Western University, Department of Communication & Public Affairs
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Tel: 519-661-2045 • Fax: 519-661-3921
How purple turned to gold
Everyone knew the Klondike Trail had been picked clean of gold. First came the swarms of dreamers and adventurers in 1898, then modern prospectors who returned in the 1970s and 1980s.
Between the old methods and the new ones, everyone knew there was little left to find.
They forgot to tell a couple of Western grads, Rob Carpenter, BSc’94, MSc’96, PhD’04, and Craig Finnigan, BA’92, BSc’98, MSc’00. Carpenter is CEO and Finnigan chief geologist of Kaminak Gold in Vancouver.
They found modern Klondike gold, on a route already travelled by Robert Service, Jack London and thousands of others.
And they credit Western for leading them to the spot others had seen and passed by.
In the past three years, Kaminak’s market capitalization has shot from $3 million to $140 million. And the two geologists say it all started because their Western professors wanted geology students to know what rocks look like, which seems like an obvious lesson but is more complex than it sounds.
“This was the early to mid-90s, and we were just emerging into the computer age,” Carpenter says. “Western still had very fundamental courses that taught people what rocks looked like, whereas many universities were converting everything to computer graphics and how to manage data. Western was still emphasizing the collection of the data. That gave us very hands-on training.”
The rocks near London, Ont. didn’t hold a lot of scope for teaching. Limestone and more limestone. Professors used to load up a van with students on a Thursday night and head north for the Canadian Shield, where rocks hold valuable metals.
“Driving up to Sudbury, and then to Marathon and Wawa, we saw a lot of rock,” Carpenter recalls. “And we saw a lot of mines — nickel, gold, silver, you name it. And the philosophy from our professors was: How are you going to find a mine unless you know what one looks like?”
The trips gave them the fundamental tools for finding Yukon gold. But a quirk of Earth’s ancient history gave them another boost. Finnigan knew something unique about one area of the Yukon. No glaciers formed there because it was too dry. Ice Age glaciation that covered much of North America under kilometres of ice repeatedly left one swath of Yukon grasslands untouched, which means the soils have been intact for millions of years.
“We’ve gone into an area where you would’ve thought everything was found. The Klondike was over in 1899 and the placer golds (particles washed down hills and into streams) were all discovered.
“What we did different was we collected baseline knowledge (and) applied it ourselves, rather than applying what everyone else had done.”
The property is called Coffee, after nearby Coffee Creek where eager newcomers panned for gold in 1898; zones in it are called Latte and Supremo. Another Kaminak property nearby is called Cream. A Yukon government newsletter in 2010 enthusiastically noted the discovery “adds a jolt of caffeine to (the) Yukon Gold Rush.”
While Kaminak isn’t the first modern company to find Yukon gold, others missed the Coffee site, 120 km south of Dawson, partly because it doesn’t look like a typical Yukon gold deposit. It does, however, look like gold in Timmins, Kirkland Lake, and Chibougamau.
“Craig recognized that very early on, that this is a little bit different than your average Yukon gold deposit,” Carpenter says. “We were lucky enough that we had that experience (at Western), and then you stick us into the middle of the Yukon and all of a sudden we start seeing things that are very similar” to their Ontario training.
“Whenever we go into an area, we always ask ourselves: What are we going to do that’s different from the guys that were here before us?” Carpenter says.
In 2008, that meant engaging the Inuit who live in a part of Nunavut where Kaminak found uranium, and making them business partners. Their eventual agreement made Kaminak the first company awarded the right to explore for uranium on private, Inuit-owned land in Nunavut. Inuit people in the area received shares in the new company formed to do the exploring, Kivalliq Energy Corp.
It suits the company’s informal motto: “Don’t go where you’re not wanted.”
Mines are big, industrial operations, and that can’t be disguised, so Kaminak has chosen not to push into areas where residents are opposed to mining.
The company maintains links with Western. Finnigan is an adjunct professor, and Kaminak has supported bachelor’s and master’s theses.
Both men say it’s still exciting to go to work in the morning.
“In exploration, especially for gold, once you start doing it you get bitten by a bug as a geologist, wanting to go on and find the next thing,” Finnigan says. “It’s kind of addicting for a geologist,” like solving a puzzle: “There’s a lot of information that comes to you and it all means something and you as the geologist have to figure it all out.”
“Geology is one of those things you can’t predict,” Carpenter says. “If we could predict geology then we would know where volcanoes were going to happen and where earthquakes were going to happen ... and we would know how to prepare for those. (But) the Earth is continually throwing curve balls at you.”
He adds the biggest challenge in solving the puzzle: “It may not have an answer.”
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