Discussing the outstanding opportunities and quality of life in the Yukon, Samson Hartland shows real excitement – and so he should. As Executive Director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines for six years, he’s had front seats to the tremendous recent growth of this fabled territory.
The draw of the Yukon, one of the oldest settlements of First Nations people, goes back centuries. After the emergence of the fur trade in the early 19th century, the obscure and distant Yukon suddenly became the focus of the world’s attention with the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897.
Tens of thousands of hopeful prospectors arrived, and the Yukon’s unbreakable link with mining was forged, a link which exists to this day.
Established in 1943, the Yukon Chamber of Mines is the oldest chamber organization in the territory, formed just a year after the construction of the world-famous Alaska Highway – which was no coincidence.
Built mainly by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, the then approximately 1,700 mile (2,200 kilometre) highway served not only to connect America to Alaska by way of Canada, but to bring a stream of new arrivals (many of whom we’d call dreamers or visionary types, searching for their own frontiers) to the Yukon.
“The building of the Alaska Highway in 1942 created an influx of people, and I think the idea of organizing the business community made perfect sense, given the strong and storied history of mining, and the contributions to the economy at the time,” says Hartland.
With a background as councillor for the City of Whitehorse and executive assistant to the deputy premier, Hartland’s current role sees him as an intermediary between the Chamber’s board, and working on its strategic plan, vision, and delivery.
Modern Yukon, modern Chamber
With three paid staff and one contract position, the Yukon Chamber of Mines is a small but well-oiled machine. As it develops to meet evolving mining needs, the role of the Chamber has changed significantly over the years.
“We are the advocacy organization on the part of the industry when communicating responsible resource-development practices to all orders of government, to ensure there is a strong and diversified mining economy moving forward,” says Hartland.
And as the days of open pit mining and a lack of concern for First Nations persons are consigned to history, the Yukon Chamber is able to serve today’s much more diversified resource-development economy. Indeed, there are 150 mining operations in the Dawson City region alone, many of them mom-and-pop type operations generational in nature.
Naturally, mining today in the Yukon is very different and more sophisticated than in the past. There are the advanced reclamation efforts and modern environmental stewardship, and much more – especially the new roles of First Nations people.
Mining for everyone
Mining company relationships with First Nations people have evolved, including greater participation in economic opportunities for individuals and communities, and a greater ownership role played by First Nation governments and development corporations in the mining economy.
“The reality is, it has been changing for the better and is more reflective of the times we live in, more importantly on the front lines of what reconciliation with First Nations looks like in our industry,” says Hartland. “We have the most settled First Nations in the country – eleven of fourteen First Nations settled-in and self-governing their own traditional territory – and they play such a huge leadership role in the rights and title movement of First Nations across the country and around the world. So the Yukon is seen as a leader.”
Along with environmental stewardship and remediation requirements, the Yukon is at the forefront of the mining economy, actively taking part in the oversight and review of potential projects, human rights protection, and other key areas. “Our leadership has evolved over the years to where it is today, and I think it is something we can be very, very proud of.”
Mining remains a force in Yukon’s overall economy and in 2019 alone, mining and exploration directly contributed over $300 million to the territory, “while providing jobs, training opportunities and positive social impacts – particularly in Yukon rural communities.” And it continues to grow, according to the Chamber.
With healthy growth ever since it was founded almost 80 years ago, the Yukon Chamber of Mines today has over 500 members that represent every element of Yukon’s mining industry, from individuals, placer and exploration, to service supply companies, and all the way to quartz mining companies like Victoria Gold Corp.
Eagle Gold soars
A well-known and respected exploration and development-stage gold-mining business, the company made news last fall when it announced that its Eagle Gold project, about 85 km from the Village of Mayo, is set to become the biggest gold mine in the territory’s history.
A crowning achievement for both Victoria Gold and the Yukon, the Dublin Gulch area has been prospected for well over a century on a much smaller scale. The culmination of a decade’s work, the property is about 555 square km and located in the Tintina Gold Belt, and was acquired by Victoria Gold in June 2009.
The important part is that it contains deposit types of “large-tonnage reduced intrusion-related gold systems associated with Cretaceous Tombstone and Mayo Suite granodiorite intrusions and structurally-controlled high-grade gold-sulphide veins.”
At present, the Eagle Gold Mine is the territory’s newest operating gold mine, creating 350 to 400 jobs.
“We are proud of what we are seeing already,” Hartland says of Victoria Gold, which began drilling and exploration 10 years ago. “This is a company that entered into an agreement with the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation many years ago. Since that time, we’ve been able to see Na-Cho Nyäk Dun economic self-determination through development of the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Development Corporation (NNDDC), which now has companies that joint-venture with Victoria Gold in the provision of service and supplies.”
Established in 1996 under the Business Corporations Act S.Y. (1996), the NNDDC serves to foster business and employment opportunities for Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nations persons through three key areas: mining/reclamation, heavy construction, and real estate.
Of the estimated 350 to 400 positions being created by the Eagle Gold Mine, about 25 percent of employees are female; and an estimated 100 to 150 of the employees are of First Nations descent. “[Victoria Gold] is doing a lot of things that we are already proud of, not the least of which is providing economic benefits through employment and agreement JVs,” says Hartland.
Advocacy and membership
While strongly supporting its existing membership base, the Yukon Chamber of Mines also promotes itself to potential members through advocacy work and popular outreach events like the Yukon Geoscience Forum & Trade Show (https://yukongeoscience.ca/), and Yukon Mining Week (https://www.yukonminingweek.ca/), where the Chamber has staff at receptions and trade show booths for sign-up.
“I think our advocacy work speaks for itself,” says Hartland. “When we do our advocacy work or put on events, people find us. We have websites, and we make registration easy. People might type ‘Yukon mining’ into Google, and the first thing that comes up is our page. So they go in there, and learn about the work we do, and the role of the Chamber.”
With many sponsors, last year’s 47th Yukon Geoscience Forum & Trade Show was held November 16-19, and saw about 800 participants in the public event, with at least a thousand others coming through the trade show itself, a dramatic increase over the last five years.
The increase stands as an indicator of increasing interest, not only in the geoscience story being told, but in the many other elements related to the industry, such as best practices, innovation, partnerships, geopolitics, and more. “There are so many other elements that we have built into the conference that it really creates opportunities for all walks of life,” says Hartland. “Whether someone is a geologist or bureaucrat, there’s always something for everybody at Geoscience.”
Hartland equates the event to a smaller version of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention – and far more intimate.
“It’s a great place to meet everybody in the industry in one place, and much easier than fighting the crowds at bigger conferences. Mining CEOs will be sitting in a non-technical talk where you least expect them. Access and networking people also find it very rewarding, and ‘best practices’ is getting people thinking and communicating with each other.”
Next event for the Chamber is Yukon Mining Week this coming May. An educational outreach to Yukon schools, it is designed to get students involved in hands-on outdoor activities related to the industry, from local walks through historic gold mine sites to the in-depth geology of the region.
Steadily growing, the event is spread over several days, and sees about 600 students, from elementary kids to high school teens, learn about mineralization, available college courses and more, all the while meeting representatives from companies operating in the Yukon. Naturally, this is where you come if you want to learn to pan for gold.
First Nations engagement
Taking another bold and timely step, the Chamber released the Yukon First Nations Engagement and Consultation Guidebook (https://www.yukonminers.org/index.php/all-news/41-yukon-first-nations-engagement-and-consultation-guidebook-is-live-online) early last year, a first for chambers of mines in general. A minerals engagement and consultation tool, the online Guidebook provides a one-stop shop for First Nations.
, it’s a map-based platform that identifies traditional territories. “If you’ve got a project somewhere, or looking at a project or thinking about a project – you can be anywhere in the world – go to this website. It’s one of the first websites that pops up when you search ‘mining and Yukon and First Nations’, and it helps folks understand and educate themselves on connecting industry with First Nations governments and communities,” says Hartland.
The platform has information on territories and traditional territories, policies, legislation, perceptions, mining development, contact information, First Nation-owned businesses and developments, and more.
Supported by the Government of Canada and various agencies, enormous effort has been poured into it, and it is viewed by peers across Canada as a globally-leading platform, one that other jurisdictions across the nation want to emulate.
While mining remains a crucial part of the Yukon’s past, present and future, the territory is also seen today as a great place to live, with clean water, quality schools, hospitals, and plenty of employment opportunities in the private and public sectors.
“The opportunities and quality-of-life indicators are off the charts for anybody who decides to work, or who is paying attention,” says Hartland. “The Yukon demonstrates that mining and the environment can coexist, and have coexisted for more than 100 years.”