For Alexander Perron, 51, gold has been a lifelong passion. As a youth in the northeastern Ontario mining town of Kirkland Lake, Perron learned how to search for gold from his father, a weekend prospector, and his grandfather, who was a professional guide and prospector. When Kirkland Lake’s gold mines began to close in the mid-1950s, Perron abandoned his goal of becoming a full-time prospector and went to work for his father’s car dealership and hotel. But with the nationwide resurgence in gold mining and exploration, Kirkland Lake is booming again, and Perron is at the centre of the search for new gold deposits. He owns 1,320 claims in Harker and Holloway townships, about 60 km northeast of Kirkland Lake, which is one of the hottest exploration areas in Canada. Said Perron: “We have gone from being damned near a ghost town to being back on our feet again.”
The rejuvenation of Kirkland Lake began with gold but has touched nearly every sector of the town’s economy. Toronto-based American Barrick Resources Corp. will produce an estimated 30,000 ounces of gold this year from
the first new gold mine to open in the area in 50 years. Junior mining companies are spending about $240,000 a day drilling in Harker and Holloway townships, said Perron. Two new residential subdivisions, totalling about 200 homes, are being built, a new car dealership has opened, the car rental business is booming, and unemployment has fallen to about six per cent from peaks of 18 per cent in the mid-1970s. The turnaround has even created some unexpected problems. Said Mayor Joe Mavrinac: “We have a very serious housing shortage right now.” Significant: The first significant gold discovery in Kirkland Lake was made in January, 1912, and by 1919 five gold mines were operating. A sixth opened in 1927, and a seventh, in 1933. All seven were built along an east-west line roughly four kilometres long. The town of Kirkland Lake sprang up around the mines, and its main street, Government Road, is known locally as “the Mile of Gold.”
At the peak of the first gold boom in 1938, the town had a population of 25,500. Between 1953 and 1968 all but one of the seven mines closed, largely
because the price of gold was fixed at $35 (U.S.) per ounce—about $35.72 in Canadian funds—while production costs were rising. As a result, Kirkland Lake’s population plummeted to 11,800. One of the few positive developments during that era was the opening of an iron ore mine about 25 km southeast of Kirkland Lake. Now owned by Hamilton, Ont.-based Dofasco Inc., the mine employs over 440 workers.
Deepest: The sole producer among the original seven gold mines, the Macassa, is currently owned by Torontobased LAC Minerals Ltd. and has the deepest shaft in the Western Hemisphere. At 7,225 feet, it is 75 feet deeper than a shaft at an Inco Ltd. mine in
0 Sudbury, Ont. Completed in
1 May, 1986, after less than 3 ¥2
2 years’ work, it can transport miners to the shaft base in six
minutes, said Macassa manager Donald Bruce. Previously, the workers spent 90 minutes travelling to their work areas because they had to go down a three-shaft system and then travel horizontally for one mile. Along with the increased efficiency, the new shaft should extend the life of the mine by at least 10 years. Said Bruce: “Even if there was a downturn in the economy or gold prices, we could ride out any storm.”
Besides the development of conventional gold deposits, an unusual new mining project—the first of its kind in Canada—has been operating at Kirkland Lake since January. Vancouverbased Eastmaque Gold Mines Ltd. is extracting the precious metal from tailings—finely ground ore that mine operators used to discard as waste. Eastmaque mill manager Rodney Samuels said that within 25 km of Kirkland Lake there are an estimated 110 million tons of tailings, containing gold at grades ranging from 0.1 ounce per ton down to 0.01 ounce per ton. The tailings, known locally as “the slimes,” completely filled several bodies of water, including Kirkland Lake.
Boom: While the gold boom has revived the economy of Kirkland Lake, it has also given residents of the area a new optimism about the future. Said Mayor Mavrinac: “I firmly believe that the price of gold will escalate dramatically and that Kirkland Lake will be here for many, many years.” A few years ago such sentiments would have seemed like mere civic boosterism— even along the famous “Mile of Gold.”
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