When George Pirie, Ontario’s mines minister, closes his eyes and imagines what a resurgent northern Ontario mining industry will look like five years from now, he might see new nickel mines in Sudbury and Timmins, a battery industrial park in Cobalt, haul trucks transporting nickel concentrate on the recently completed road from the Ring of Fire, and multiple lithium mines and processing facilities in northwestern Ontario.
It is a good bet that much of the scenario will indeed materialize. The drills are confirming that the resources are there, the environmental assessments are progressing, and meetings with battery manufacturers and the automobile industry are resulting in offtake agreements.
The northern Ontario mining industry is destined to play an important role in the province’s critical minerals strategy as a supplier of nickel, cobalt, and lithium to southern Ontario’s auto industry.
“The demand for critical minerals is an enormous opportunity for Ontario to reassert its position in the global mining industry,” said Stephen Flewelling, CEO of Ring of Fire Metals, the Wyloo Metals spinoff now in control of the long-delayed Eagle’s Nest nickel project. “We have slipped. Thirty years ago, Canada was the number one or number two nickel producer in the world. We now have a glorious opportunity to reassert our position, but we must get something significant done within a five-year window or we are going to miss the boat,” he warned. “The world will move on without us and we will be sitting here saying it is too bad.”
Australia-based Wyloo Metals acquired Noront Resources and its extensive Ring of Fire properties 500 km northeast of Thunder Bay in April 2022 for $616.9 million following a long-drawn-out bidding war with BHP. However, it will not be able to start construction without an access road currently undergoing an environmental assessment overseen by the Webiquie and Marten Falls First Nations.
“We believe that the Ring of Fire with respect to further nickel deposits is as prospective as Sudbury,” said Flewelling. “I know because I used to manage the mines in Sudbury for Falconbridge. It will not happen in the Ring of Fire overnight, but we believe there are many more nickel mines in the region beyond Eagle’s Nest.”