Nunavut is one-fifth of Canada’s land mass and remains relatively under-explored. Composed of diverse geological bedrock provinces hosting a number of rich deposits, it is attractive for grassroots exploration. Nunavut has a single settled land claim, the Nunavut Agreement, and an established land tenure and regulatory system.
According to Natural Resources Canada, Nunavut attracted $155.6 million in private sector investment for mineral exploration and deposit appraisal work. About seven out of every eight exploration dollars spent in Nunavut are dedicated to gold discoveries. Diamonds, copper, zinc, and iron account for remaining expenditures in the search for new economic deposits. Total investment in exploration and deposit appraisals are estimated to rise slightly in 2019 to $166.5 million.
Mineral wealth in Nunavut comes almost equally from iron and gold production, which reached a record $1.16 billion in 2018. This was an increase of 4.9 per cent over $1.11 billion from the previous year. Results from many earlier exploration programs has resulted in two new mines entering commercial production in 2019, both owned and operated by Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.
Nunavut hosts four active mines, three gold mines in the Kitikmeot and Kivalliq regions and one iron mine in the Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin) region.
Opened in 2010, Agnico Eagle operates the Meadowbank gold mine 75-kilometres north of Baker Lake. In 2018 the mine surpassed three-million ounces of total gold production since operations began. The deposit is in its final year of production, however since the summer of 2019, Meadowbank’s facilities have been processing ore from the Whale Tail open pit, a satellite deposit located within the Amaruq project area about 65 kilometres to the north of Meadowbank. Amaruq is expected to produce about 2.4 million ounces by 2024 from current mineral reserves and additional resources continuing to be added through exploration and resource conversion drilling. An underground exploration ramp has been completed which serves to assess the potential for underground mining at Amaruq.
Agnico Eagle opened Meliadine, the second gold mine in the Kivalliq, in February 2019. It is located 20-kilometres north of Rankin Inlet. Meliadine is both an open pit and underground operation that is expected to yield 230,000 ounces in 2019 and reach 385,000 ounces of gold for the full year of operation in 2020. New zones of high-grade gold mineralization outside of the known reserves have been encountered through further drilling which is expected to expand available resources and potentially extend the life of the mine beyond 2035.
The Mary River iron mine is 175-kilo- metres southwest of Pond Inlet on Baffin Island. Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, jointly owned by Nunavut Iron Ore and ArcelorMittal, operates the mine. Located at 72-degrees north latitude, it is one of the most northern mines in the world. In 2018, between July 24 and October 17, the company exported 5.1 million tonnes of iron ore from its port and loading facilities at Milne Inlet to world markets. Seventy-one individual shipments were made over the period, averaging 71,750 tonnes each, making it the largest ship- ping program ever staged from the Canadian Arctic. Baffinland is permitted to export as much as six-million tonnes in 2019.
The company’s plans to expand production were set back in the fall of 2019, when technical hearings for Baffinland’s Phase 2 Expansion project were suspend- ed. Hearings are anticipated to resume in 2020, allowing more time to address out- standing questions on the expansion’s social and environmental impacts.
TMAC Resources Inc. (TMAC) started gold production at Hope Bay in February 2017. The mine lies about 125-kilometres
southwest of Cambridge Bay. Deposits contain an estimated reserve of 3.6 million ounces of gold with an additional 4.8 million ounces of measured and indicated resources. Underground mining is presently occurring at the Doris North deposit where recent drilling also identified new high-grade intersections “below the dyke”. The BTD zone promises to hold enough reserves to expand underground development at Doris. In the southern part of the property, the Boston, Madrid North and Madrid South deposits have been the focus of additional exploration and development work. In late 2019, construction began on the underground portal at Madrid North which will allow for production to start the following year in the Naartok West Zone. TMAC produced 110,970 ounces of gold in 2018 during its first full year of operations, and 114,860 ounces in the first nine months of 2019.
Diamonds De Beers Canada Inc. purchased the Chidliak diamond project from Peregrine Diamonds Ltd. in July 2018. The Chidliak property lies on southern Baffin Island approximately 120-kilometres northeast of Iqaluit. Eight of 74 discovered kimberlite occurrences appear to have economic potential for diamonds. A preliminary economic assessment describes a plan for open-pit mining at two deposits (CH- 6 and CH-7) over a 13-year life to produce 16.7 million carats of diamonds at an average grade of 1.8 carats per tonne. De Beers is evaluating various development plan scenarios, including the deployment of innovative mining technology with light environmental footprint options that minimize energy consumption and use of fossil fuels.
North Arrow Minerals Inc. owns the Naujaat and Mel diamond projects. The Q1-4 kimberlite deposit at the Naujaat project is within the hamlet of Naujaat’s municipal boundaries. The deposit is one of the largest kimberlites known in Nunavut and has an inferred resource of 26.1 million carats contained in 48.8 million tonnes. If economic, the deposit could be mined by open-pit excavation methods. In 2014 and 2017, the company collected two bulk samples from the deposit. Results conclusively identified two distinct diamond populations, including Type 1b diamonds which consist of high-value yellow to orange coloured varieties. More analysis is required to evaluate the economic potential of the deposit. North Arrow plans to excavate a larger bulk sample and is investigating options with the hamlet. Situated eight- to 10-kilometres from the community, its proximity to tide water makes Naujaat diamonds an attractive prospect for development.
Further north on the Melville Peninsula, 140-kilometres south of Hall Beach, North Arrow is investigating kimberlite occurrences on the Mel property. Two kimberlites, ML-8 and ML-345 have been discovered and results released to date show that ML-8 is diamond bearing. Arctic Star Exploration is examining the potential for diamonds at the Stein property on Boothia Peninsula, 85-kilometres northwest of Taloyoak.
In south-central Kivalliq, Dunnedin Ventures Inc. has identified six high- priority target areas for exploration at its Kahuna diamond project in the area between Chesterfield Inlet and Rankin Inlet. In 2015, the company announced an inferred resource estimate of 4.02 mil- lion carats at the Kahuna kimberlite dyke with an average grade of 1.01 carats per tonne. Dunnedin holds exploration permits on the property, valid until 2023 for drilling and bulk sampling up to 1,500 tonnes.
Several gold exploration projects are being carried out across Nunavut. Back River in the Kitikmeot region is the most advanced of these projects being developed by Sabina Gold and Silver Corp. The Back River project consists of the Goose and George properties. Both are located south of Bathurst Inlet. An 80-kilometre winter road was completed to bring sea- lift supplies from the company’s marine lay down area at the Inlet to the Goose property where the mine site will be developed. About 5.3 million ounces of measured and indicated resources have been outlined at Goose. The smaller George property contains indicated re- sources of 1.1 million ounces of gold. With permits, including a Type B water licence, positive recommendation for a Type A licence, and long-term land tenure agreements with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, the company is on track to develop an open pit and underground mining operation that would produce up to 200,000 ounces per year with a mine life of 11 years.
Auryn Resources has permits and mineral claims across the prospective 300-kilmetre-long Committee Bay green- stone belt, located 250-kilometres west of Naujaat and about 180-kilometres north of Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank mine. The geology of the area holds great potential for gold deposits. A resource assessment outlined more than 1.2 million ounces of gold in the indicated and inferred category at the Three Bluffs deposit, one of five properties targeted for further exploration.
In the western part of Kitimeot, Blue Star Gold Corp. is actively working on the Hood River property, reported promising gold assay results from drilling in 2019 at the Hood River property, and has also exercised an option to acquire the Ulu gold property with measured and indicated resources of 605,000 ounces from Mandalay Resources Corp.
Over the past few years, Northquest Ltd. has continued exploration work of known targets at the Pistol Bay property located 50-kilometres north of the community of Whale Cove. The Vickers deposit is the most promising and hosts an inferred mineral resource of 739,000 ounces of gold at 2.94 grams per tonne.
Silver Range Resources Ltd. is a junior exploration company with several mineral claims in the Kitikmeot and Kivalliq regions. The company reported promising gold assay results from the Tree River and Hard Cash prospect sites in 2018, both considered to have district-scale potential for further discoveries.
Cache Exploration Inc. received a land use permit, valid until 2024 for all its claims and leases in the southern part of the Kivalliq, including the Kiyuk gold project area. ValOre Metals Corp. owns the Baffin Gold property on central Baffin Island, which covers one of the largest undeveloped iron formation-greenstone belts in Nunavut. The company also holds the Angilak Property with multiple metals in the Kivalliq.
Other exploration companies recently active in Nunavut include Solstice Gold Corp. The company completed till and prospect sampling for gold at their Kahuna project near Rankin Inlet in 2018 and concluded a limited drilling program in 2019 on select targets. Base metals Exploration work by Aston Bay Holdings Ltd. in recent years has expanded the understanding of copper and zinc mineralization over a 100-kilometre-long zone of historical mineral occurrences discovered on Somerset Island. The two most promising, Storm copper and Seal zinc mineral occurrences are located near tidewater. In 2017, the company re- leased an initial inferred resource for the Seal property of 1.01 million tonnes of ore at 10.24 per cent zinc and 46.5 grams of silver per tonne.
Encouraging exploration results to- day will keep Nunavut’s mining industry growing as it has over the past decade. There were no operating mines at the end of 2009, and there are four today. The Government of Nunavut is working to ensure that Nunavummiut are in a position to benefit from emerging resource development opportunities. One initiative to address this goal is the development of a territory-wide mine training program. Another is the Community Engagement and Support Program which provides funding to community organizations and industry during the project consultation process. Nunavut has tremendous resource potential as demonstrated by the remarkable successes exploration companies have achieved. With continued investment, Nunavut can look forward to new discoveries and ongoing development of mining projects.