Prospectors irked over island ban

There could be diamonds under Rainy Lake, but a local man said no one will ever know now that the province has withdrawn those lands from all forms of prospecting.
Jack Bolen, who has been prospecting for 32 years, got a shock when he looked at new staking claims maps last week to find that the islands on Rainy Lake had been withdrawn from all prospecting by the Ministry of Natural Resources.
“They’re designating everything as single-use only—as parks,” he noted Monday.
Before the withdrawal, which occurred back in November, people were forbidden from staking a claim on the land without written permission from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. But they could examine the rocks to explore the possibility of striking minerals or diamonds.
“I’m very upset about it, I didn’t know it was happening,” Bolen said. “All the best pieces of ground seems to be taken out.
“There are no mines and there never will because everything is so restrictive,” he added.
What is most frustrating to local prospectors is there’s a slight possibility of finding diamonds under Rainy Lake.
District geologist Peter Hinz explained diamonds are found in rare types of rocks such as kimberlite and lamprophyre, especially under swamps and lakes because the rock is soft.
And while lamprophyre exists throughout the area, Hinz said chances are extremely slim that anyone actually would find a deposit of precious stones.
“You can’t rule out the possibility but chances are very slim,” he remarked.
Other commodities such as copper zinc, copper nickel, and titanium already have been located in Fort Frances, which Hinz said would be affected by the recent withdrawals.
But the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines doesn’t see the designation as changing much.
Provincial mining recorder Blair Kite said Rainy Lake islands have been closed to staking since 1926. While people could examine the land and take samples as prospectors, they were not able to stake a claim and start up a mine unless they had written consent from the minister.
Prospectors such as Bolen, however, argue that by not allowing prospecting to explore and make a discovery under this new withdrawal prevents them from applying to the ministry for special permission and thus prevents the possibility of mines.
“I can understand the argument,” Kite said. “It’s a provision that has been in there a long time. Since I’ve been here 16 years, it hasn’t been tested, it hasn’t been used.”
The reason the Rainy Lake islands have been withdrawn is that they have been identified as conservation areas as part of the “Lands for Life” strategy, said John Fisher, the “Ontario Living Legacy” co-ordinator at the Ministry of Natural Resources.
The “Ontario Living Legacy,” which came into being in 1995, has set aside 2.3 million hectares of land across the province as part of its provincial park and conservation strategy.
Fisher said reps from one of the three regional roundtables identified that land to be conserved during the “Lands for Life” process.
But Bolen said prospectors didn’t have a chance to defend their right to that land because they didn’t have the money other lobby groups did.
“The environmental groups and Greenpeace have millions of dollars, we never even had a chance,” he argued. “It was done before we had a say about it.”
Fisher said there was a slim chance that if someone made what the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines saw as a significant find, the land could be withdrawn from the conservation project.
But he said the ministry would not merely make the change for a hunch.
They would need to determine that there is a mine essentially ready to be opened, and if the same amount of land with similar characteristics was found to replace that taken for the mine as a conservation area.