Business Profiles

Orford Mining Three Times Charmed

Openly describing itself as a small exploration company, Orford Mining’s projects are surprisingly vast: whilst this mining company might be no giant, its properties, prospects and pipeline are all rich with potential. Not only this, but Orford Mining is handling each property well, managing its efforts between three major exploration operations with expertise, and making fast headway whilst doing so. We spoke with David Christie, company President and CEO, to discuss the latest from these projects and what investors and backers can expect from Orford in the near future.

Focused in Northern Quebec, Canada, Orford Mining was only founded in 2010, but in those 12 years, its findings have been notable. Currently, the company is exploring three projects: one in the Joutel Mining District, another in West Raglan and a third in Qiqavik. Both the Qiqavik and Joutel properties are dealing with gold, whereas West Raglan is primarily a nickel site. All three have their unique challenges, their causes for excitement, and all three are an active focus for Orford, with no one favoured measurably over the other. Success in mining exploration calls for multi-tasking and always looking one step ahead, and when blessed with three properties as rich and strong as these, all three deserve active input and investment. They’re getting both in buckets – this year, notably so. 

We spoke with David Christie, the man at the helm of a strong team, including CFO Cindy Davis, Chief Geoscientist Alger St-Jean and Vice President of Exploration Michelle Sciortino. “It takes a village to do anything, and we have a very good team,” David told us, keen to talk about the people he works with. “Our board is spectacular. They’re a huge support and have been very good at giving us ideas and moving us along.”

As for Orford itself, David guided us three the company’s three distinct projects: “The Joutel Project is a newer acquisition – we started picking up around there in 2020, added to it in 2021, and we drilled our first drill hole this past winter. We got some really thick near-surface gold mineralisation – 28 meters of 1.24 grams per tonne, pretty close to the surface.” The full results for these tests are hot off the press, having only just been released in mid-June this year. “So, we’ve hopefully identifying a near-surface mineraslised body that we can put a resource on at some point in time. We’re excited about the potential there.” One of the joys of working in Joutel is its pre-established history with mining: the Joutel Eagle property, which Orford holds 100% ownership of along with Joutel South, McClure East and Joutel Omega, is a known mining camp that stood “basically ignored”, as David told us, since 1993. The infrastructure in place from this history, as well as from neighbouring mining towns, is a great saver of both time and funds. “We felt it was under-explored, and an area worth investigating and spend some time in. It’s at the heart of the Abitibi district in Quebec: the Abitibi belt is probably one of the most prolific mineral belts in the world.”

This is the first of Orford’s two gold projects. The second, Qiqavik, is in some ways far less conveniently placed, yet David is certain that it’s worth the extra hoops! “It’s in the arctic, so the summers are fairly short. We picked it up in 2016, and we’ve probably only spent 29 weeks on the ground so far.” Unlike Joutel, Qiqavik was completely unexplored with Orford picked it up, so the company is throwing all it can into its exploration, during those small windows of time when it can. “Qiqavik is a pretty large project – 390 sq km – and we’ve got high-grade gold at the surface across the entire project. We have good drill targets with high grade gold near the surface – up to 648 grams per tonne. We’ll spend another $3.5million on exploration there this summer.” Orford’s team mobilised its crews out to the arctic site at the end of June, meaning its people are fresh on the ground at the time of this publishing. “We can stay until the middle of September at the latest. If we don’t need to see the ground, we can drill all year long, but when we need to see the ground and the rock, we need to wait on the snow.”

With timeliness a high priority, Orford does what it can to help itself. This includes paying a little bit more to results labs in order for initial results to be rushed through, as well as the use of XRF guns (Xray fluorescence). For gold sits, these guns give a good general indication of whether gold is present or not, but cannot be used for more detailed results, but when it comes to nickel, they are far more exact, able to give reliable percentages both for nickel and copper. Both of these methods are utilised as a part of a tightly planned operation: “We cram a lot of work into 2 ½ months at Qiqavik – we get a lot done in a short period of time.”

“It’s a challenge, but then, if you look 90 kms to our east, you see two world class nickel mines. The Raglan mines that Glencore operate are probably some of the most profitable nickel mines in the world, and there is also a Chinese-run Nunavik nickel mine, again just 90km to our east. We’re in a belt with proven mining, as well as a pre-existing port facility that we could hook into if we go to production.”

With these successful neighbours, it makes sense that Orford’s third project, this one nickel-focused, is also in the area. In West Raglan, the site is close enough to Qiqavik that the company saves funds by operating out of the same camp for both.  At 707 km2, West Raglan is no small operation, but it has no small backing, either. Wyloo Metals Pty Ltd, backed by one of Australia’s wealthiest men, Andrew Forest, is an active investor in this property, carrying 80% of the project’s funding with its $25 million cash investment. A full $5 million will be spent there this year alone: Orford and Wyloo are excited for this project’s potential, and it is full steam ahead to reach a stage where they can start bringing in its treasures.

Why such an investment in this property? Wyloo knew, as did Orford, that the fate of nickel (at one point a metal in low demand) would change, and with the push towards green energy, this prediction has come true. “Nickel right now is a hit commodity because it is used in EV batteries. With oil prices rising, it’s become quite a target.”

Orford originally started out as a nickel mine, and David originally started out as an equity analyst. “For a long time, I covered equities as an analyst for large banks in Canada. So, I’m always looking at the commodity cycle and where we’re going, and I could see that nickel was going to be in short supply, and there was going to be a niche in the market.” Before working in equity, David was a geologist for a number of mining companies: all in all, between these two areas of knowledge, he was well set up to gauge what Orford’s next moves should be, and his judgement was correct. In 2021, nickel was only $6 a pound; now, that figure has more than doubled, landing between $13 and $14. 

In part, this figure has been driven up by nickel scarcity caused by the Ukraine/Russia war, and also, as David said, by the rise in EVs and other green solutions. As we keep pointing out here at Endeavour, even green energy is not without its demand on mining: the only way forwards, then, in clean and responsible mining itself. “We’ve already made discoveries there that are high-grade. High grade means less environmental impact. There’s not a lot of places where you can get high-grade nickel in a good jurisdiction like Canada. The Raglan nickel mine that Glencore operates next to us is probably one of the lowest cash-cost producers of nickel in the world, so it’s quite a target we have there.”

Wisely aligning itself with the sturdy support of Wyloo, Orford is able to tackle this important property with speed and efficiency the $15 million junior mining company could not tackle on its own. Given the potential beneath its feet, this ability to run rather than walk is exciting for all.

“We look to diversify the risk a bit, because little Orford Mining can’t do all of these projects if there is too much money going out the door. So, bringing in Wyloo, who are very technically smart and have deep pockets, was the way for us to go.” For now, Orford pays 20% of the project’s costs, and will continue to do so until Wyloo has completed its own feasibility study on the area. “It’s a good deal for our shareholders, and for us, we get to share in that nickel optionality without spending any money right now, so it’s huge.”

“We carried put a program that identified about 435 conductors. About 72 of those were high priority conductors, and we’ve narrowed it down to the top 10-15 to drill this summer. We’ve modeled those against the mass of sulphides that we hit at other properties, so we’re quite excited to hit massive nickel sulphides on the project this summer. By December we’ll have over 6000 meters of drilling completed, lots of geophysics completed, lots of sampling and hopefully lots of discoveries.”

When working at this pace in not only one area, but three, communication with the local communities is key. Orford works actively to make sure that it fosters and keeps good relations with the local people around all of its sites. With a history of mining in Quebec, and careful governmental checks long in place to create a culture of smooth and open dialogue between its people and its mining industry, this process is a positive one. “I would say our relationships are very good. They understand development. They were involved in the nickel mines that are already there, so they make money from those. They were also involved in the hydro dams that were put in, so they collect the royalties from that as well. They understand what development can do for them, and we continue to coordinate and communicate. It’s all about communication.”

2020 was slow for Orford Mining, as it was globally. Early into the Covid pandemic, Quebec closed its borders, but after they re-opened, Orford was able to continue working as normally – if with spacing and safety measures in place. Any small time it did lose, however, seems to have been well and truly made up for: the company has brilliant results coming in from all directions, with others pending on the near horizon. Always searching for further backers who are interested in seizing these opportunities as they unfold, as well as currently searching for talented individuals to join their team, the one thing Orford isn’t searching for too actively is a new project! Whilst an exploration company always keeps its eyes open, lest it miss something too good to pass up, this junior finds itself with three rich projects that are all moving in the right direction. This is a fantastic position to be in, and worth focusing on and pouring resources towards. It is also a fantastic time to look deeper into their fresh results and get involved whilst the getting is good!