The May Twenty Four: Ontario’s mining oasis

As a major producer of gold, nickel, and platinum group elements, as well as host to the mining finance capital of the world – Toronto – Ontario is touted as one of the best provinces in the world for mineral exploration.

Ontario is at the centre of one of the most stable and competitive business environments globally. It offers companies access to more than 194 million consumers within a day’s drive of the Greater Toronto Area.

In the 20th century, Ontario’s economy was built on the strength of traditional industries – natural resources, manufacturing, farming, and food production. According to Invest Ontario, those mainstay sectors remain vibrant to this day, however the province is also where a new economy has emerged. 

“It’s where financial services are broadening into fintech and revolutionising the way we invest,” the investment advocacy group says.

The province is home to the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and TSX Venture Exchange (TSX-V), which lists more than 1,150 mining companies — about 40% of the world’s publicly listed resources companies. 

While some consider it to be the mining finance capital of the world, Ontario is an oasis for mining and a leading metals producer. Since 1866 the province has been producing more than 25 different metals and minerals. 

In the latest Fraser Institute Annual Survey of Mining Companies, which ranks the best jurisdictions in the world for investment based on the Investment Attractiveness Index, Ontario is in the top 10.

In 2010, the total value of mineral production in Ontario was estimated at C$7.7 billion, as reported by environmental conservation organisation Ontario Nature.

More than a decade later mineral production value has nearly doubled, with the provincial government reporting $13.5 billion worth of minerals were produced in 2022 alone — while $989 million was spent on 300 mineral exploration projects. 

Ontario is incredibly mineral-rich – the further north you go, the more enriched it is with resources in the ground. It truly is an oasis within a ‘Ring of Fire’.

The Ring of Fire

Similarly to Johnny Cash singing “I fell into the burning ring of fire”, geologist Neil Novak stumbled across traces of nickel about 500km northeast of Thunder Bay in 2007, which has forever changed the fate of northern Ontario. 

The region – known as the ‘Ring of Fire’ – is considered one of the most promising mineral development opportunities for the critical minerals, as it also plays host to the second largest chromite deposit globally in terms of ore reserve.

Chromite is a major ore mineral of chromium — it is the stainless in stainless steel — and is used in manufacturing processes. 

The Ring of Fire spans more than 5,000km2 of northern Ontario and as of 2022, there were 26,167 active mining claims in the region, held by 15 companies. 

The Ontario government says the region has long-term potential to produce chromite, cobalt, nickel, copper, and platinum group elements (PGEs). 

As such, the region is considered vital for Ontario’s future of reaching net zero emissions. 

Speaking to Mining.com.au, Clean Air Metals (TSX-V:AIR) CEO Jim Gallagher says Northern Ontario in particular is a “world-leading jurisdiction” to explore for and develop PGE assets, as the majority of the country’s total PGE production comes from the province.   

Clean Air Metals is one company seeking to develop a PGE project in northwestern Ontario with its Thunder Bay North Critical Metals Project. The project hosts 14 million tonnes of indicated resources containing 1.2 million ounces of platinum+palladium, 56,800 tonnes of copper, and 33,800 tonnes of nickel. 

In 2022, the province produced 77% of Canada’s PGE production with an estimated 547,232 troy ounces of PGEs valued at $1.644 billion. The total production of this many troy ounces of PGEs is about as heavy as 31 average-sized male moose. 

An estimated 17.4 million troy ounces of PGEs were produced worldwide in 2022. About 72% of those PGEs were mined sources and the balance came from recycling and scrap sources. In Canada, PGEs are recovered as co-products at many primary nickel mines throughout the country. 

Gold is also found in abundance. In 2022, gold production in Ontario was about 3.9 million troy ounces valued at $5.4 billion, which weighs as much as about 221 average-sized male moose. 

Canada-based Alamos Gold (TSX:AGI) is one company contributing to Ontario’s gold sector. The company recently reported intersections of higher grade gold within newly discovered zones in its operational underground mine, Young-Davidson. 

Drilling intersected up to 15.84 grams per tonne gold, which President and CEO John McCluskey says represents a new style of mineralisation at Young-Davidson. 

“This is a new style of higher grade mineralisation, near our existing underground infrastructure, which has the potential to provide meaningful production upside,” McCluskey says. 

Alamos’s Young-Davidson mine has proven and probable reserves of about 3.3 million ounces and measured, indicated, and inferred resources of some 1.3Moz. 

While the spotlight is on PGEs and gold, there’s also a lot of attention surrounding rare earths. As the Canadian government reports, the country has some of the largest known reserves and resources in the world, with an estimated 15.2 million tonnes of rare earth oxides, as of 2023. 

Australian mining company Cazaly Resources (ASX:CAZ) is exploring for rare earths within its Carb Lake project in Ontario. The company is gearing up for its first program to be conducted in more than 50 years, which is set to kick off in Q3 2024. 

Cazaly, which has a market capitalisation of $8 million, is continuing discussions with the Sachigo First Nations people to establish a memorandum of understanding for all drilling and future exploration work at Carb Lake. 

A sustainable and safe province

Clean Air Metals’ Gallagher says in addition to there being a copious amount of PGE deposits, among other minerals, Canada and its provinces are also mining friendly and therefore are low sovereign risk. 

Ontario lies in east-central Canada and borders the US and the Great Lakes. The province is home to Canada’s capital city Ottawa and is considered one of the safest mining jurisdictions in the world, as reported by the Ontario Mining Association. 

From 1975 to 2010, Ontario’s mining sector achieved a 96% improvement in lost time injury frequency and now performs better than the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board industry average. 

The Ontario Mining Association says safety is fundamental to the province’s mineral operation, with the ultimate goal being to achieve a zero-incident work environment. 

During 2023, technology company NORCAT announced new legislation to improve ventilation requirements in underground mines and reduce the exposure of miners to harmful diesel exhaust emissions, as part of the government’s commitment to improving mine safety. 

These regulations set a new exposure limit of 0.12 milligrams per cubic metre for mine workers and are the most protective in North America. Mine worker’s exposure to elemental carbon from diesel exhaust emissions is a 70% reduction to the exposure limit of 0.4 milligrams per cubic metre. 

Not only is the province known for its attention towards safety, but Ontario’s mining industry is also surrounded by sustainable practices. 

Invest Ontario says the province has a long history of producing critical minerals, but its potential for exploring and developing sustainable, ethically sourced minerals is immense. 

Ontario is home to the world’s first all-electric mine, Newmont’s (ASX:NEM) Borden Gold Mine. The company has replaced all underground diesel fleets with battery electric vehicles. 

The Mining Association of Canada says this ambitious plan not only makes the future mine more operationally efficient, but it improves the health and safety performance and reduces its environmental footprint. 

Along with the decrease in emissions comes a reduction in underground ventilation needs. The association reports an efficient, on-demand ventilation system requires 50% less ventilation than an equivalent diesel-powered underground mine. 

Clean energy makes up most of Ontario’s electricity sources. Invest Ontario says almost 90% of the province’s electricity generation comes from clean sources. Compared to neighbouring Great Lakes states, Ontario’s system emits far less CO₂ per kilowatt-hour generated.

Ontario has hailed itself as an oasis for mining and a leading metals producer globally. 

From its historic roots to the emergence of a new economy fueled by the global renewable energy transition, Ontario is committed to implementing sustainable mining practices, while also driving Canada’s economic growth. 

The province stands as a beacon of progress and an oasis of operations in the global mining arena. 

This is highlighted by the more than 376,000 of active mining claims that were in good standing as of 30 April 2023.

Write to Aaliyah Rogan at Mining.com.au   

Images: Unsplash, Alamos Gold & Ontario Mining Association
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Written By Aaliyah Rogan
Relocated from the East Coast in New Zealand to Queensland Australia, Aaliyah is a fervent journalist who has a passion for storytelling. When Aaliyah isn’t writing stories, she is either spending time with friends and family or down at the beach.