Tom Morris is excited to be finally returning to his roots.
The president-CEO of Northern Superior Resources has two projects on the go this summer as his Sudbury exploration outfit advances a promising Quebec gold project while simultaneously blowing the dust off a mothballed gold and base metals property in Ontario’s Far North.
“When it comes to doing what we’re supposed to be doing, which is exploration, we’ve been pretty dormant,” Morris admits.
During the downturn, it was all about survivability for many junior miners who tightened their belts as exploration dollars dried up.
After weathering that period in reasonably good shape, and with market interest in commodities looking favourable, it’s now time to get back to work with exploration dollars in hand and new company leadership in place.
“Timing was everything,” said Morris. “I kept the company going for this opportunity that we knew was coming at some point.”
After raising more than $4 million in flow-through dollars, and $2 million coming from strategic mining investor Eric Sprott, the company entered the summer field season with renewed optimism.
Northern Superior bills itself as a project generator with a stable of 22 properties in various stages of exploration.
Stemming from his 14 years as a geologist with the Ontario Geological Survey, Morris places particular emphasis on developing quality science-based projects.
Unfortunately, the company has gained more notoriety in recent years for its ongoing litigation against the Ontario government in a duty-to-consult case that heads to an appeal court later this year.
But apparently, the lawsuit didn’t scare off the new board, chaired by Francois Perron of Renmark Financial Communications, which pleases Morris in bringing more geological and financial expertise to the table in raising capital for resource projects.
It’s also spurred the soft-spoken Morris to become more of a pitch man to boost an underperforming TSX stock.
“It’s really frustrating to hear these things that are very positive about the company and seeing us trade at four cents. That’s the enigma we’re trying to understand.”
The company launched a heavy marketing campaign last September that’s involved some U.S. and European travel in looking to snag a deep-pocketed joint venture partner or strike an option agreement with a major miner.
This summer they’re putting boots back on the ground at their Ti-pa-haa-kaa-ning (TPK) gold-silver-copper property in the James Bay lowlands.
Due to the expense of operating in the remote region, the project was shelved during the downturn.
They’ll look to complete the prospecting program and structural study that was placed on hold in 2012 and search for drill targets to further explore in early 2018.
Measuring 20 kilometres by 30 kilometres, Morris believes TPK has district-scale mining possibilities, comparable to the Hollinger Mine complex in Timmins or the Red Lake district.
“I’ve been in this business for 35 years. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Once known as Superior Diamonds, they were probing the area for kimberlite indicator minerals in 2003. The overburden samples sent back from the assay lab delivered some eye-popping gold numbers.
They’ve since discovered a separate greenstone belt on the property’s northwest corner with mineralized boulders grading as high as 727 grams per tonne (g/t), 111 g/t silver and 4.05 per cent copper.
“Look at the geology,” said Morris. “You just don’t get gold grain dispersal aprons and boulder trains that we see on this property. The size of them and what’s in them is remarkable.”
Located 30 kilometres west of the Ring of Fire, Morris said whatever road infrastructure is installed to reach those chromite and nickel deposits is sure to benefit his company.
Since 2009, they’ve had an early exploration benefits agreement with Neskantaga First Nation, 30 kilometres to the south.
“Neskantaga stuck behind us during this downturn. They encouraged us and it gives me a level of comfort that we can move this forward.”
At its other major property, Croteau Est, in the historic Chibougamau camp of west-central Quebec, one of two phases of drilling is in the books as they build on a 640,000-ounce inferred resource.
Only a 10-hour drive from Sudbury, it was more accessible and cheaper to do exploration than TPK.
Morris feels they’ve only scratched the surface of its potential.
“When we started trenching, we were getting assays from the channel sampling of 97 grams over a metre and getting drill intercepts of 75 grams over five metres. It’s a pretty exceptional opportunity. The downturn got in the way and we had to back off but we kept the integrity of the property.”
He said their drill results compare favourably with Osisko’s nearby Windfall Lake Gold Project, which has an aggressive 40,000-metre deep drilling campaign in progress.
“What Osisko is seeing in the upper 300 metres of their Windfall system, we’re seeing something very similar at Croteau.”
The next round of their 8,000-metre drill program this year will concentrate on four high-grade shoots imbedded within the resource.
“Our thinking is we can demonstrate there’s a lot more ounces with better grade by focusing on the high-grade shoots than trying to look at the whole deposit.”
Morris calls Quebec an “exceptionally easy” place to do exploration.
“There is a system in place where (First Nation) engagement is very straightforward. There’s a sense of legal certainty when you get involved in Quebec. There is none of that in Ontario. I’m sorry but I’ve been through it,” said Morris.
Northern Superior grabbed widespread attention in 2012 for its lawsuit against the Ontario government, accusing the province of failing in its duty to protect its interests on three gold properties near the Manitoba Border.
The company alleged after working on the properties since 2002, it was forced to abandon work following a series of disputes with the people of Sachigo First Nation.
Northern Superior claimed Sachigo unexpectedly levied a 24 per cent “administration fee” against its $10-million exploration budget. When it refused to pay, the First Nation evicted them from their claims.
The company wants to be compensated by the province for the $25 million it spent in exploration.
Morris calls the fee “outlandish” and chalked it up to the community receiving “awful advice” from agenda-minded outside consultants.
In denying the allegation, the province responded that it was unaware of any difficulties between the company and community and only became aware when the Northern Superior intended to sue.
The company lost the first round in an Ontario Superior Court in 2016 and was handed a $440,000 legal bill.
No new evidence will be entered when the case goes before a three-judge panel sometime this fall.
Morris isn’t expecting a decision until well into 2018. How long the case drags out, he admittedly doesn’t care.
“Our focus has gone completely back to the exploration programs at hand.”
As much as he would like to put that chapter of company history behind them, Morris insists there’s a fiduciary responsibility to maintain those claims.
The dispute took place before revisions were made to the Ontario Mining Act, which downloaded the job of consultation with First Nations from the government to industry.
If the appeal goes in Northern Superior’s favour, it could mean another rewrite of the Act. Industry players and Indigenous lawyers will be closely watching the outcome.
“Something’s happened here that was fundamentally wrong, and the government knows this,” said Morris. “There needs to be a system put in place that protects industry. Otherwise, you’re going to lose the confidence of the industry to invest in this province.”
He finds it disingenuous for the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines to be promoting Ontario’s mineral wealth when the on-the-ground rules as to what the definition of consultation is, and how it should be carried out, are far from clear.
“The way the province is sold by the government is that we’re open for business, and good luck! Because once you come here, you’re really taking a risk that I don’t think a lot of people understand.”