"In 2020 alone we raised more than C$60 million to advance Springpole through the environmental assessment process to the point where we can negotiate and ultimately conclude agreements with our indigenous communities."
How has First Mining Gold evolved as a company since its founding in 2015?
First mining was founded in 2015, when the gold market had been through four years of a vicious bear market. Many investors had given up on the exploration and development sector, but we saw the downturn as a great opportunity to pick up quality resources that had been overlooked, forgotten or given up on. We started a public company and, in 2015 and 2016, bought eight projects within a 12-month timespan. These assets are now the basis of First Mining Gold’s portfolio today.
Initially the plan was for First Mining to be a mineral bank, where it would acquire assets and not do any work on them. The idea was that the gold price would go up and we would find partners and retain and distribute interest in the project. However, the projects that First Mining purchased were too good for that strategy. If you look over time, you will see that mineral bank, buy and hold, ounces in the ground type strategies, tend to cap out at about US$10 per ounce. When you have real projects and particularly those as compelling as our flagship Springpole project, there is an obligation to shareholders to move them forward. In this case the assets’ value can become worth US$80-$100 per ounce, if you can get them permitted.
As a result of this realization, in 2017-18 the team started doing work to grow and better understand its Goldlund project and to advance Springpole. We got the project into the environmental assessment process and had a robust PEA to demonstrate the economics of the asset. We then started down the path of pre-feasibility and became First Mining Gold in 2018. That decision reflected the fact that there were really viable development opportunities in this portfolio.
Since our current management team took over two years ago, we have transformed First Mining. In 2020 alone we raised more than C$60 million to advance Springpole through the environmental assessment process to the point where we can negotiate and ultimately conclude agreements with our indigenous communities. Additionally, we recently completed our Pre-Feasibility Study. Declaring reserves on this project for the first time truly was a milestone for us. It reflects the culmination of a year of detailed data collection, trade-off studies, and engineering and technical de-risking work done by our team and our partners. In the end, the results of the study confirm that Springpole has the potential to become a strategically significant, highly profitable gold mine in one of the most attractive mining jurisdictions in North America.
What are the most attractive characteristics of First Mining’s Springpole project and how has it progressed through 2020?
It is one of the largest undeveloped gold projects in Ontario. There are very few 5 million-ounce equivalent projects in the world that are on a development path and in a permitting process. Springpole is a continuously mineralized, reasonably homogenous, intrusive ore body that is mineable in an efficient and low-cost manner.
Ontario is a tier-one jurisdiction and it is one of the best places in the world to be developing projects. Certainly, from a track record perspective, it outperforms when it comes to permitting projects in Canada. Ontario has permitted four large open pit mines in the last five years, all of which have a similar size and scale to Springpole, and most of which are either in construction or about to start construction. On top of that, the infrastructure in the area around us is excellent.
Can you elaborate on First Mining’s equity position in Treasury Metals? What is the advantage of the Goldlund-Goliath deal?
First Mining had its Goldlund project, which is an 800,000 oz indicated plus 850,000 oz inferred resource, at good grades, located just off the highway between Dryden and Sioux Lookout. We had been drilling on Goldlund pretty consistently since 2017, and there is still a lot of exploration potential there. However, the market was not paying any attention to it.
After we sold Goldlund to Treasury Metals, we took back shares, some warrants, a royalty and some deferred consideration. But given that Treasury, in the Goliath project, had their federal EA approvals for a mine, mill and conventional tailings dam, it was much further advanced in the development stage than Goldlund.
We saw a great opportunity to combine and put forward a co-development plan that meant one mill, one tailings dam, one set of surface disturbance and one infrastructure to co-develop these two mines. Ultimately this deal leads to a much lower risk and more robust development project. As a result, First Mining is now the largest shareholder of Treasury Metals. We own about 40% of the company, plus some warrants that would take that number higher.