The journey to gold’s discovery and the development of an operating mine is complex, challenging and storied and a path requiring vision and fortitude day-in and day-out over years and over decades.
Determination and fortitude continually demonstrated by Canadian junior mining company Victoria Gold Corp – owners and operators of the Eagle Gold Mine located within the traditional territory of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun in Central Yukon, Canada.
An essence being recognized this year with the 125th Anniversary of the Yukon’s historic Klondike Gold Rush and a discovery, which undeniably placed the Yukon on the global stage with its lure of 100,000 gold seekers to the territory, before it became a Territory, between 1896 and 1899; shaping the Yukon and forever impacting the lives and livelihoods of its residents and Indigenous peoples.
Paving the way for a true visionary like Victoria Gold Corp President and CEO John McConnell to bring his inspirational, gutsy leadership and his 35-plus years of experience mining in Canada’s north to the Eagle Gold Mine team.
McConnell’s team has an unflagging commitment to living in and contributing to the Yukon. A dedication rooted far beyond the territory’s unparalleled geological potential as McConnell and his team live and breathe how responsible mining can positively impact the individuals and communities a mining project serves.
According to Yukon author and historian Michael Gates, who wrote the 2020 book about Victoria Gold’s commitment and journey in “Dublin Gulch: A History of the Eagle Gold Mine,” (The book is available on amazon.ca)
“The evolution of the Eagle deposit into the Yukon’s largest gold mine was a complex undertaking that started to be planned in the 1990s,” writes Gates. “There were stops and starts for many years, and it was not until Victoria Gold acquired the property that the mine eventually became a reality. The development of this project by a junior mining company is a remarkable story of the vision, grit and determination of a committed team. I have come to think of it as ‘the little mine that could,’ but then, it’s not such a little mine. It has become the largest gold mine ever to operate in the Yukon, and it may enrich the economy of the Yukon for many years to come.”
The Eagle Gold Mine achieved commercial production on July 1, 2020. In full production, the mine will produce +200,000 ounces of gold per year for 11 years. The mine is located on the Company’s 100-per cent owned, 555 square kilometre Dublin Gulch Property which also hosts a dozen additional exploration targets.
McConnell’s leadership evokes trust from his team and the range of contractors – mainly Yukon businesses and Yukon First Nations partnerships - which brought the mine into reality and production through the various stages of exploration, development, construction, and into operations.
From helping improve regular student attendance through Victoria Gold’s registered charity, Every Student, Every Day, to an unsolicited donation of $100,000 to the local food bank as the COVID-19 pandemic first affected the Yukon in March 2020, Victoria Gold operates with Yukoners’ needs and priorities always taken into consideration.
Victoria Gold also prioritizes training, apprenticeship opportunities and employment through a commitment to its Yukoners At Work campaign. Approximately 50 per cent of employees at the mine are residents of the territory and approximately one quarter are women and a further 25 per cent are First Nations citizens.
In conversation with John McConnell, President and CEO of Victoria Gold
Q. What are the challenges of being in the gold exploration and development segment and how are you acing this space?
The Eagle Gold Mine is a low-cost, open pit, heap leach operation located in a northern Canadian climate. Victoria Gold has not only demonstrated that heap leaching is possible in a cold environment, but that a junior mining company can develop a project from exploration through to production. Typically, a mine is bought by a large mining company at the development stage, but we have demonstrated that a junior mining company, with experienced leadership and a whole lot of determination, can prove skeptics wrong. 2020 was an especially challenging year with the pandemic but I am proud to say we successfully ramped up the Eagle Gold Mine into production. Using a gold price of $1700/ounce and producing180,000 - 200,000 oz gold this year, the company is on track to cash flow $100 million in 2021.
Q. Tell us about the Eagle Gold Mine, Yukon’s newest operating gold mine. What promise does it hold?
The Yukon is a vast territory that has a rich history of mining but to date remains under explored. Eagle is one gold deposit on a large land package (the Dublin Gulch Property) that hosts a number of other exploration targets and the region shows potential of becoming a mining district. We work to provide worthwhile and rewarding careers for Yukoners so they do not have to leave home to go south for work.
Production at the mine has increased in each of the past six quarters. Plans are underway to increase the annual production to 250,000 ounces per year and extend the mine life to 2040, which will contribute to the Yukon’s social and economic strength for future generations.
Recently, a major mining company purchased 17.8 per cent of Victoria Gold, which has encouraged other players to look at the company as a takeover target. In response to this move and to protect shareholders’ interest, the Company put a Shareholders’ Right Plan in place and has increased the 2021 exploration budget to prove out the property’s other exploration targets. Management intends to ensure that full value of the Company is realized in the event of a buyout.
Q. How is Victoria Gold working to impact the health and social conditions, employment, and training in the Yukon?
The mine employs about 500 workers, including embedded contractors, making Victoria Gold the largest private sector employer in the Yukon. Throughout exploration, construction, and operations, the Company has purposely structured its service and supply contracts to fit and build capacity of local companies, including Yukon First Nations business partnerships. Victoria Gold has worked closely with the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun and signed a Comprehensive Cooperation Benefits Agreement (CBA) in 2011, which provides the First Nation with opportunities, while respecting and promoting its environmental protection priorities and ensuring open and transparent dialogue throughout the life of the Eagle Gold Mine.
Through the Victoria Gold Yukon Student Encouragement Society, a registered charity, focused on promoting regular school attendance as a priority, we are helping students achieve better grades, develop healthy life habits, and improve their chance of graduating high school. The Society, and its Every Student, Every Day initiative, is making a tangible difference. Victoria Gold also actively supports a range of other community organizations and charitable initiatives.
Q. How were you affected by the pandemic? How did you evolve since last year to beat the setbacks dealt by it?
Management acted early to keep workers and contactors safe on site and worked closely with the Yukon Government to put health and safety measures in place to continue operating, while meeting and exceeding the recommendations and guidelines as provided by the Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Procedures continue to evolve to meet and exceed government health authority guidelines. In addition, ramping up a new mine in itself is challenging, so adding a pandemic exacerbates all aspects of this process. Throughout, the health and safety of Victoria Gold’s employees and contractors and that of all Yukon residents and communities was at the forefront of everything we did – and continue to do.
Meet the leader behind the success of Victoria Gold
President & CEO John McConnell is a mine engineer and has spent most of his 35-plus year career in Canada’s north; first with Break Water Resources’ Nanisivik lead/zine mine on Baffin Island, then with De Beers Canada’s Snap Lake Mine in the NWT and for the past 12 years, with Victoria Gold Corp. He has a proven track record of getting mines permitted and built and is experienced in the challenges cold and remote conditions present. McConnell has a deep respect for the communities and individuals within which, and with whom, he works and for the importance of partnership and trust building. He moved to the Yukon in 2013 to experience first-hand the cultures, concerns, priorities and socio-economic realities of Yukoners and Yukon First Nations governments and citizens.