After experiencing an online version in 2021 because of COVID-19, and an in-person conference in June last year attracting a modest 17,445 attendees, the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) was happy to go back to normal again, scheduling in early March, and gathering a more average figure of 23,819 attendees to Toronto, enjoying beautiful sunny and dry weather, with comfortable temperatures all week, as opposed to freezing -10 to -30C ordeals in the not too distant past.
The remarkable part of these beautiful circumstances was that this happened right in between two snow storms, causing all sorts of delays at airports before and after the conference. I had no trouble coming in, but at my departure the heating system of my plane broke down right before boarding, so after two hours of waiting in vain for repairs, my flight, which included a transfer, got cancelled and instead the transfer airline could arrange a direct flight fortunately, so I arrived even earlier than planned. Sometimes you get lucky in the airport casino I guess. Enough about travel and weather, back to the conference itself.
There were over 1,100 exhibitors present, including about 475 mining companies, covering over 600,000 square feet of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, making this one of the largest events in the 91 year old history of the PDAC.
As always, it’s good to see a lot of familiar faces again, and catch up with everything everybody has been doing for the past year or so. My main focus is the Investor Exchange for new clients and investment opportunities, but I always like to walk around the Tradeshow as well, checking out technical developments, hearing from jurisdictions what the current status of mining policies is, among other things. Despite the upcoming recession fears and high inflation, the current banking unrest didn’t break the news yet, so the overall sentiment was one of cautious optimism. Most people I talked to anticipated a mild recession coming up first, followed by a sometimes dubbed even “generational” commodity bull market, because of many ongoing shortages. The two leading figures of PDAC had the following commentary:
“There’s never been a more critical time for our industry to gather, share and learn as we drive progress, tackle global challenges and seize opportunities for a better future,” said Alex Christopher, PDAC President. “And the energy and optimism witnessed during PDAC 2023 was palpable—it is clear the mineral exploration and mining industry has entered a period of great transformation and growth.”
“For almost a century, the PDAC Convention has been recognized as the leading choice for the world’s mineral exploration and mining industry, bringing the latest trends, technologies and conversations to one central location, and 2023 is no exception,” says Lisa McDonald, PDAC Executive Director. “Yet again, we have proudly delivered capital markets, Indigenous affairs, student and early career, sustainability and technical programs, and short courses that offer the latest in professional development opportunities.”
In addition, I asked several attendees about their experiences and views during this PDAC, to get additional, more in-depth color about the conference. There we go:
CEO Elaine Ellingham of Omai Gold Mines (client): “PDAC 2023 was back to its pre-pandemic vibrancy, with an exceptional convention. Again, the who’s who of the international mining and exploration world converged on Toronto in large numbers. This was a great event for Omai Gold – we were high profile with our new 3.6 million ounce gold resource at the Omai property in Guyana, announced late last year. That level of gold resources in a mining-friendly jurisdiction put us on the radar of many investors, funds and larger corporate entities. The Omai Gold booth and technical talk were well attended. We participated in the Guyana Mining Day session with a large representation from Guyana Geology and Mines Commission including the Minister of Natural Resource and also the Minister of Home Affairs.
Although the gold price has risen over the past six months from the $1640/oz level last September to levels above $1800/oz during the conference, many of the forecasters expressed their views that there would be even further strengthening of the gold price stimulated by global events and the financial landscape. This turned out to be true. At PDAC, the “green” metal bubble appears to continue to have steam but some feel that the fundamental supply – demand profile does not support the lofty commodity prices and even loftier valuations for early stage explorers in this space. As investors have clamoured in that direction, it has left the gold companies a bit in the shadow with most junior company’s undervalued versus the advancement stages of their projects. This has led to the mid-tier and major precious metals companies viewing this as a shopping opportunity, however, shareholders in many of the undervalued junior gold companies will be resistant to low ball take overs so it will be interesting to see how this situation adjusts over the next six months. We expect Omai Gold to greatly benefit once the valuations of this sector come back into line and as drilling of the exploration targets and resource expansion continue to prove Omai as a significant new gold project.”
CEO Rob McLeod of Blackwolf Copper And Gold: “‘Confident yet cautious’ was the general sentiment from industry friends and acquaintances this year, at a technical and corporate-heavy PDAC; noticeably fewer investors, likely diluted by the numerous investor conferences prior to PDAC.
We launched a private placement on the Monday of the conference; between hung-over bankers and investors travelling or in meetings, doubt I’ll do it again on such a busy week. Was useful for meetings with other companies large and small, working on corporate development ideas.
Themes included: looking for advanced copper or nickel assets in US or Canada, explorers still bullish on lithium but industry was probably at a top, and a noticeably larger presence of First Nation reps and entrepreneurs. M&A chatter of advanced explorers and developers is picking up.”
CEO Tara Christie of Banyan Gold (client): ”Great turnout at PDAC. Lots of shareholders which had been in the story for 1-5 years who were happy with their gains – some from as far as Europe – and a fair number of new investors stopping by our booth for information. The conference had a solid number of attendees. They have not seen numbers like this since 2018. It was a great forum to reconnect with shareholders from all parts of the world. We were able to provide BYN updates in-person and have meaningful conversations with at and outside of the conference forum.
General Sentiment was great towards Gold – Gold remains strong. Great time and affordable to invest in gold. Lithium and battery metals were getting lots of attention and a bit of hesistancy about base metals with some of the recession talk. There were not a lot of retail investors or new investors, and the newsletter writer talks were noticeably empty. Normally the newsletter writers have a big draw. The newsletter room being empty could have been a negative sentiment signal, but PDAC also started to charge people to attend this, so maybe that was enough for people to not attend. Several of the newsletters have forums before PDAC that are free and have free lunches, so this probably also made a difference.
I think the retail investor sentiment for gold juniors has not yet turned, maybe 6 months to a year that might see that change. We are seeing corporates starting to look to the Yukon in a more serious way, so could be the early days of Yukon – and companies like Banyan – getting noticed.
Our Tintina Gold Belt Panel saw over 130 investors - got up bright and early – at 7:30 AM - to hear insights on reduced-intrusive gold systems and Banyan’s AurMac property, and for example our infrastructure advantage over our peers was evident. There were also corporate development people from various mid-tier and larger gold miners in the audience, which shows they are paying attention and seeing the B2 investment in Snowline coming out of the conference also highlights that. It could be the start of a new Yukon Gold Rush, and we are in a great location with infrastructure and 2 mines beside us.
It is a tough financing market for juniors, but the good companies/projects can get financings at reasonable terms. Banyan has been positioning the upcoming resource update as another milestone, as we have not found the limits of mineralization and have lot of drilling to even add all the area in the 5 km of East West strike to the inferred level of resource. Last but not least, for Banyan, PDAC was also valuable technically to connect with experts as we design our 2023 drill program and metallurgy program.”
Mike Fox, publisher of The Prospector News: “I found that sentiment at the PDAC was up. I was quite busy and was able to accomplish some significant goals while at the event. While the Letter writers forum wasn’t attended well (I don’t think the PDAC marketed it well to retail investors) the Investor Hall floor was very busy on the Sunday (traditionally when the retail investors come to the show) in fact it was the largest Sunday crowd that I could remember for a number of years.”
CEO Tony Reda of Tectonic Metals (client):” It appeared that there was less investors/buy side at the conference this year. I think the buyside views PDAC in March as more of a headache than a worthwhile and productive endeavour that justifies the pain of dealing with the 25,000 person crowd, Toronto weather, and potential travel headaches due to the Covid aftermath and labour shortage. Furthermore, virtual continues to be a viable option for many. The current state of affairs in the markets has us companies working five times as hard trying to earn that penny. Necessity drives change and innovation and it was clear that many of the companies at PDAC were hustling trying to earn that penny.
PDAC was useful for us because Tectonic leverages PDAC and all other conferences for that matter as a jump off point for other technical, industry, corporate and marketing initiatives. We ask the questions, how can we maximize our investment into PDAC to generate a higher return. To that point, we organized the Tintina Breakfast Session with Crescat Capital, which drew in over 130 people, commencing at 7am (7am during PDAC!), we were invited to participate and speak at MIF (a pre-PDAC conference), had meetings with sell and buy side and corporates in and outside of the conference, did an investor presentation at PDAC, attended several industry events, and I was an invited speaker on two ESG panels. PDAC was successful for us because if offered us the opportunity to interact with our industry and execute on all the initiatives above covering literally every aspect of our business.
CEO Gerald Panneton of Gold Terra Resource (client): “The PDAC in general and our booth are the opportunity over 4 days to connect with Investors coming to the show. It is a very important time for face to face contacts, and for spending quality time with investors. No show like this one exists in the entire world, as companies get the best exposure , and it is a venue covering all international perspectives, and indicates general sentiment, which seems to be improving. For gold and silver, the sentiment is that the sector is undervalued, the explorers and developer are being snubbed, and the royalties companies take too much room.
There was a lot of interest in the critical minerals sector, there is more of a buzz. I didn't have much time to look into this though as my focus was on the company and our booth. Lots of people were stopping by, to see the 2 recent high grades hits at the Con Mine near surface and the zone 14 Mispickel area (32 g/t over 3m).”
VP Exploration Rob van Egmond and IR person Diana Zoppa of Dolly Varden Silver (client): "We can add that from our point of view the sentiment was positive, despite the current market conditions. It was useful for the company because it is one of the largest conventions and thus audiences to get our story in front of, from both a market and technical point of view. One of the things that stood out most was to have face to face meetings with people contracting to us that until now mostly have been through online meetings, therefore getting a much more in-depth update. We felt we were also able to give more in-depth and tailored updates to investors, and technical parties interested in the project. General remarks:
This concludes the personal feedback from several conference attendees. The overall take away of the industry seems to be of positive sentiment but cautious, with all the macro- and conflict developments going on. The PDAC is useful for companies as a face to face event, not only for investor interest but also for interaction with all sorts of disciplines. Noticeable features this year were less investors and more industry people, and charging investors for newsletter presentations probably didn’t help for exposure.
The PDAC is also the stage for various awards, to acknowledge impressive feats in the industry. Two of the most important awards are the Bill Dennis award and the Thayer Lindsley award. The Bill Dennis award, named for a former President of the association, honours individuals who have accomplished one or both of the following: made a significant Canadian mineral discovery; made an important contribution to the prospecting and/or exploration industry. The recipients for 2023 are: Chris Taylor and the Great Bear Resources Exploration Team for the discovery of the Dixie gold deposit when others believed all the multi-million ounce deposits in Ontario's Red Lake camp had been found.
The Dixie project in the Red Lake gold camp of northern Ontario has been subject to intermittent exploration since 1985. Industry consensus was that whatever potential existed there had been investigated and found wanting.
But Great Bear Resources CEO, Chris Taylor and VP Exploration, Bob Singh figured there was a lot more gold to be discovered, starting with the previously identified Dixie Limb zone. They used a wealth of historical data, including a suite of more than 150 drill holes, to construct a new model of mineralization. Chris, a structural geologist, was so convinced previous explorers had misinterpreted the geology that he used his personal line of credit to finance early exploration.
Their educated gamble paid off. The Great Bear team made its first major discovery – the Hinge zone – in August 2018 by targeting a regional fold axis. Shallow drill intersections, such as 16.4 metres grading 27 grams per tonne gold, caught the market's attention and allowed the company to raise $10 million for further work.
Subsequent exploration and structural interpretation led to more discoveries in rapid succession. During 2019, Great Bear found the Bear-Rimini, Yuma, Auro, Yauro, Viggo and Gap zones. Follow-up drilling confirmed these discoveries were part of a larger continuous zone of gold mineralization later called the LP Fault Zone. Unlike the vein-hosted gold mineralization typical of Red Lake, the mineralization was sheet-like, containing high-grade zones within lower grade halos.
In February 2022, Kinross Gold purchased Great Bear for C$1.8 billion, or C$29 per share, even before the technical team completed a compliant resource estimate for Dixie. The senior gold producer plans to develop the project into a top tier, long-life mine. As an added bonus, Great Bear’s discovery has reinvigorated exploration in the Red Lake camp, where geoscientists now have access to a new model of mineralization to find more gold.
In the end, the resource by Kinross came in at February 13, 2023 at 5Moz @ about 3g/t Au on average Indicated and Inferred with a significant open pit component, after Kinross almost doubled the amount of drilling completed by Great Bear (250,000m vs 300,000m). The markets expected 7-9Moz Au at a higher grade, and considering the amount of drilling done by Kinross but not drilling deeper than 500m where the supposed big mineralized potential was located, I’m still puzzled why Kinross paid so much for Dixie. Either way, Great Bear provided a big win for early investors that managed to hold on to their shares. This wraps it up for the Bill Dennis award.
The Thayer Lindsley award recognizes an individual or a team of explorationists credited with a recent significant mineral discovery anywhere in the world. Recipients for 2023 are: Chalice Mining's Kevin Frost & Morgan Fréjabise for the Julimar Nickel-Copper-PGE discovery under cover near Perth, Australia in 2020.
The Julimar discovery is an extraordinary development given how close the nickel-copper-PGE deposit is to Perth (~70 km), the capital of Western Australia, a well-established mining jurisdictions that has been explored extensively.
Previous explorers were blind to the deposit because it underlies extensive regolith cover that obscures the region's geology. But when the Chalice Mining team of Kevin Frost and Morgan Fréjabise studied publicly available airborne magnetic surveys supported by other regional geoscience datasets, they saw the hallmarks of an ultramafic-mafic intrusive complex hidden beneath the cover. By later applying electromagnetics on the ground and multi-element soil geochemistry, they were able to hone in on the rich deposit of metals now known as the Gonneville deposit.
The Chalice team spent a very modest ~A$50,000 at the project to define a drill-ready target and in early 2020, the maiden drill hole intersected a remarkable 19 metres grading 2.6% nickel, 1.0% copper, 0.14% cobalt, 8.4 grams per tonne (g/t) palladium and 1.1g/t platinum at a shallow depth of about 40 metres. The drill hole uncovered one of the most significant nickel sulphide discoveries in recent global history, and the largest PGE discovery ever in Australia.
The Gonneville deposit is particularly significant because of the range of valuable metals it contains, its scale and its shallow starting depth. Palladium, platinum, nickel, copper and cobalt are all critical to decarbonisation and green technologies. The discovery has established a new mineral province along the western edge of the Yilgarn Craton (the West Yilgarn Province) with over a thousand kilometres of unexplored potential.
In July 2022, Chalice released an updated Mineral Resource Estimate for Gonneville of 350 million tonnes grading 0.58% nickel equivalent (NiEq) or 1.8 g/t palladium equivalent (PdEq), containing 11 million ounces of PGEs and gold, 560 thousand tonnes of nickel, 360 thousand tonnes of copper and 54 thousand tonnes of cobalt. The deposit remains open beyond a depth of ~700m and open to the north along strike, which is quite remarkable when considering over 275km of drilling has been completed to date. I am not familiar with this deposit as I don’t follow ASX companies, but this is a genuine worldclass PGE discovery for sure, and still expanding.
Besides these impressive success stories, governments continue to use the event as an important platform for announcements, including Canadian Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who announced an investment of over C$344 million for critical minerals development. This was alongside the approval of six projects, with an investment of over C$14 million, under the Critical Minerals Research, Development and Demonstration program for pilot demonstrations. This is interesting, as lots of lithium- and rare earth projects need pilot plants to prove up economics, and this will certainly be supportive.
Last but not least, a PDAC is no PDAC without all the parties, often already starting late afternoon. Each day there are dozens of events to chose from, and it is always a hassle to get tickets to the best ones, by harassing the booths of the organizing companies on day 1 of the conference. One of the most coveted events is the one organized by First Majestic and other silver companies in Ripley’s Aquarium, which by the way was also the location of the SGS party this year:
Other popular venues are of course the Fairmont Royal York hotel, with lots of events, but also the Walrus Pub & Beer Hall, the Steam Whistle Brewing, the Shore Club and numerous other venues of which I have no recollection of the names. There is no better way for networking, but you also get to hear the most fantastic stories from colorful mining legends if you are lucky, as they love to tell those to anyone who is interested.
This concludes my review of the latest PDAC conference, and I’m already looking forward to the next one, which will be organized on March 3-6, 2024. See you there!
I hope you will find this article interesting and useful, and will have further interest in my upcoming articles on mining. To never miss a thing, please subscribe to my free newsletter at www.criticalinvestor.eu, in order to get an email notice of my new articles soon after they are published.
The author is not a registered investment advisor, and currently has a long position in Tectonic Metals, Banyan Gold, Omai Gold Mines, Dolly Varden Silver and Gold Terra. Tectonic Metals, Banyan Gold, Omai Gold Mines, Dolly Varden Silver and Gold Terra are sponsoring companies. All facts are to be checked by the reader. For more information go to the various company websites and read the company’s profile and official documents on www.sedar.com, also for important risk disclosures. This article is provided for information purposes only, and is not intended to be investment advice of any kind, and all readers are encouraged to do their own due diligence, and talk to their own licensed investment advisors prior to making any investment decisions.
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