ISLE AUX MORTS – Three months before they usually begin the seasonal exploration work on the Cape Ray Gold Shield, Matador Mining is already back at work. Perhaps it’s the favourable weather, the fact that this region has escaped much of the pandemic that continues to force shutdowns in other provinces, or perhaps Matador’s executives are just excited. There does appear to be gold in them thar hills near Isle aux Morts.
After the 2020 season and before the pandemic, Matador put its mineral resource at 840,000 ounces of contained at 2 grams per tonne. This year they’re hoping to increase that figure and that means a focus on targets already identified. Doing that will include employing a helicopter to carry out a 30 metre line spaced heli-magnetic survey.
“We’re using the helicopter to fly some aeromagnetic airborne geophysics surveys,” explained Warren Potma, Matador’s Exploration Manager during a Skype call from the company’s headquarters in Perth, Australia on Apr. 14. “The helicopter basically senses the different magnetic elements in the rocks and we use that to map out the geology.”
The aeromagnetic surveys will continue for roughly four to six weeks and cover about half of the tenement area, from Big Pond, located just Southwest of Matador’s camp, to the Northeast for about 45 or 50 km. In fact, the helicopter arrived in last week, parked on a hill in Margaree-Fox Roost, near a house where its pilot is currently boarding.
“It’s kind of hard to tell how long it’s going to take with weather and everything,” said Potma. “The road out to our camp is open. The camp is operational.”
By mid-April Matador had already begun the ATV-mounted power-auger drilling.
“It’s effectively glorified surface sampling,” said Potma. “It’s ramping up at the moment and it will probably hit full production in the next few weeks.”
Matador plans to hit between eight and ten of its identified target areas, all located within roughly 15 km of its camp. Originally they had planned to work much further Northeast as well, but there are so many targets close enough to the camp that efforts will remain focused around that area.
“We’ve got one and a half, at least, diamond rigs, so we’ve got a full time diamond rig and another part-time diamond rig lined up, and if all goes well hopefully more than that,” Potma said. “But at the moment we’re going to run most of our operations out of camp this year.”
In addition to the helicopter and the ATV, the plan is to have people out walking around with backpack auger drills. It works much like drilling a hole to sink a fence post, only when after reaching the bottom instead of erecting a post the bit on the drill is changed to allow the operator to pull up a small core sample for testing. There are obvious advantages for Matador and the environment to test via these methods.
“It’s quicker and cheaper to use the augering. It’s an ATV, right, so it’s a really lightweight footprint.”
This kind of testing is quite innovative and new, and to Matador’s knowledge there’s only one other operator on the island who has used it. It also offers the ability to cover larger areas of ground quite quickly and easily move on to a different patch if results are unfavourable.
“We reduce our footprint for diamond drilling to the areas where we make the discoveries of gold,” stated Potma.
Last year Matador made an attempt to do some trenching, which is a common and traditional method of exploration that has been used elsewhere within the province.
“We weren’t that happy with the trenching,” admitted Keith Bowes, Matador Mining’s Project Manager. “We didn’t think it gave us what we want.”
Instead of digging a trench that’s two metres wide by ten metres long, Matador will simply sink a few three-inch holes along the ten metres to get the same information.
Part of the core sample logging will happen in camp, but the other part will take place at the company’s core shed in Port aux Basques. SGS is a world-renowned testing company, and its Canadian division will be setting up Matador Mining’s sample preparation facility.
“They take all of the samples that we bring in. They crush it and grind it really, really fine, and then they take a small sub-sample from that, and that will be sent off to another lab for analysis,” explained Potma. “So we do the majority of the work on the island, in fact, in Port aux Basques.”
Potma says SGS will be hiring locals to work as assistants in Matador’s labs and train them on site. There are also more jobs likely for people to work the backpack auger rigs. Exactly how many jobs will be available this summer remains yet to be determined.
Workers from outside the region, even those from St. John’s, will stay at the camp. Local employees will be able to commute to and from the site daily. Matador is fully aware it must comply with shifting pandemic guidelines.
The camp itself is growing too, as the company is installing extra accommodations this year. The skyrocketing price of lumber isn’t really a factor for Matador though.
“We’re basically using pre-fabricated transportable units,” shrugged Potma, and noted a cultural difference. “I find it mildly amusing. In Perth we discuss inflation based on the price of coffee. In Newfoundland it seems to be the price of lumber.”
He may be less amused by the travel required to get to Newfoundland. After a three day quarantine in Toronto, Potma was scheduled to quarantine in Port aux Basques for another 11 days and then undergo another few days of provincial quarantine while he works in isolation. In total he will undergo four weeks of quarantine to spend four weeks on the ground. He’s also received his first vaccination against COVID-19.
“I’ve got to go the long way around the world,” said Potma. “There’s a risk if we fly through the Eastern States.”
He estimates between 26 to 28 hours of flying time just to get to Toronto, and then another leg to get to Newfoundland. This will be his first visit to the province.
Right now he can only stay a month, but Potma noted that some of the company’s senior employees are close to securing unlimited work visas, which will permit them to stay for longer periods. That will make things easier as the project continues to expand and develop.
Matador plans to continue its exploration work through the winter and into 2022.