Great Bear Resources president and CEO Chris Taylor was the stand-out choice for The Northern Miner’s Mining Person of the Year award for 2021. The 44-year-old structural and economic geologist not only sold the company and its Dixie gold project in Ontario’s Red Lake district to Kinross Gold in December for C$1.8 billion ($1.4bn), but in the three years of due diligence leading up to the acquisition, Taylor and his team also managed to set off what he calls the “largest staking rush” in Red Lake’s history.
Like many tales of glory, it took guts. Taylor’s efforts to keep his dream of Dixie alive involved years of hard work and laying his own money on the line. At first he borrowed funds from family and friends just to keep the lights on and the rent paid in the dark years of 2013 and 2014. But in order to come up with the initial payment for the Dixie project in 2014-2015, Taylor had to rack up an enormous line of credit against his house. “When we couldn’t raise the money and I was going hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt my hair started falling out in chunks,” Taylor recalls in an interview, adding the strain also put pressure on his heart. “It was basically so much stress building up that my body was shutting down under the pressure of being able to finance the project.”
But Taylor also trusted the instincts of his talented vice-president exploration and chief geologist, Bob Singh, who had first learned about the property, 25 km southeast of Red Lake, from local prospector Perry English. “Bob’s initial 3-D models that he built on the project suggested there was a much simpler and larger scale gold zone there, and yet we couldn’t get it funded,” Taylor says. “We just had this conviction from his modeling of the data that there was work that had not been properly interpreted previously.”
“I had faith in Bob’s interpretations and I knew that what we had found was something that was going to be — could be — a generational type of discovery,” Taylor continues. “So we stuck to our guns and made sure the project and the company kept going.”
The junior explorer, which ultimately spent a total of $220,000 to acquire a small corner of the Dixie project (66% owned by English and 33% by Newmont), then staked the main claim base on its own based on geophysics and interpreting government seismic data. The team went on to make two high-grade gold discoveries: the Hinge Zone in 2018 and the large-scale LP Fault Zone in 2019. The 22 km project also contains the Limb, Midwest and Arrow zones. “Bob recommended we stake the intersection of this big regional structure that we now know is the LP Fault zone, and where that cut across the greenstone belt in this area,” Taylor says. “So we staked everything we thought had value and it turns out we were essentially correct based on that initial thesis.”
“We became very impressed with the scale of the discovery at Dixie early on,” he says. “The discovery of the LP Fault Zone — I’ve never seen it before, where you can step out kilometer after kilometer and hit the same rocks and the same style of gold mineralization. And there was a lot of skepticism in the market generally when that began to happen because it’s so incredibly unusual. But we just kept doing it.”
By the time Kinross pulled the trigger on its plan of arrangement, Great Bear had drilled 340,000 metres in 794 drill holes and 80% of its drill holes into the LP Fault, Limb and Hinge zones contained visible gold. At the LP Fault zone, the junior traced mineralization along 10.8 km of strike length and down to a depth of 796 metres. The zone remains open along strike and at depth. Great Bear says the LP Fault zone has similar geological features to the large Hemlo deposit, which has churned out at least 20 million oz. gold and been operating continuously for more than three decades.
Some have shaken their heads at the sum Kinross is paying for Dixie, given that Great Bear never completed a resource estimate on the project, but Taylor says the company needed to take a different approach. “The problem with the scale of the LP Fault is that we weren’t going to be able to constrain it. It just became obvious that we were looking at a major system — something like maybe the Hemlo deposit or the adjacent Red Lake gold mine that’s now operated by Evolution Mining.”
Deposits like those, Taylor says, “took twenty, thirty or forty years to really find all the gold and usually when that’s going on you are mining at the same time. Something like the Red Lake mine complex, for a lot of its life, they never would have had more than half a million ounces of resource defined ahead of mining. And that went on for years and years. And a project like Dixie, especially the big LP Fault Zone, we knew we’d get into that kind of situation.”
Instead of undertaking a resource estimate, Great Bear decided to report every single drill sample. “Most exploration companies only disclose composite intervals that average out gold over a total width, but we realized we had to start providing every single assay we received back from the lab. And because we had such good data disclosure, the market was able to follow the story.”
Once the groups doing due diligence on the company were able to review every piece of data, Taylor explains, “the more data they reviewed, the better the project looked.”
“These guys doing due diligence they had resources modeled of their own, they had mine plans built of their own, they knew how the project could develop.”
Ultimately there were about eleven interested parties that were looking at Dixie seriously and had signed confidentiality agreements. “By the end of it we kind of felt like everybody had built a resource model on the project that we were talking to,” Taylor says. “And they had, there were dozens of these things floating around because the data disclosure was so good that we made it easy for anybody that was interested to model it up on their own. And I think more companies should take that approach. Release all your data, show your structural data, show your individual sub-level assays. We took the approach to be as transparent and as practical as possible and let the market and the mining companies effectively do a multi-year due diligence process and we did it because we knew that we were onto something very significant.”
Taylor also points to a “massive staking rush” along the same belt of rocks as Dixie after Great Bear found the Hinge and LP Fault zones in 2018 and 2019, respectively. “Barrick picked up over 100 km of strike extent to the north and east of us and Evolution Mining picked up another 150 km on top of that to the east of us,” he says. “There was recognition within the industry that that greenstone belt could be very highly prospective for high-grade gold mineralization, which was not something that was previously known.”
Ultimately Taylor is modest about his own role, giving much of the credit to English, the prospector, Singh, and to a team of Red Lake-based geologists at Rimini Exploration and Consulting — Ian Russell, Terry Bursey, and Crystal McCullough.
“I was working with some of the best people in the world on one of the best projects in the world and I was bound and determined not to be the weak link in that chain,” he says. “My part in it has been trying to keep this ship sailing in the right direction — and funded.”
Looking ahead, Taylor isn’t ruling out more discoveries, but like Dixie, the stars have to align.
“People are pitching projects at me all the time and my first question to them is, ‘Can it be as big as Great Bear?’ And it’s always amusing to see how they try to say that ‘yes it is.’ But the reality is, Great Bear was, I believe, that once-in-a-generation discovery. Can we make another major discovery? Yes. Can we repeat the magic here? Well, I know the right people to do it, but it would require the right project as well. And that’s the kind of thing you can’t make promises about until you see the data — compelling you — like it did at Dixie.”
(This article first appeared in The Northern Miner)