Exploration companies have been dropping claiming stakes from helicopters for 30 years. But it’s never been ruled ok in Ontario, until now

HEARING LAWYER RICHARD BUTLER describe it, one imagines only two things were missing in the airborne claim-staking blitz that KWG Resources Inc. unleashed on unsuspecting rival Noront Resources Ltd. on a potentially important Ring of Fire property the morning of June 17, 2011. Namely, the accompaniment of “Ride of the Valkyries,” and Robert Duvall as Lt.-Col. Kilgore posing shirtless at the No. 1 stake when KWG’s head staker, Ken Pye, inscribed his finish time.

Above image: KWG Resources’ helicopter claim staking in Ring of Fire, June 17, 2011

“I kind of refer to it as my ‘Apocalypse Now’ file,” says Butler, an associate with Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers in Toronto, which acts for KWG.

Noront had two claim stakers on foot at the property, Butler explains. Then, as the seconds ticked down to the 9 a.m. staking start time, the sound of helicopters filled the air. Enter KWG, with a couple of choppers and a 14-man detail. “Imagine them sort of swooping down with a guy [Pye], and he jumps out and puts the ‘1’ stake in, and he flies off again,” says Butler.

Pye’s chopper spent the day flitting over the territory, pausing at regular intervals to drop 4-x-4-inch square wooden claiming stakes into the muskeg from 10 metres in the air, delineating their claims; at the same time, KWG’s other helicopter was ferrying blazing crews from site to site to mark the boundaries on the land. It was expensive, but when all was said and done, KWG’s claims were many times bigger than Noront’s.

That might have been the end of story, but Noront challenged the legality of KWG’s “helicopter protocol” before the provincial Mining Recorder. Last June, the Recorder ruled in KWG’s favour, saying nothing in the provincial Mining Act prohibits the practice.

What makes this noteworthy today, even as map-based, electronic staking is taking the place of physical staking, is that helicopter staking has been used in remote Canadian mining areas since the first diamond rush in the Northwest Territories in the 1980s — yet it’s rarely been legally tested. In Ontario, “this is really the first time it’s been signed off,” says Butler.

KWG's head staker Ken Pye sinks and signs No. 1 stake on foot

KWG’s head staker Ken Pye sinks and signs No. 1 stake on foot

Noront argued that the staking company’s recording licensee, or head staker, must be on foot. But according to the ruling, the act, revised in March 2011, only requires that for the first stake; beyond that, the licensee just needs to be present in the area. Butler says the ruling envisages “a modern Mining Act.” But Noront has appealed the decision to the Office of the Mining and Lands Commissioner. While that review can be slow, Butler says between the industry recession and uncertainty with the Ring of Fire, title, not time, is the main concern.

This article was originally published in the 2015 Mining issue of Listed magazine. Photos courtesy of KWG Resources