Northern Exploration

Northern Exploration

By Katie Conklin and Ania Swiatoniowski

YellowknifeMining and exploration are big business in Canada’s northern territories. Combined, the territories make up approximately 40% of Canada’s land mass. These northern lands have proved rich in valuable minerals of several types and have helped put Canada on the map as a global leader in the mining industry.

Here we look at Canada’s three territories and their mining industries. We are pleased to present contributed editorial from all three territorial premiers: Darrell Pasloski of Yukon, Bob McLeod of The Northwest Territories, and Peter Taptuna of Nunavut. Also included is input from Executive Directors Samson Hartland of the Yukon Chamber of Mines and Tom Hoefer of the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines and overviews of regional mining industries.

As the territories develop economically, they are taking on more and more responsibilities previously under federal control. Devolution of authority over natural resources has been slowly transferred responsibilities from the Federal Government of Canada to the territorial governments. First Nations engagement and environmental policies in the territories are establishing ground-breaking precedents in the global mining industry. This is an exciting time for the territories as they carve out their paths and take the reins of their resources industries and their futures.

Canada’s three territories –the Yukon, Northwest Territories (NWT), and Nunavut– are currently home to seven operating mines. In addition, tens of projects are currently navigating the feasibility, regulatory, or financing stages, while hundreds of exploration projects are ongoing. In all three of Canada’s territories, mining operations create thousands of jobs and contribute significantly to territorial GDP.

There are two Chambers of Mines in the North, with one representing the Yukon and a second the NWT and Nunavut. These industry associations promote responsible mineral exploration and mining in northern Canada.

NWT & Nunavut Chamber Of Mines

The NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines was formed in 1967. It operates with a staff of three and is directed by a Board of Directors comprised of 24 members. “Our goal is to promote the industry and the North to Northerners, Canadians, and the world at large. Our Chamber continues to speak out on industry opportunities, concerns, and issues. We provide information to governments, investors, the media, educational institutions, and the public on industry positions and initiatives,” says Tom Hoefer.

Tom Hoefer is Executive Director of the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines and manages the day-to-day operations and the application of their strategy. “We are a small shop and I work with two staff –an office manager who handles finance, administration, and event management and a general manager in Nunavut who is establishing the beachhead for what we expect will eventually become an independent Nunavut Chamber of Mines,” says Hoefer. “There is a strong interest there in the people and their government to see responsible mining development that provides them with new benefits and opportunities.”

Hoefer describes the Chamber’s mission “to be the leading advocate for responsible and sustainable mineral exploration and development in the NWT and Nunavut”.

The Northwest Territories

The big news in the Northwest Territories in 2014 was the NWT Government’s acquisition of new powers over non-renewable resources, along with lands and water, from the Federal Government through a devolution process. Hoefer believes the change will be positive for industry and Northerners. “The process was done quite seamlessly with the NWT Government mirroring federal legislation as much as they could –in essence just changing the letterhead– so they could transfer the responsibilities very smoothly. In time, they will make changes as they see necessary.” Devolution of powers over non-renewable resources in the Northwest Territories came into effect on April 1st.

Hoefer describes it as “a change in landlord” from the federal government to the territorial government. Devolution represents the coming into maturity of a territory. It demonstrates the territory’s ability to take more control of its own future and its self-reliance with the final transfer of powers over key portfolios, including natural resources.

“We don’t have the horsepower that provinces do, but that being said, the federal government has been trying to give us more responsibilities. Over the years, they’ve devolved portions of those responsibilities including education, health, social services, and forestry. What they hadn’t transferred until now was the responsibilities for the non-renewable resources, mining and oil and gas,” explains Hoefer. “This kind of process occurs when territories show they have the ability to take it on. They have the financial responsibility and the maturity.”

The message from the NWT government is that they will be a better landlord than the federal government because they are closer to the people and to the consequences of development. The federal government devolved powers over land and resource management to the Yukon in 2003. The Government of Nunavut has also stated their desire for a devolution agreement for non-renewable resources in the near future.

The primary mineral currently being mined in the Northwest Territories is diamonds. The territory has three diamond mines, the Ekati, Diavik, and Snap Lake mines. The territory is the third largest producer by value in the world, a status achieved quickly over the past 15 years. The territory also mines some copper and the Cantung tungsten mine is the western world’s largest producer of tungsten.

The NWT has a lot to look forward to in the years to come. “We have a number of projects that are in the advanced stages of development of what we hope to be our next mines,” says Hoefer. “One is a diamond mine that has begun pioneering work to get the site ready for construction. We also have several base and precious metal mines and a rare earth mine project advancing to final design, financing, and construction.”

Three of these mines are waiting for their water license to proceed once they get financing. “All these projects have been in the process for a number of years. But going through the approval process can be a challenge, as can raising the funding and financings to proceed with construction. But we have quite a few opportunities and I see great things in the Northwest Territories’ future.”


Nunavut has recently elected a new premier, Peter Taptuna. “We are pleased with this development as Premier Taptuna has been Nunavut’s minister responsible for mining for many years, showing great support for mining and exploration in Nunavut. He has also worked in the mining industry,” explains Hoefer.

Nunavut is still waiting to undergo devolution of its non-renewable natural resources. However, the territorial government maintains a strong influence on mining operations by showing their support for projects. “With Peter Taptuna as premier we are looking forward to government actions that strengthen investor confidence in Nunavut,” says Hoefer.

Currently, Nunavut has one mine in operation: the Meadowbank gold mine. However, the territory hosts tremendous mineral potential and has produced zinc, lead, gold, silver, nickel, and diamonds. Next is a significant new iron mine called Mary River. Construction is now underway and a large work force is on site to pioneer the venture.

Nunavut also has a portfolio of advanced stage projects proposing to mine gold, base metals, and uranium. It even has a tremendous opportunity emerging that might see new diamond production near the capital city of Iqaluit.

Mining is the largest private sector contributor to Nunavut’s GDP and Nunavut’s one mine already employs about 700 workers. The projected new mines would triple this number of employment in the near term.

“There is nothing like mining to provide a huge range of high paying, meaningful jobs. Mines don’t just need miners but need a range of skilled workers from cooks to mechanics to engineers. Mining has tremendous horsepower to provide great changes,” concludes Hoefer.

Yukon Chamber of Mines

Founded in 1943, the Yukon Chamber of Mines (YCM) has just under 400 members included from all corners of the mining industry, big and small.

Samson Hartland has served as Executive Director of YCM since January of this year. “We represent our membership — this industry — at the table with all levels of government when it comes to developmental policy and regulations and try to ensure [that] the interests of industry and socioeconomic wellbeing of the territory… are reflected in new pieces of legislation, policy, or direction,” Hartland explains, his enthusiasm for his work showing.

Having lived most of his life in the Yukon and hailing from a family of miners, Hartland has a vested interest in developing the Yukon’s mining industry and economy. Previously, Hartland worked with the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce and the Yukon Territorial Government. Hartland and Jessica Prentice, office manager, make up the full-time staff at YCM.

Currently there are three operating mines in the Yukon. Wolverine is Yukon Zinc Corp’s high grade zinc-silver-copper-lead-gold mine. Minto, owned by Capstone Mining Corp, is an open pit copper mine that produces gold and silver byproducts. Alexco Resource Corp owns the Bellekeno silver mine, one of the world’s highest-grade silver mines. Opened in 2011, Bellekeno is currently under suspended operations while Alexo develops other interests in the district.

In 2012, mining, quarrying, and oil & gas industry made up 20% of the Yukon’s GDP — a hefty contribution even if you don’t factor in that in 2004 this was only 4%.

The Yukon

When talking about gold mining, no other name comes to mind as readily as ‘Yukon’. Over a hundred years after the Gold Rush, gold still predominates the Yukon mining industry, making up 73% of exploration projects. In 2012, the Yukon produced a total of 2,250 tonnes of gold –worth over $136 million (Mining Association of Canada).

The Yukon’s vast and undeveloped territory holds considerable mineral deposits. But extra capitol is needed to establish a mining operation in the North due to the infrastructure needed, particularly for energy and transportation. However, Hartland explains that the pros of the Yukon’s “stable and progressive regime and buy-in of community at all levels” far outweigh any logistical cons.

“The [logistical] challenges of doing mining in the North are counteracted by very progressive legislation and partnerships,” explains Hartland. “We’ve got very progressive opportunities here where it comes to environmental safeguards and with partnerships with the First Nations. These allow companies to proceed with the social license required to get their projects off the ground.”

The Yukon’s government has developed ways to form partnerships and facilitate the building of necessary infrastructure. For example, the current government is working on a policy paper to have a system in place to assist projects by partnering on the development of infrastructure such as resource access roads, particularly if there is mutual need for a road by local groups.

In the Yukon, all parties are stakeholders and the focus is on finding solutions that best benefit all involved; Yukoners and mining companies. “Communication and collaboration: that’s the key,” says Hartland.


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