Kendra Johnston, president of the Association for Mineral Exploration, speaks at the Mining Month Luncheon at Hudson Bay Lodge May 6. (Thom Barker photo)

Kendra Johnston, president of the Association for Mineral Exploration, speaks at the Mining Month Luncheon at Hudson Bay Lodge May 6. (Thom Barker photo)

Mining luncheon highlights optimistic outlook for Smithers

Smithers tops municipalities in exploration spending, which continues to grow year over year

Economic optimism was palpable at the Hudson Bay Lodge May 6 for the annual Mining Month Luncheon.

Kendra Johnston, president of the Association for Mineral Exploration, highlighted the positive news in her presentation that mineral exploration expenditures in 2021 reached near historic levels and were up 56 per cent over 2021.

In total, companies spent $660 million in the province last year. She also noted that 55 per cent of that spending was concentrated in the Northwest Region.

This bodes really well for Smithers, which topped all the municipalities in the province for spending in 2020 at an estimated $105 million.

Other stats she provided for Smithers included 36 per cent of all Northwest projects are supported by 48 unique vendors in Smithers three of which are Indigenous-affiliated businesses.

Municipal numbers are not available for last year, but Johnston says she suspects the ratios will remain relatively similar, but if anything they would likely be slightly elevated even given the level of activity in the Northwest.

Johnston also highlighted the nature of the spending in Smithers. In 2020, 58 per cent of local spending was on consumables, equipment and logistics including transportation, accommodation and equipment.

The other big chunk was on drilling at 37 per cent.

Only two per cent was spent on safety, training, IT and administrative services and only one per cent on professional services such as consultants, lab services and GIS.

Johnston said she was really surprised by the lack of professional services being provided out of Smithers.

“I think there’s there’s a fantastic opportunity,” she said. “Mike (Mehr) talked about the transportation sector or the infrastructure sector that surrounds Smithers and the fact that there’s a main highway main corridor going right through. It’s a perfect place, in my mind, to have an essay lab. So, I think that centrality of Smithers… for all the projects to be able to bring their samples here, whether it’s here or whether it’s Terrace or whether it’s somewhere else in the local region. I just think there’s a really big opportunity for that.”

For his part, Mehr, founding partner of the accounting firm Edmison-Mehr, was not able to provide hard numbers, but anecdotally, he said, for their clients who are directly involved in the industry, they see it on the balance sheets.

He also noted the spin-off benefits to many of the firm’s other clients is obvious.

“You don’t see it on their books, but you know it’s there,” he said.

Nate Corcoran, the province’s new regional geologist, who will be based in Smithers as of next week also spoke giving an update on the status of numerous projects in the region.

Chief among these is Ascot Resource’s Premier gold mine, which is currently under construction with projected production start of early- to mid-2023.

In total, he noted, in addition to the two working mines (Red Chris and Brucejack) and Premier, there are six proposed mines and 65 exploration projects currently underway in the Northwest.

The fourth speaker was Elizabeth Miller, Seabridge Gold vice president, environment and social responsibility. Miller spoke about the extent to which her company, with offices in Smithers, gives back to the community.

She said the Northwest B.C. Scholarship program has provided more than $800,000 to students Smithers, Terrace, Gingolx, Laxgalts’ap, Gitwinksihlkw, Gitlax’aamiks, Hazelton, Kitwanga, Stewart, Telegraph Creek, Dease Lake and Iskut among others, to further their trades and post-secondary education.

The annual Mining Month Luncheon is a joint venture of the Smithers Exploration Group and the Smithers District Chamber of Commerce.

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