Since 1915, the Northern Miner weekly newspaper has chronicled Canada’s globally significant mining sector.
Working at the leading edge of gold mine development in North America is Echo Bay Mines of Edmonton under the quiet, confident leadership of President John Zigarlick Jr. – our choice for Mining Man-of-the-Year.
While some goldmines struggle under the pressures of falling gold prices, Echo Bay is one of the companies always looking ahead, using new ideas to explore for and mine low-grade oxidized deposits of the southwestern U.S. and the high-grade sulphide deposits in the Canadian far north.
Born in Winnipeg and raised in the northern mining town of Uranium City, Saskatchewan, Mr. Zigarlick is no stranger to the north where the majority of Echo Bay’s interests lie. His knowledge of the north and the ability of people to work there was, no doubt, the source of his confidence in opening up the far north to mining activities previously thought to be either impossible or virtually uneconomic to even attempt.
His vision of using C130 Hercules, Boeing 727 and Convair 640 aircraft and barren land-ice roads to accomplish the Herculean task of transporting people and materials to remote mine sites was accomplished without precedent at the company’s Lupin mine on Contwoyto Lake, N.W.T.
This mine, to which the company can look with pride, was brought into production after five years of hard, often pioneering work – proving the viability of mining in the Northwest Territories. Vaulting Echo Bay from a small silver mining company to its present prestigious position as the second largest gold producer in Canada, Lupin stands as a monument to the company’s hard work and perseverance – a tribute to the people of Echo Bay and their president.
“All you have to do is find a viable orebody and hire the best management team you can find, then get on with the job,” Mr. Zigarlick says.
Mr. Zigarlick got his first mining job in a uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan owned by Gunnar Mines where he worked for two years in the mill, open pit and underground. After an 11-year stint as a military policeman in the Royal Canadian Air Force, he returned to mining – working for three years with Irwin Engineering and Management Services who had the management contract for Echo Bay’s Port Radium mine in the Northwest Territories.
In 1971 he joined Echo Bay as manager of purchasing and personnel, working his way through most company jobs before being appointed president and chief executive officer in 1977. During this period he majored in business administration at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and graduated from the Banff School of Advanced Management.
With silver ore reserves rapidly being depleted at the Port Radium mine, Mr. Zigarlick started the search for another property in 1978 to keep the company alive.
He convinced management of IU International, then parent corporation of Echo Bay, to acquire the rights on a promising piece of ground near Contwoyto Lake to the east of Port Radium. The Lupin mine came into production on budget and on time four years later.
Not one to cease striving for further glory, Mr. Zigarlick and Echo Bay management have recently negotiated a deal with a U.S. company for 50% interest in a major new gold mine in that country – its third largest – thus extending Echo Bay’s reach into the American southwest.
The Round Mountain mine operated by Copper Range – the company Echo Bay will acquire in the deal worked out last month – produced an estimated 120,000 oz of gold in 1984. The acquisition is estimated to increase Echo Bay’s gold production by 45% to 260,000 oz. next year.
While this acquisition makes Echo Bay a truly North American gold producer, the company has not neglected its roots. The company is actively exploring several very promising pieces of ground in the Northwest Territories – notably ground at Indin Lake near Yellowknife and on the shores of the Arctic Ocean in the Coronation Gulf where big new finds could lead to important new mines.
Echo Bay’s conspicuous presence in the relatively untouched north-western portion of the precambrain shield gives it a secure foothold on an immense piece of ground with outstanding potential.
While on a return flight from a tour of the Lupin mine in August, The Northern Miner had the opportunity to interview Mr. Zigarlick. During that flight, the management team of Echo Bay was actively carrying on its duties in an open, efficient manner undeterred by the fact that they were hosting a planeload of financial analysts and investment dealers.
Their discussions and decision-making process were sharp, crisp and to the point – exemplifying a down-to-earth, no-nonsense, get-things-done attitude that no helped to bring the Lupin mine into existence.
Their discussions and decision-making process were sharp, crisp and to the point – exemplifying a down-to-earth, no-nonsense, get-things-done attitude that no doubt helped to bring the Lupin mine into existence.
It is this attitude, necessitated by the rigors of working in the harsh climate of the far north, that Mr. Zigarlick attributes the success of the mine and the company.
When asked what aspects of mining – the financial or the technical – appeal to him most, the reply was an enthusiastic “Oh, the technical, because it’s so challenging.”
Above the treeline, the main obstacles to mine development are of a technical and logistical nature. That’s where the people that work for Echo Bay come in. They have to be sharp and motivated. Procrastination can break an operation like this where success depends on schedules being met – period.
But bringing out the best in people, requires the skills of good leader. This quality of leadership, we find in the man is why The Northern Miner is honouring John Zigarlick Jr.
“I listen very carefully to people,” Mr. Zigarlick tells The Northern Miner. “But no matter how smart you are, you cannot know everything. So I sift out information that is important according to a certain set of priorities and make decisions based on that information.”
Listening to the people who do know has been an exceedingly successfully strategy for Echo Bay and hand-in-hand with Mr. Zigarlick’s belief that management should fully utilize people’s abilities with a constant flow of new and stimulating challenges.
“Not long ago, my secretary taught me the importance of keeping people busy,” Mr. Zigarlick says. “This applies especially in the north, where if people don’t find their jobs challenging, they start to bitch.”
As a simple illustration of the importance and simplicity of listening to people, Mr. Zigarlick relates a story where a visit to the company dock facilities several years ago merely to see the water resulted in the solution of a problem that saved the company some money.
“I was watching this forklift operator loading bins of concentrate – he was being very careful not to puncture or spill the containers,” Mr. Zigarlick says, “so I told him: ‘I wish more operators were as careful as you,’ to which he replied: “You wouldn’t have to be careful if the slots for the forks were 36 in. apart instead of 44 in. – everyone knows that.”
Changing that spacing saved on spilled concentrates and brought the forklift operator a handsome Christmas present and an important message to management.
Like any good leader who talks little and listens a lot, when the work is done, their aim fulfilled, the people will say: “We did this ourselves.”
Echo Bay and John Zigarlick have more work to do to fulfill the corporate objectives they have set for themselves. The Northern Miner has every confidence they will succeed.