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Canada's largest gold mine, an open pit in northern Ont., looks to expand underground

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In one of the company’s first public addresses since merging with Kirkland Lake Gold in February and becoming the third-largest gold miner in the world (ranked by Canadian Mining Journal for the first half of 2022), Andre Leite, Agnico Eagle’s Ontario vice-president, said he sees more growth potential in northeastern Ontario.

That’s what he told local stakeholders at the Timmins chamber’s State of Mining conference Wednesday afternoon, saying there’s potential to dramatically boost output at Canada’s largest gold mine: the Detour Lake open pit.

It is currently producing more than 20 tons a year and Leite said production can be increased to more than 30 tons by developing an underground mine at the site.

"It’s still early stages," Leite said in an interview.

"We’re still working towards the more detailed analysis of what that will look like, what type of mine rates and the technical details, but we do see the potential."

In his presentation, Leite highlighted more than $1 billion spent on goods and services, most of which stayed within the region, as well as $115 million invested in mining exploration.

One of its newer projects is the Upper Beaver gold mine near Kirkland Lake, expected to begin production in 10 years and generate just under eight tons of gold per year.

As well, the company is expecting decades of extra mine life from its Macassa mine, itself more than a century old and produces some of the highest-grade gold in the world.

Though Leite lamented the region’s skilled labour shortage stifling some of that progress.

"Generally our vacancy rate’s between five and 10 per cent and changing over time," Leite said.

"The current government is being very receptive to our ideas on what can we do … increasing the quality of life … including more of the first nations communities in our workforce."

He said the region has much work to do to become more attractive to southern Ontario workers.

Training demands are also a challenge that needs overcoming, Leite said, noting that Detour Lake will need at least 150 workers, though it can only train 40 per year itself.

Asked about partnering with other companies to invest in training, infrastructure, health care and other areas that would improve quality of life for northern communities near its work sites, Leite said it can be difficult to coordinate due to differences in urgency felt between companies.

He said Agnico and others may ultimately need to make those investments, along with government and community involvement, even if it may not financially suit them in the short term.

Given the potential for business growth in the area, Timmins chamber president Dan Ayotte said he believes the company can help find solutions.

"They can play a huge role by helping us build new complexes, bring in new stores, work on the housing," Ayotte said.

"The more they spend, the more it snowballs."

Agnico and Pan American Silver are set to jointly acquire one of the world’s largest gold mines, Canadian Malarctic, based in Quebec.

Leite said while extra capital from the move may not directly benefit northern Ontario, it is a sign that the company is willing to make strategic investments and allocate capital to competitive markets like Ontario.

He said its operations in this region have enough cash flow to fund its projects and potential community improvement plans. 

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