be a part of a larger intrusive system related to the intrusion on Zonte's property," Zonte Metals President and CEO Terry Christopher said in October.

The MJ project hosts seven untested targets defined by gold-in-bedrock and soil anomalies.

Upper Canada Mining Inc. took a 70% earn-in option from Strategic Metals Ltd. on the Mt. Hinton property located near Keno Hill and conducted a program of mapping, sampling, and reverse circulation drilling in 2021.

Though the world-famous silver district hosts more than 35 individual silver mines and is historically Canada's second-largest primary silver producer, the explorer came to Mount Hinton looking for gold.

Gold is the most significant component in many of the 73 bedrock showings and float occurrences discovered at Mount Hinton to date.

Sitka Gold Corp. is exploring the 376-square-kilometer (145 square miles) RC property in the Clear Creek area 88 kilometers (55 miles) west of Keno.

Sitka Gold said drill programs in 2020 and 2021 produced extensive intercepts of impressive gold grades and visible gold in core.

During its 15-hole drill program carried out in 2021, Sitka discovered the Blackjack zone at RC in hole DDRCCC-21-021, which cut 220.1 meters of 1.17 g/t gold from surface, including 50.5 meters of 2.08 g/t gold.

During a 7,700-meter drill program carried out in 2022, the company intersected 349 meters of 0.71 g/t gold drilled from near surface at Blackjack, including 221 meters of 1.01 g/t gold and two meters of 15.15 g/t gold.

Silver hunt intensifies

In 2022, the Keno Hill Silver Project got a new owner. Hecla Mining purchased the property in August from Alexco Resource Corp. in a stock-swap transaction valued at C$69 million.

Hecla said silver production from Keno Hill added to output from its Greens Creek Mine in Alaska and Lucky Friday Mine in Idaho will put the miner on the path to becoming North America's largest silver producer with an annual output of 17-20 million oz. in the next few years. Hecla is currently the leading silver producer in the United States, with 40% of the nation's output.

Alexco Resource Corp. restarted production at Keno Hill's silver-lead-zinc mine in 2020 after a six-year shutdown. Initially, the company milled ore from its previously producing Bellekeno deposit before shifting in August 2021 to the property's Bermingham deposit. Underground development, meanwhile, continued at the nearby Flame & Moth deposit where Alexco expected ore production by year's end 2021.

Exploration drilling at Bermingham continued at deep targets throughout 2021, with 50 holes drilled covering 19,000 meters, targeting the Northeast Deep zone for infill and extension. Highlights include hole K-21-0785, which intersected the Bermingham Footwall vein, with 2,901 g/t silver over 4.42 meters.

Hecla said it plans to invest in further development, infrastructure, and equipment at Keno Hill, aiming for full and consistent production by year's end 2023.

Other explorers seeking silver include:

Blende Silver Corp., formerly Blind Creek Resources Ltd., completed an updated mineral resource estimate in 2021 for the Blende silver-zinc-lead deposit, located 63 kilometers (39 miles) north of Keno. The company conducted metallurgical and resource expansion drilling on the deposit in 2021, as well as induced polarization geophysical surveying. Exploration focused on advancing the project towards completion of a preliminary economic assessment. Blende hosts a 5,000-meter-long mineralized trend striking northwest to southeast with an indicated resource of 4.5 million oz silver, 187 million lb zinc and 167 lb lead; and an inferred resource of 37.32 million oz silver, 1.71 billion lb zinc and 1.51 billion lb lead, making it one of the largest carbonate-hosted silver-zinc-lead projects in western Canada.

Metallic Minerals Corp. initiated a 2022 exploration program in July with at least 3,000 meters of diamond drilling, focusing on resource definition at multiple advanced-stage targets, including the Formo and Caribou deposits in the West Keno and Central Keno areas; the recently discovered Fox target at East Keno; and step-out drilling at several new discoveries. This followed a multi-rig 10,000-meter diamond and reverse circulation drill program, soil sampling and geophysical surveys in 2021. The explorer also reported the acquisition of five square kilometers (two square miles) of new mineral properties in the Keno Hill silver district in September, bringing the company's district hard-rock land position up to 171 square kilometers (66 square miles).

In 2021, Alianza Minerals Ltd. also explored its 8,579-hectare (21,199 acres) Mt. Haldane property, a high-grade silver vein target located 27 kilometers (16 miles) west of Keno, with six diamond drill holes covering 1,576 meters. The program included one hole that cut 3,267 g/t silver, 5.8% lead and 7.02% zinc at the West Fault target. The intersection falls within a wider zone averaging 1,351 g/t silver, 2.43% lead, and 2.91% zinc over 5.24 meters.

Alianza returned to the property in September with a first-phase program of mapping, prospecting, and trenching of targets in preparation for drill testing.

Minto: Still exploring

Fifteen years after startup at the Minto copper-gold-silver mine north of Carmacks, owner Minto Metals Corp. is focusing on high-priority, untested exploration targets adjacent to the current resource base.

Minto Mine, which began production in 2007, sits within the Minto Copper Belt, a 42-kilometer- (26 miles) long northwest-trending corridor of copper-gold-silver mineralization in central Yukon.

In 2022 the miner followed-up on the successful discovery holes drilled in its 30,000-meter campaign a year earlier.

Minto had drilled 43 holes for 23,311 meters of a budgeted 30,000-meter program by late October. Highlights include intersecting 2.2% copper over 20 meters in drill hole 22EXP042 in a step-out from 2021 drill hole 21EXP003 that cut 1.58% copper over 28 meters.

Initial results from step-out drilling at the Minto North deposit confirmed the existence of a new lens or extension of the known lenses of the Minto North resource. The company awaited additional 2022 drill results, while looking forward to resource delineation drilling in 2023.

Minto Metals also reported the discovery of a new lens in the immediate footwall of the 112 Lens at the Copper Keel South, noting that "it underlines the potential for organic growth near current infrastructure and development at Minto."

In May 2021, the company released a preliminary economic assessment technical report that included an updated mineral resource estimate of 11 million metric tons averaging 1.46% copper, 0.53 g/t gold, and 4.75 g/t silver in the indicated category; and 13 Mt grading 1.29% copper, 0.49 g/t gold, and 4.55 g/t silver in the inferred category. Contained copper (open pit and underground) totaled 727 million pounds.

Others chase minerals

Other explorers, ranging from those with one property to those with large land packages and multiple projects, chased signs of commercial deposits across the territory in 2021 and 2022. These include White Gold Corp., Triumph Gold Corp., ATAC Resources, Strategic Metals, Cantex Mine Development Corp., Rockhaven Resources, Whitehorse Gold Corp., Klondike Gold Corp., Granite Creek Copper, CAVU Mining Corp., Stratabound Minerals Corp., Seabridge Gold, and CMC Metals.

While none reported a major discovery, most noted substantial progress in advancing their respective projects.

Fireweed Metals, for example, reported notable exploration success in 2022. In late November, the explorer reported the best-ever intersection drilled at its MacMillan Pass zinc-lead-silver. Hole NB22-002, drilled at Boundary West, cut 124 meters averaging 12.3% zinc, 1.3% lead, and 45.9 g/t silver, including 60 meters of 19% zinc, 1.6% lead, and 64.7 g/t silver.

The company completed a large four-rig drill program at MacMillan Pass in 2022.

Newcomer makes splash

A recently listed company, Snowline Gold Corp., chased targets within its seven-project portfolio covering 90,000 hectares (243,900 acres) located in an under-explored area about 200 kilometers (124 miles) east of Keno in 2021 and 2022.

At the Einarson gold property in the Rackla gold belt, Snowline reported two intercepts in 2021 – 2.59 g/t gold over 27.0 meters and 4.02 g/t gold over 10.6 meters in hole J-21-013 at the project's Jupiter Zone. The junior also explored its Rogue property south of Einarson with a four-hole drill program and the nearby Ursa project with an airborne geophysical survey, soil sampling and prospecting.

In 2022, Snowline carried out an 8,000-meter drill program primarily focused on the Valley Zone at Rogue, where the company has cut phenomenal gold mineralization. One such hole, V-22-010, cut 318.8 meters of 2.55 g/t gold in the Valley Zone.

Other highlights from Valley Zone include 410 meters averaging 1.89 g/t gold from surface in hole V-22-07; and 285.2 meters averaging 1.45 g/t gold from a depth of 2.8 meters in hole V-22-014.

"The continuity of strong grades from Valley's central zone, seen both within holes along hundreds of metres and between holes spaced hundreds of metres apart, demonstrates the presence of a large and robust, unusually rich bulk tonnage gold system," said Snowline Gold CEO and co-founder Scott Berdahl.

Snowline more than doubled its land position to 254,000 hectares (688,340 acres) by staking 37,000 hectares (100,270 acres) in additional claims around recent discoveries and acquiring 127,000 hectares (344,170 acres) in nearby claims from StrikePoint Gold Inc.

Snowline said recent discoveries on Rogue prompted the acquisition of StrikePoint's claims.

"We've got multiple projects moving ahead, multiple projects operating and others that are nearing that stage. So, the Yukon is proving to be a place where things can happen," said Berdahl.


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