Since 1915, the Northern Miner weekly newspaper has chronicled Canada’s globally significant mining sector.
Much ado is made of the sophisticated technology that is available to help find mineral deposits. While these techniques are unquestionably valuable, they will never render obsolete “boot-and-hammer” prospecting of the type that led to the discovery of the Voisey’s Bay nickel-copper-cobalt discovery near Nain, Labrador.
The chain of events leading to the discovery began when two prospectors spotted a rust-colored outcrop covering the side of a hill near Voisey’s Bay while performing regional reconnaissance for Diamond Fields Resources (TSE).
After landing on the gossanous outcrop and breaking open fresh rock which revealed stringers of chalcopyrite, the prospectors realized they had found a prospect with real potential. They sat on the hill and started envisioning what the surrounding countryside was going to look like in 10 years, with a mine and a road.
That Voisey’s Bay went on to become the mining story of 1995, worldwide, comes as no surprise to the two prospectors who made the original discovery: Albert Chislett, 46, and Christopher Verbiski, 27. Both men live in St. John’s, Nfld., where their company, Archean Resources, is based. And both have extensive experience working on exploration projects in Labrador and Newfoundland.
Their faith in the project was constant, and despite some initial industry skepticism, it soon became obvious that Voisey’s Bay was indeed one of the most significant mineral discoveries made in Canada this century. Granted, the project is not yet in production, but its size and richness render production a certainty in the years ahead.
The discovery of the Voisey’s Bay deposit is a major achievement, and for this reason, The Northern Miner has selected Albert Chislett and Christopher Verbiski as its “Mining Men of the Year” for 1995. While the initial discovery was made about two years ago, the significance of the project was not fully understood until the spring of this year.
When Chislett and Verbiski began their prospecting campaign in Labrador, their work was aimed at finding areas that might be prospective for diamonds. But the prospectors believed they should keep an eye out for gold and base metal deposits as well, even though diamonds were the primary target of interest for Diamond Fields.
Based on the presence of chalcopyrite stringers in the discovery outcrop, the prospectors initially thought they had stumbled onto a massive sulphide deposit. But there was no lead or zinc, no hydrothermal activity, and no alteration — so they started looking elsewhere for answers.
In the early days, Chislett and Verbiski admit, they had a tough time selling the project to Diamond Fields. But to its credit, the company took the gamble and provided a shoestring budget allowing work to continue into 1994.
During the next few months, Chislett and Verbiski researched government literature and maps and found that their gossan zone had been previously mapped by government geologists as a “pyritic gossan.” This did not deter the prospectors, who made good use of government information to zero in on their target of interest, a troctolitic dyke of the Reid Brook intrusion. This information was used to assemble a land package of favorable geology, similar to the discovery area, for staking.
By this point, the prospectors and Diamond Fields realized that nickel, copper and cobalt were the commodities of interest, and that the favorable hunting ground for similar showings was within layered intrusive complexes (or the root zones and fragments of eroded, layered intrusions) within the Nain Plutonic Suite.
The prospectors went on to spot the first four discovery holes of the winter (1994-1995) drill program at Voisey’s Bay, and have continued to supervise all exploration activities on the Labrador properties under the terms of an exploration management agreement with Diamond Fields. Archean also has a 3% net smelter royalty on the project.
By mid-1995, two major companies made important investments in Diamond Fields and Voisey’s Bay. In March, Teck (TSE) showed its faith in the project by investing $108 million to acquire 10.4% of Diamond Fields. And in June 1995, Inco (TSE) placed its vote of confidence in the project by purchasing a 25% interest in Diamond Fields’ claims in Labrador for $550 million in cash and securities. At the same time, Inco bought 2 million shares of Diamond Fields for an additional $143 million, bringing its total investment to almost $700 million.
At last report, the main ovoid deposit at Voisey’s Bay contained preliminary minable reserves of 31.7 million tonnes grading 2.83% nickel, 1.68% copper and 0.12% cobalt at a total stripping ratio of 0.36-to-1. The project also hosts a large tonnage of lower-grade reserves, and ongoing drilling is adding to the potential of the Eastern Deeps zone.
Eastern Deeps is estimated to have potential for additional tonnage (45 million tonnes, according to some estimates). The latest results from this zone range up to 3.36% nickel, 1.41% copper and 0.17% cobalt over 39.9 metres.
The Voisey’s Bay project owes much to the two prospectors who found the original showing (as well as the main ovoid deposit), and who went on to manage ongoing exploration work at the property. From day one, Chislett and Verbiski viewed Voisey’s Bay as “a home-grown project,” and made every effort to hire talented geologists and campsite workers from Labrador and Newfoundland. “This project is the best thing that ever happened to Labrador and Newfoundland,” they told The Northern Miner earlier this year.
There were, of course, many others who contributed to the success of the project. These include Archean’s team of geologists and field crews, the management and geological teams of Diamond Fields, as well as those who provided technical input from Teck and Inco. The negotiating skills of Robert Friedland, co-chairman of Diamond Fields, have enhanced the value of the project for shareholders.
Voisey’s Bay will likely be developed by a senior mining company, but the discovery demonstrates, once again, the profound contribution that prospectors make to Canada’s mining industry.