Economic Development, Investment, Trade and Natural Resources
Manitoba's Mineral Industry
Exploration and Development Highlights 2017
By Manitoba Geological Survey staff, Manitoba Mineral Resources
Current as of September 29, 2017
Like the rest of Canada, mineral exploration activity in Manitoba has suffered from a prolonged period of low commodity prices that is manifest in junior explorers experiencing difficulty securing venture capital to finance exploration projects. Exploration spending in Manitoba has declined since 2011, including a drop in Manitoba's share of Canadian exploration spending. Although expenditures remain a fraction of the highs seen during the commodity supercycle, Manitoba's exploration expenditures increased in 2015 and 2016. The recent appreciation in gold and zinc prices, coupled with the discovery of diamonds, are generating cautious optimism and upswing in the Manitoba exploration industry.
With an 85 year history of mining operations in the prolific Flin Flon–Snow Lake VMS districts in Manitoba, Hudbay Minerals Inc. continues to be a major player on the Manitoba exploration and development scene. In Flin Flon, Hudbay maintains its flagship 777 mine, as well as an ore concentrator and state-of-the art zinc production facilities, whereas operations at Snow Lake include the Lalor and Reed Lake mines and the Stall Lake concentrator. Production at the 777 mine is expected to continue until 2020, whereas the Lalor mine has an anticipated mine life of 15 years, extending to 2029. In spring 2017, Hudbay announced an optimized mine plan at Lalor, which incorporates a throughput rate of 4,500 tonnes per day (tpd) at the Stall concentrator (from 3,000 tpd) with planned zinc production from Lalor to increase to 90,000 tonnes contained in concentrate in 2017(from 71,000 tonnes in 2016). Ongoing feasibility work for the Lalor gold zone and copper-gold zone is targeting an additional 1,500 tpd through the New Britannia mill to fully utilize Lalor's 6,000 tpd shaft capacity. The Reed mine, a joint venture between Hudbay (70%) and Royal Nickel Corporation (30%) continues to be an important source of high-grade copper ore. Hudbay maintains an active exploration program for base and precious metals, with significant land holdings in favourable portions of the Flin Flon–Snow Lake greenstone belt.
Callinex Mines Inc. continued exploration of its Pine Bay and Big Island projects within the Flin Flon mining district. The 2017 summer drilling program is anticipated to include approximately 6,000 m of drilling to follow-up on the new zinc and gold-rich volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) discovery at the Pine Bay project and conduct a maiden drilling campaign at the Big Island project. After the initial discovery intersected 10.3 m grading 6.0% Zn, 1.8 g/t Au, 60.4 g/t Ag, 0.7% Cu and 0.4% Pb in late 2016, a series of widely-spaced drill holes were completed to test the Cabin VMS Horizon that hosts the mineralization. Drill hole PBM-024, the last hole completed in the vicinity, intersected 2.6 m of 3.0% Cu Eq. and expanded the potential strike extent of the new discovery to 180 m. As a result, this follow-up drilling campaign will test for additional mineralization more closely related to the new discovery and along a 300 m wide by 600 m long exploration corridor. Drilling at the Big Island project will be focused on the near surface Tara Lake deposit, one of the highest-grade zinc-rich VMS discoveries ever made within the Flin Flon mining district. This first-pass campaign will include confirmation drilling to obtain core samples along with subsequent lithogeochemical and geophysical testing to assist future exploration programs.
Rockcliff Copper Corporation's Snow Lake project is centered in Manitoba's prolific Snow Lake VMS district and includes the Talbot, Rail, Lon, Bur and Morgan properties. In 2017, the company received exciting results from its recently completed Phase 2 drill program on the Talbot property, which includes several gold-rich lenses of coarse grained, stringer to massive sulphides (pyrite, chalcopyrite, sphalerite and pyrrhotite) hosted by quartzofeldspathic gneiss. The last two holes of the Phase 2 drill program, which were designed to test a large geophysical anomaly, intersected significant mineralization 250 m apart. These intercepts constitute a new high grade zone, termed the North Lens Deep Zone, with dimensions of approximately 400 m by 1,000 m. Discovery drill hole TB-019 intersected 3.94 mgrading 0.24% Cu, 7.3 g/t Au, 0.88% Zn and 112.5 g/t Ag, including 2.54 m grading 0.16% Cu, 10.35 g/t Au, 0.23% Zn and 156.02 g/t Ag. Step out drill hole TB-020 tested an area 250 m below the discovery in drill hole TB-019 and intersected 6.65 m grading 0.81% Cu, 0.67 g/t Au, 1.91% Zn and 17.03 g/t Ag, including 1.92 m grading 1.44% Cu, 1.66 g/t Au, 5.16% Zn, and 26.5 g/t Ag. Most large VMS mines in the Flin Flon–Snow Lake mining camp are comprised of multiple VMS-rich lenses, suggesting considerable potential for additional discoveries on the Talbot property. The first phase drill program on the high-grade Bur Zinc property, located approximately 22 kilometres by road from Hudbay's copper-zinc concentrator at Snow Lake, is planned to commence in October 2017 and will focus on expanding the deposit by completing 10 to 15 holes totalling approximately 3,000 m.
In 2017, Vale Canada continued to transition its Thompson facilities to a mining and milling operation, which included approved construction of an $82 million concentrate load-out facility and reducing of the Thompson smelter to a single furnace. Ryan Land, manager of corporate affairs for Vale in Thompson, said the company has been in a "prolonged down cycle" for some time, with its Birchtree mine closing in October as it approached the end of its life cycle.
The 2017 winter drilling program by Wolfden Resources Corporation at the Rice Island nickel property in the Snow Lake area successfully extended nickel-copper-cobalt mineralization within a recently discovered feeder structure, proximal to the historic Rice Island deposit. The first four drill holes of the program tested a prominent electromagnetic conductor at shallow depth, believed to be reflecting mineralization located to the southwest of the known deposit, in an area where there had been no historical drilling. All four drill holes intersected significant nickel-copper-cobalt mineralization highlighted by hole RI-17-30, yielding an intercept of 2.24% Ni, 1.42% Cu and 0.10% Co over 8.30 m. Mineralization within this new zone, referred to as the Boundary Zone (BZ), has been delineated over a strike length of 200 m and to a depth of 250 m. This zone consists of fine-grained gabbro, with stringer, semi-massive and massive sulphide (pyrrhotite, chalcopyrite & pentlandite), enveloped by sedimentary rocks consistent with a feeder dike or conduit. Such conduits are important components of magmatic Ni-Cu-Co systems, locally hosting economic deposits. The BZ remains open along strike to the southwest and to depth, indicating that additional drilling is warranted.
In the Lynn Lake area, Corazon Mining Limited completed 13 drillholes in 3 phases of drilling (totalling 5,364 m) at the Fraser Lake Complex (FLC) of its Lynn Lake Nickel project. Phase 3 drilling targeted a large geophysical anomaly, interpreted to be coincident with the 'neck' of the feeder zone to the FLC, and was successful in intersecting extensive magmatic (Fe-Ni-Cu) sulphide mineralization, with all holes mineralized over their entire lengths. Sulphide content within the neck of the FLC feeder zone is significantly stronger than that encountered in Phase 1 and 2 drilling, which targeted the northeast extensions of the anomaly. Although assay results are pending from the latest round of drilling, results to date continue to substantiate the geological model, consistent with a long-lived Ni-Cu-Co sulphide rich magmatic plumbing system. Downhole geophysical surveys have been completed to test for conductive massive sulphide bodies proximal to the areas drilled to identify additional drill targets.
CanAlaska Uranium Ltd.'s Nisku project is located 10 kilometres east of the past-producing Ruttan copper-zinc mine in the Rusty Lake greenstone belt of north-central Manitoba. In 2017, CanAlaska completed four reconnaissance drillholes to test a coincident VTEM magnetic and electromagnetic target within a volcanic-sedimentary sequence, with the characteristics of a large VMS deposit. The drilling intersected massive iron sulphides and yielded minor elevated base and precious metal values, setting the framework for more detailed interpretation of the Nisku zone and the localization of feeder pipes within the stratigraphic rock package.
Following acquisition of the True North mine and mill complex in 2016, Klondex Mines Ltd. set about producing a revised mineral reserve and resource estimate, which now includes proven and probable reserves of 148k oz Au (25% increase from prior estimate) in underground ore blocks and surface tailings. In addition, the company completed significant underground development, restarted the Tailings Reprocessing Project, and constructed a material handling system for the 710/711 mining area, including ore/waste passes, load-out chutes and rail replacement to be used over the life of the mine.
Alamos Gold Inc. continues to progress towards a definitive feasibility study on its Lynn Lake Gold project, which includes the past producing MacLellan and Gordon (Farley Lake) deposits, with anticipated completion in 2017. The company has spent $6.4 million to date. Environmental baseline and geotechnical studies are underway, including mine planning and equipment requirements and completion of site layouts for the MacLellan and Gordon deposits. In addition, the company purchased a 2.0% Net Smelter Return royalty on the project for $9 million, which covers production on the Gordon deposit, as well as a portion of the MacLellan deposit and other exploration targets surrounding these deposits, and eliminates the only significant royalty obligation on the project, improving its economics.
Yamana Gold Inc. continues an aggressive infill and exploration drill program at its Monument Bay Gold project, located east of Gods Lake. At Monument Bay, gold and tungsten mineralization occurs along steeply dipping shear zones. The indicated mineral resource stands at 1.8 million oz Au (36.6 million tonnes at 1.52 g/t Au), whereas the inferred mineral resource is 1.781 million oz Au (42.0 million tonnes at 1.32 g/t Au). In 2017, the company approved $2.2 million for 5,206 m of scout drilling to test shear zones outside of the currently defined mineral resource area. Technical studies also underway include metallurgical testing, optimization of mining methods, and environmental baseline studies.
Minnova Corp. continues to progress its Maverick Gold project near Sherridon, Manitoba, by completing resource-definition drilling at the past-producing Puffy Lake mine. The Phase 1 infill drilling program was designed to target the shallow portion of the deposit between surface and 150 m vertical with a goal of upgrading current resources. Highlights include: 21.69 g/t over 0.95 m; 7.90 g/t over 0.93 m; 23.90 g/t over 1.17 m; 12.70 g/t over 1.00 m; 12.40 g/t over 1.00 m; 10.30 g/t over 1.00 m.
At the North Star/Gold Rock property, Copper Reef Mining Corporation completed a winter drill program to test the extensions of known veins systems. Prospecting and detailed mapping was also carried out on the Gold Rock structure to extend the known strike of the veins and better plan future drilling. The goal of this work is to produce a new 43-101-compliant resource estimate that will include all previous drilling along both the North Star and Gold Rock structures.
Following acquisition of the historic Laguna gold mine, Rockcliff Copper Corporation now has three gold properties in the Snow Lake area, with plans to commence surface exploration in preparation for an initial fall 2017 drill program. The Dickstone North Property includes a regional structural break called the Morton Lake fault zone that hosts multiple high-grade gold showings in several quartz vein systems along a 3 km long section of the fault. On the Laguna Property, a 6 km long splay of the Crowduck Bay fault zone hosts numerous high grade quartz vein systems and the historic Laguna gold mine—the first and highest grade gold mine in Manitoba—with production of 60,000 ounces of gold grading 18.7 g/t. Results of surface and airborne geophysical surveys and Rockcliff's geological program will assist in identifying targets for the planned fall 2017 drill program. On the SLG Property, the McLeod Road thrust fault, another regional structural break, is associated with several gold-rich fault splays, one of which hosts the past-producing New Britannia mine on an adjacent property. Within the property several areas of high grade gold potential associated with the thrust fault will be explored in an upcoming geological program.
In June 2017, Satori Resources Inc. announced a 2017 exploration program at the historic Tartan Lake gold mine. The program was planned to consist of approximately 4000 m of diamond drilling, split into two phases including: Phase 1, consisting of approximately 2000 m of drilling (six holes) designed to step-out from known mineralization and expand the high-grade gold resources in the Main & South Zones, as well as increase understanding of the structural and lithological controls on mineralization; Phase 2, consisting of approximately 2000 m of drilling to follow-up on the results from Phase 1 and to investigate other high priority targets in proximity to the known gold mineralization.
In June 2017, Alto Ventures Ltd. resumed exploration on the Oxford Lake gold project, in the Oxford Lake–Knee Lake greenstone belt. The 2017 program involved mapping and sampling along historical trends known to contain gold and base metal mineralization. Several high-grade gold and base values were obtained from narrow quartz-sulphide veins and sulphide pods along the shorelines of Hyers Island, including 7.2 g/t Au with 83.7 g/t Ag, and 4.9 g/t Au with 51 g/t Ag and 12.7% Zn. These zones vary in width but their extent, controls on mineralization, and continuity have not yet been determined. West of Hyers Island, another narrow quartz-sulphide vein assayed 12.4 g/t Au with 48 g/t Ag.
In 2017, Altius Minerals Corporation optioned the Lynx Diamonds project (60,816 ha) from a consortium of prospectors and geologists who worked in conjunction with the Manitoba Geological Survey to discover microdiamonds at Knee Lake. Based on similarities to diamond occurrences near Wawa, Ontario, the Manitoba Geological Survey identified unusual Archean volcanic conglomerates at Knee Lake that were thought to have potential for diamonds and selected sites for initial sampling, one of which (the Eastern Bay zone) returned 144 microdiamonds from a 15.8 kg sample. Although this area has been recognized historically for its abundance of kimberlite-indicator minerals (KIMs) in till, no source of KIMs or diamonds had previously been identified.
In July 2017, Altius Minerals Corp. collected 23 additional channel and grab samples (16 kg each) from outcrops of Archean conglomerate and sandstone, and submitted these for microdiamond analysis. All 11 samples collected from the Eastern Bay zone were diamondiferous, yielding between 34 and 303 micro-diamonds per sample, thus representing the first confirmed occurrence of diamonds in Manitoba. From these 11 samples a total of 1,149 microdiamonds in the +0.106 mm to +0.850 mm size fraction were recovered from a total of 176 kg of sample material. Eight of the diamonds are considered macros, with the largest stone having a long axis of 1.42 mm. Descriptions for all stones larger than 0.3 mm indicate that 24% of the stones are white/colourless and 45% are off-white while 17% are octahedral.
The company plans to undertake further investigative work to assess the potential of this new discovery, including field mapping, sampling, indicator mineral studies and petrography. Application has also been filed for 60,268 ha of new mineral exploration licences adjacent to the current project which cover potential extensions of the prospective rock units.
CanAlaska Uranium Ltd., Northern Uranium Corp. and East Resources Inc. currently hold dispositions covering the known extent of the Wollaston Domain in northwest Manitoba, and are currently devising plans to explore this region of basement-hosted uranium deposits, similar to those associated with the basal unconformity of the Athabasca Basin in Saskatchewan.
Lithium prices have been steadily increasing since 2014 in response to increased demand for lithium, mostly driven by the manufacture of lithium batteries for use in electric vehicles and electronic devices. In Manitoba, the principal source of this metal is Li-bearing pegmatite, although potential for Li brines is currently being investigated by the Manitoba Geological Survey. Lithium was historically produced from the Tanco pegmatite in southeast Manitoba, as well as other Li-bearing pegmatites, but is not currently being mined in Manitoba. However, demand for this metal has sparked new exploration throughout the province.
At the Zoro Lithium project, located on the east side of Wekusko Lake, Far Resources Ltd. completed an initial seven hole (1140 m) drill program on the Dike 1 pegmatite occurrence in late 2016, followed up by 900 m of drilling in early 2017. A third drill program (710 m) was completed in October 2017 with the objective of testing the Dyke 1 occurrence where no modern drilling had taken place; assay results were pending at the time of writing. In September 2017, the company increased its property holdings by 2200 ha through an option agreement with Strider Resources Ltd., to acquire an undivided 100% interest in prospective ground contiguous with its Zoro 1 claim and claims hosting the historic Thompson Brothers lithium-bearing pegmatite dyke.
The Thompson Brothers Lithium project of Ashburton Ventures Inc., located adjacent to the Zoro project, is focussed on another lithium-bearing pegmatite dyke with an historic resource (non compliant with NI 43-101) of 3.97 million tonnes grading 1.29 % Li2O. The dyke is currently under option to Ashburton Ventures who reported that five of six recently completed drill holes encountered significant intervals of Li mineralization with widths that are comparable or exceed those reported from historical drill programs, including 1.37 wt. % Li2O over 11.6 m and 1.55 wt. % Li2O over 5.43 m.
In the Russell-McAuley area, Manitoba Potash Corp. (MPC) controls the largest land holdings with sufficient thickness and grade to sustain potentially economic underground potash mining; MPC received Expressions of Interest in 2015 to acquire these assets, and the divestiture process remains in progress.