James Bay and Nunavik Exploration and Development
Focus on development opens new opportunities in Northern Québec
When asked about the desire of the provincial government and SIDEX to open new territories with discovery potential, the fund’s president and CEO Paul Carmel replied: “If a company comes to us with a project on the Cadillac Trend that has been operating and producing gold for 100 years and they are picking away at old previous discoveries, that will receive less focus and interest from us than a company that comes in and has a new theory in a new camp. That excites us, because it can create interest in less explored areas and lead to new discoveries.”
The provincial hotspots are at opposite ends of the exploration spectrum: areas like the James Bay camp on the province’s western limit and Nunavik host greenfield projects, whereas the well-established Abitibi belt to the south hosts several producing mines. The latter is benefiting from the perception of predictability, while the former is attracting investors willing to accept greater risk in exchange for the potential gains associated with discoveries in an emerging mining camp.
In the James Bay region, about 600 km north of the Abitibi, several juniors are attempting to replicate the success of the Éléonore gold discovery by Virginia Gold Mines in 2004, in metamorphic rocks near the contact between the La Grande and Opinaca geological sub-provinces. Goldcorp (now Newmont) bought Éléonore in 2005 for US$420 million and achieved commercial production in 2015. Today the Éléonore mine continues its operation as one of the top 10 largest producing mines in Canada, and its success has had an indelible impact on the current exploration landscape in James Bay.
Case in point, Québec Precious Metals Corporation (QPM) was created in 2018 because of the presence of Goldcorp’s Éléonore mine. QPM’s flagship Sakami project is located in the same mining district as well as along the same strike. Newmont is QPM’s largest shareholder, holding just less than 13% of the shares, which is part of its strategy to encourage exploration success in the area so that more mines will be found.
Thus far, Sakami has showed promising results. In 2020, QPM discovered a 3.5 km long extension of the existing La Pointe deposit, and as QPM CEO Normand Champigny put it: “From here, the plan is to drill, drill and drill, our objective being to get to a multimillion ounce deposit that will be of a size that is sufficient to be sold to a company who can develop it.”
The company also believes it has a distinct advantage stemming from their intricate knowledge of James Bay and the local Cree community. There are three nearby Cree communities, Chisasibi, Wemindji and Radisson, all of which are well-established communities with infrastructure services connected by road. Although considered remote, the area is accessible, and work can be done 12 months a year.
“We have exploration rights on a lot of land to find more in this promising area of James Bay, and we believe James Bay is like the Abitibi was 100 years ago. We are still scratching the surface with a lot to be found,” Champigny stated.
Close by to QPM’s Sakami project is Azimut Exploration’s substantial gold bearing zone on the Elmer property within the Patwon discovery. Announced in January of 2020, Azimut has since worked to expand this discovery with additional drilling. Azimut anticipates this gold discovery will be one of the largest in the James Bay region since the Éléonore mine in 2004, because the robustness, thickness grade and geometry are all favorable. Moreover, the overall features of the Patwon gold zone seem simpler than at Éléonore, as there are no diluting dykes, refractory minerals, or internal folding.
In addressing how the discovery came about, the company’s president & CEO Jean-Marc Lulin highlighted Azimut’s 15 years of experience pursuing a data driven approach, working to better address exploration risk at a very early stage. “This has led us to identify genuine new targets, rather than putting a new name on an old target,” Lulin explained.
The targets are generated by processing numerical data collected over the past 60 years, and this is done at provincial scale. This process led Azimut to develop a unique vision about the geological potential of the James Bay and Nunavik regions, and it has used this vision to attract many quality partners. It has three strategic agreements with Rio Tinto, two agreements with Gold Corp (now Newmont), two with Hecla Mining, and two with SOQUEM. “Huge value can be created if existing numerical data is processed adequately. This message was somewhat marginal even a few years ago. Today, big data processing and AI are becoming buzzwords, but Azimut has successfully validated many of its data-based predictions through true discoveries, the key one being Elmer,” Lulin added.
Another Newmont backed junior in the area is Sirios Resources. Their Cheechoo project produced its maiden resources estimate in late 2019, and, as of June 2021, released a resource estimate at close to 2 million ounces of gold, which is 93 million tons of .65 g/t gold. The project is a low grade, high tonnage situation, but if you look at the characteristics of that project, there is a very low strip ratio close to 1:1. A 2,500 meter drilling campaign on Cheechoo is now underway and could have a very favorable power setup in the future. Sirios president and CEO, Dominique Doucet, described the importance of a situation in which Chechoo is close to infrastructure with road access, an airport and connectivity with the hydroelectric network of Québec. “To have a serious electric connection to the network, you need to be linked to a substation, and the cost of a substation can be significant. The beauty is that Éléonore mine is 50 km north of the hydroelectric complex of Hydro Québec. They constructed a direct connection from the hydroelectric complex to the mine. Therefore, there is a special connection between the electricity production complex, and the mine. This connection is only 4-5 km west of Cheechoo,” Doucet underscored.
In Nunavik, in the far north of Québec, exploration is as greenfield as it gets. Orford Mining is undeterred by the many challenges of operating in the area, because the company feels it has the potential for multiple discoveries on a massive land position in what it thinks is a new gold district at Qiqavik. Orford president and CEO David Christie believes the asset has the potential for discovery of multi million ounce gold deposits. “Unlike people beating around the Abitibi with all their projects or working in the Golden Triangle where things have been explored for quite a while, this is new and there are not often new gold districts discovered in Canada,” Chirstie reiterated.
Orford controls a 390 km2 land package, and has already discovered a number of high grade gold showings on the project. The company is the first to systematically explore that piece of land for gold, and has invested around C$3 million on the project this summer, the principal target being the IP Lake structural zone.
Orford is also working to progress its West Raglan nickel project, which is also in the Cape Smith Belt of Northern Québec. In January of 2021, Orford signed an earn-in agreement with Wyloo Metals where they can earn up to 80% of the project by spending C$25 million, completing a feasibility study and making a cash payment to Orford of C$1.5 million.
Similar to Qiqavik, Orford already has a number of discoveries on this property throughout the 814 km2 land package, which is very promising because the property sits on strike with the world class Raglan and Nunavik nickel deposits. According to Christie, Glencore's nearby Raglan mine has more reserves today than when they opened the mine in the late 90s, and West Raglan’s grades are comparable. “Coupled with the optionality of us working with a partner on the West Raglan nickel project, there is a lot to be excited about. You are not just buying a gold company, you are buying a gold company that has huge optionality on the nickel price,” Christie told investors.
Images courtesy of Stornoway