Throughout the first decade of its existence, Bonterra Resources operated as a small gold exploration company in the Abitibi greenstone belt in Québec, slowly building its land position in this highly prospective geological region of Canada. Like many exploration juniors, the firm relied on a series of small placements across international exchanges to keep exploration drills in the ground. This changed around three years ago when the potential of Bonterra’s flagship deposit was recognised by notable Canadian resources investor and long-time gold bull Eric Sprott. He and his part-owned mining firm Kirkland Lake Gold subsequently came in with significant investments into the company. Then, in June 2018 Bonterra announced the acquisition of neighbouring firm Metanor Resources, giving it access to the only permitted processing mill in the heart of the Urban Barry Camp.
The Urban Barry Camp, located approximately 225 km Northeast of the city of Val-d’Or, contains several exploration licences owned by various junior miners, but few can claim to hold a larger contiguous land package than Bonterra following its merger with Metanor.
A commanding position
The combined entity now controls three high grade gold deposits in the form of the Gladiator, Barry and Moroy deposits, a permitted processing mill as well as significant regional exploration targets with resource upside potential.
Bonterra’s executive chairman and interim CEO Greg Gibson tells RGN that the merger with Metanor significantly derisks the company’s flagship Gladiator deposit by providing a processing facility along with the two additional deposits in close proximity that can generate a pipeline to production.
“In a short period of around two and a half years, Bonterra has really catapulted itself to a level that most juniors would struggle to get to,” he states. “I don’t think there is another junior in the region that has a comparable portfolio of projects, including processing facilities, to match Bonterra right now.”
The Urban-Barry Mill adds a huge amount of value to Bonterra’s position not least because it eliminates the requirement for up to $400 million in capex that would be spent on constructing a new mill.
In addition, the company plans to expand the mill from 800 to 2,400 tonnes per day in the near term. The mill upgrade includes removal of the existing rod mill, ball mills and 40’ thickener and the addition of a SAG mill, two ball mills, gravity circuit, 75’ thickener and five tanks for leaching-adsorption.
“I would expect that before the end of the year the company would be well into the expansion of that mill and at the same time be in a position to start production while that expansion is going on.”
This expansion will give Bonterra greater capacity to process ore from its own potential mine sites further down the track, while also potentially taking feed from nearby deposits in the region. There are 14 known properties with historical resources within a 100 km radius of the Urban-Barry Mill.
“I believe that the company can significantly grow its resource base through clever deals with companies that own smaller deposits in the Urban Barry Camp, and also through further exploration,” Gibson reveals.
Returning to its current portfolio in the Urban Barry Camp, Bonterra’s flagship project is the Gladiator deposit, which is currently defined over a 1.6 km strike length and to a vertical depth of over 1.1 km. Crucially, the deposit remains open in all directions.
At the end of May, Bonterra was able to produce a NI 43-101 mineral resource estimate for the Gladiator deposit, as part of a wider estimate for all three deposits in the Urban Barry Camp, which confirmed the potential scale of the deposit.
The company estimated a contained indicated resource of 743,000 tonnes at an average grade of 8.46 g/t Au, totalling 202,000 ounces Au and inferred resources of 3,065,000 tonnes at an average grade of 9.10 g/t, totalling 897,000 ounces Au.
Recent drilling at Gladiator has focused on the Northeast and Southwest extensions along strike of known mineralised zones. This work culminated in an exciting grade return of 101.1 g/t over 3.9 metres from the Barbeau zone about 50 metres down plunge of the known mineralisation. In the Northeast zone, a second hole returned 8.1 g/t over 1.8 metres.
Then there is the Barry deposit, where Bonterra has identified five main sub-vertical and subparallel shear zones and approximately 10 secondary more shallow-dipping tension veins. Like Gladiator, these structures are open in all directions.
Despite being only lightly drilled to date, the Barry deposit was included in the company’s May mineral resource estimate, which calculated indicated resources of 2,052,000 tonnes at 5.8 g/t Au for 385,000 ounces Au and inferred resources of 2,740,000 tonnes at 5.1 g/t for 453,000 oz Au.
Finally, the Moroy deposit has delivered surprisingly strong exploration drilling results thus far according to Gibson, including one hole from February which returned 7.9 g/t Au over 12.1 metres, and another which returned 15.5 g/t Au over 4.1 metres.
“We always had a vision that it was going to turn into something, but it has been surprising as to what our exploration efforts have given us, in terms of turning Moroy into a mineable resource,” says Bonterra’s interim CEO.
The Moroy deposit was estimated to have indicated resources of 365,000 tonnes at 4.77 g/t Au for 56,000 ounces Au and inferred resources of 396,000 tonnes at 4.32 g/t Au for 453,000 ounces Au.
“When you look at the three deposits, they all have equal benefits to being developed. Gladiator is first in line to offer significant ounce production on an annual basis. In as early as 24 months, we could have a very significant mining operation which is in the middle of a low cost camp.”
The next phases
The completion of the mineral resource estimate for the three deposits in the Urban Barry Camp resembles a major milestone for Bonterra as it looks to certify the success of its continued exploration work.
“We are pleased with the current mineral resource estimates on our three Urban Barry gold deposits,” said Gibson after the estimates were published. “The mineral resources delineated to date are a mere snapshot in time with further indications of continued expansion potential along strike and at depth for the three deposits,” he continued.
After closing a $36.7 million private placement in March, Bonterra is well placed to carry out its near-term goals which include the next phase of exploration drilling across the Urban Barry Camp, where the company has five rigs working on the three sites.
Following the publication of the mineral resource estimates for the Gladiator, Barry and Moroy deposits, the company hopes to quickly develop a preliminary economic assessment which would confirm the economic viability of the estimated mineral resources of all three deposits.
In a final summary of the company’s progress over the last three years, Gibson highlights the importance of Bonterra’s corporate shareholder backing, along with the transformative impact of the Metanor deal.
“The investment by Eric Sprott and Kirkland Lake gives Bonterra the credibility it was looking for. It also attracts other investors, which you need especially in this market where there are so little funds being put into the junior exploration market.
“Bonterra was also very lucky to be able to put the Metanor deal together. Having that infrastructure adds a huge amount of value for Bonterra. That includes permitting, water treatment facilities and more. I think it sets the company ahead of a lot of other juniors in the space.”