Alex McMillan was named Prospector of the Year by the industry’s association at the Yukon Geosciences Forum’s gala on Monday night.
The veteran prospector’s tale looks like it’s torn from the pages of the Yukon’s gold rush history. McMillan made his big find in the summer of 2010, discovering a gold deposit richer than anything geologist Mike Burke had ever seen.
“It was just dripping gold,” said Burke.
McMillan, who began prospecting in 1964, was hunting for deposits with his son, Liard, on the 3 Ace claims that Alex had first staked in the Little Hyland River area near Watson Lake in 1999. They’d been doing assessment work, drilling with heavy equipment that they lugged across difficult terrain.
After wrapping up the assessment work and hauling their gear out of the bush, Alex decided to return to the site for one last look on his own.
While taking a break from soil sampling, Alex noticed some quartz veins in a series of rocks sticking out of the ground. Curious, he started to dig.
“I started pulling big boulders out, and the one side of it was all covered with gold,” said Alex.
“I got surprised. I kept pulling and more kept coming out. I loaded my packsack with two big chunks and headed back down the mountain, across the river through waist deep water. I told my son, ‘We gotta get somebody looking at this.’”
Liard and Alex brought the samples to Burke, who was working as the Yukon’s chief geologist at the time. He said he was astonished at their find.
“Liard brought a piece into the office. I looked at it and nearly shit myself. We ended up going up and cutting a piece at our core library. We realized just how rich a find it was,” said Burke.
A couple of weeks later, Burke visited Alex at the claim site.
“I was waiting for him, and he ran out to me and grabbed my hand and said, ‘I never seen so much gold!’” said Alex.
It wasn’t long before word of the find had spread. Dennis Ouellette and Greg Hayes from Northern Tiger Resources were interested, and quickly made Alex an offer.
“The presence of so much visible gold makes this one of the most exciting new prospects in the Yukon,” Hayes said at the time.
“It was a good offer, so I took it right there,” said Alex.
A good offer, indeed. McMillan got half-a-million dollars up front for the property, and he will earn $45,000 a year from the fifth anniversary of the agreement until the start of commercial production. Northern Tiger is focusing on exploration right now, but if a mine actually goes on up on the site, McMillan stands to make much more in royalties.
Even before the big find, Alex had a long history as a successful and respected prospector in the area.
According to his son Liard, Chief of the Liard First Nation, Alex spent January of 1999 staking 120 claims alone, on snowshoes in the Nahanni Mountain range almost equaling the work completed by Hudson Bay Exploration and Development crews working in teams and assisted by helicopters.
“While line cutting, he was seen wielding a huge Husqvarna chainsaw in one hand, tossing brush and logs out of the way with the other,” Liard said in a press release.
“He’s a tough old bugger,” agreed Burke.
“This spot is way the frig up on the upper hillside. He used to hike way across the upper Hyland and across the river. I mean there was a reason other people hadn’t found it. It was a tough place to get to. No mere mortal would have just been out for a Sunday stroll and found that thing,” said Burke.
“I’m very proud of (the award). I had a lot of good guys show me around when I was young, and I really appreciate the recognition,” said Alex.
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