An old adage in mining says that to find a new mine, look in the shadow of the headframe of an old or existing mine. This is exactly what Vior Inc. (VIO:TSX.V; VL51:FRA) has been doing at the moment, as it has been exploring its flagship Belleterre Gold project in Quebec, which contains the historical high grade Belleterre gold mine (produced 759 koz @ 10.73 grams per tonne (g/t) gold (Au) from 1936 to 1959). Vior has assembled multiple interesting property packages, with Belleterre and Skyfall (which is on trend with Osisko’s Windfall gold project, and also in Quebec) as standout projects, seeing recent exploration. Both projects have already seen excellent sampling results, and Vior recently completed a 4,000-meter (m)phase 1 drill program at Belleterre, composed of five drill holes, for which the results are expected at the end of Q1, 2022. An additional 4,000m+ phase 2 drill campaign commenced on March 3rd, 2022, targeting the next set of high priority targets located within the potential extensions of the past high-grade mineralization at Belleterre.
The Montreal-based junior mining company Vior has been around for a long time, as it was founded in 1984 by the current Chairman Claude St-Jacques, who also founded the highly successful Virginia Gold Mines. Vior is a special breed of hybrid explorer, as it advances its own projects, but also partners with others where optioning out or joint venturing projects is appropriate. A third aspect of its strategy is the ability to make strategic investments in other juniors with great projects and strong management.
The company focuses on projects in North America, and more specificly on Quebec and Nevada, as these are among the best mining jurisdictions in the world. Vior’s flagship project is the Belleterre gold project as mentioned, which has been consolidated into an impressive 300 sq km land package (551 claims), as the company negotiated an option agreement in August of last year, to acquire up to 75% ownership from Osisko Mining for the last significant piece of the historical Belleterre mining camp.
Exploration is in full swing, as two sampling programs, detailed geophysics, a 3D data compilation program and a phase 1, 4,000m drill program were completed in H2, 2021, with drill results pending, and a phase 2, 4,000m+ program that has just begun. The sampling programs were pretty successful, as out of a total of 1,323 samples, 28 samples returned gold values above 10 g/t Au, with the four highest grade samples coming in at 274.9 g/t Au, 175 g/t Au, 121.3 g/t Au and 77.4 g/t Au. These impressive results validate multiple gold showings and confirm the high exploration potential at Belleterre.
The second most important project for Vior is Skyfall, also located in Quebec and on trend with Osisko Mining’s Windfall project. After a month of field exploration at Skyfall in Q2, 2021, which included till and grab samples, most of the rock samples have been processed by the laboratories and results are being integrated into a comprehensive data base for higher level interpretation to better delineate the prospective anomalous areas of this first field exploration program. The till sampling survey results are still pending.
The company is also conducting some geophysical data reprocessing (magnetic inversion) in several areas of the property to help with the interpretation and localization of the main deformation zones on the project. Planning for Skyfall’s summer 2022 field exploration program is underway and will be finalized once all processing of data and results from last summer’s field program is complete.
As part of its hybrid strategy, Vior also has an equity investment in Ridgeline Minerals Corp (TSXV:RDG), holding 3.642 million shares, valued at C$1.33 million (share price of C$0.365 per February 19, 2022). Ridgeline is exploring four highly prospective gold/silver projects in Nevada, and recently optioned a promising gold oxide project in Idaho from EMX Royalty Corp. Ridgeline plans to spend over C$3M on exploration in 2022, and as a consequence anticipates lots of news about drill results later this year. Most encouragingly, it recently signed an agreement with Nevada Gold Mines (JV between Barrick and Newmont), where NGM can earn-in to 60% ownership at their Swift project, by spending US$20M over 5 years, of which US4M before December 31, 2023.
Vior has 81.25 million shares outstanding (fully diluted 101.25 million), 14.875 million warrants (@C $.15 to C$0.30 and expiring in July/2022 and March/2023) and several option series to the tune of 5.129 million options in total, the majority priced at C$0.10 and $0.13 and expiring in 2024 and 2027. Vior has a current market capitalization of C$15.43 million based on the March 4, 2022 closing share price of C$0.19.
The current cash position of Vior is approx. C$3.2 million, and the company is cashed up at the moment to complete the current 4,000m+ drill program, after completing two flow-through raises in Q4, 2021 for a total of C$2.3 million. In general, the all-in costs of diamond drilling in the lower Abitibi region of Quebec are already extremely cheap at approximately C$160/m, but in addition there are also significant tax incentives for flow-through capital raises dedicated to exploration in Quebec. Management holds no less than 16% of the current shares outstanding (CEO Fedosiewich holds approximately 10.5%), close strategic holders own approximately 30%, and the company also enjoys approximately 16% institutional ownership (including SIDEX, a Quebec sponsored junior exploration fund, FTQ, the labor sponsored pension fund and two other regional Quebec based funds). Vior is also backed by Osisko Mining Inc., which owns a 6.7% undiluted share position.
Vior is basically run by two people: President and CEO Mark Fedosiewich, and Executive Vice President Laurent Eustache. Fedosiewich has 35 years of experience in investments and mining. He has a strong financial background as he is a former first vice president of CIBC Wood Gundy, the full service brokerage division of CIBC, a major Canadian bank, and has established a very extensive mining/financial business network. Laurent Eustache is a professional geologist with 15 years of progressive experience including Agnico-Eagle Mines, Aurizon Gold Mines and as former portfolio manager at SIDEX ($100 million+ AUM). They are supported by the aforementioned Chairman St-Jacques, who is not only the founder of Vior, but also of Mazarin and Virginia Gold Mines, and also has a strong mining industry network. He is very close to the Osisko team and, together with Fedosiewich, instrumental in completing the deal with Osisko Mining.
Vior owns a portfolio of eight projects, although the focus is clearly on the Belleterre project these days, and to a lesser degree on the Skyfall project as mentioned. The company also views the Ligneris project as a strategic asset in the portfolio as it comprises a near district scale, gold-rich VMS target and is located near Amex’ Perron project. In general, management deploys a disciplined approach and strategy when acquiring its projects, with the following strict criteria:
- Safe and mining-friendly mining jurisdictions
- In close proximity to an existing mine, historical mine or an advanced project
- Good infrastructure nearby and easy accessibility
- Project potential to go from an early to a more advance exploration stage
Seven out of Vior’s projects are located in Quebec, one of the most mining friendly jurisdictions worldwide. Vior also has its early stage Tonya project in Nevada, U.S., which is the top ranked jurisdiction according to the most recent Fraser Institute Survey of Mining Companies.
After consolidating the historical Belleterre Mine property with the Osisko Mining claims, the last and central piece of the puzzle, the company has assembled a continuous, district-scale land package with a strike length of 37km:
This district-scale land package has never been consolidated on this scale before, and is located on a Greenstone Belt with favorable mafic volcanics, and includes the historical high grade Belleterre Gold Mine (produced 759 koz Au @10.7 3g/t and 95 koz Ag between 1936 and 1959), has good infrastructure and has several gold milling facilities with available capacity nearby, and the entire area is very underexplored ever since. Notably, over 90% of the historical production was extracted from the single Vein 12, but there appear to be at least 21 veins on the historical mine property, most of them indicated on the map in the next paragraph.
To have an idea about the historical operation, here is a map indicating mine shafts and most of the veins:
When looking at this map, it looks like vein 12 was by far the largest identified vein structure on the property. Interestingly, the vein seems to start out relatively flat and near surface, and gradually dips steeper and deeper along strike, contained between two fault lines. This kind of geology could very well generate some extensive geological detective work, but also indicates significant mineralized potential that could have easily been missed by former owners. It made me curious to what extent the direct surroundings of the historical mine are a priority target for management.
VP Laurent Eustache had this to comment: “The direct extension of historic mineralization could in some places have great potential. We are focusing our efforts to better understand the structural systems controlling the mineralization to better determine which ones ae of higher economic interest. Our Phase II drilling campaign will target and eventually validate some of our preliminary interpretations and modelling.”
The March 3, 2022, news release shed more light on this:
“The Phase II drill program will consist of eight (8) high-priority drill targets totaling over 4,000 meters (“m”) and will be focused on the former Belleterre mine concessions. Various extensions of past producing gold bearing structures are being targeted and are detailed below (Figure 2):
- Four (4) holes will test the southwest extension of the 12W vein. This structure is interpreted to be the extension of the main historical high-grade mineralized horizon of the past producing Belleterre mine, where the majority of gold production occurred. Vein 12W is also parallel to the regional Gainsmoor deformation shear zone (Figure 3), which is interpreted as a key structural control to mineralization for the greater Belleterre district.
- Three (3) holes will test the Mill Creek shear zone, which parallels the Gainsmoor deformation zone and hosts multiple historic high-grade veins accessed via two of the four shafts of the former Belleterre gold mine. Two of the three holes will test the northeast extension of the structure and will be located within 250 m of shaft 4 and spaced 400 m from each other along the structure where intrusives and associated gold mineralization have historically been recognized. The third hole, a greater than 300m step out from shaft 2, will test the southwest extension of the mineralized structure. (Figure 2)
- One (1) final hole will test a 400 m step out to the southwest extension of veins 15 and 26, where both zones have been historically underexplored. (Figure 2)”
Figure 2 can be seen here, showing the phase 2 drill targets:
And Figure 3 here, indicating historical high grade mineralization in an updated 3D model:
Very important here is also the fact that most of the very extensive property is vastly underexplored, as only the direct vicinity of the Belleterre Mine (indicated in green) has seen extensive drilling, as can be seen here (historical drill holes are little black dots):
Adding to this, previous drilling did not exceed 250 meters, and as the Belleterre Mine has been mined to a depth of 750m, and gold mineralization in the Greenstone belt in Quebec often continues to depths much larger than this, management has high hopes of finding significant economic gold mineralization. Eustache had this to add: “When you think of it, the Belleterre brownfield area potential is unique. You typically don’t find up to 12km strike of proven high-grade mineralization associated with major structural complexity easily! Many multi-million ounce historic gold camps in the Abitibi are smaller than this. Initially, what excited us was the low level of exploration at depth on the historic mine trend. Many examples of exploration success stem from the vertical continuity at depth of high grade mineralization. This is perhaps one of the most effective and least risky exploration strategies used by the explorers and Belleterre offers the exact the same type of optionality.
"On top of that and now that we have compiled data from the camp in more detail, the reality is that a good part of the historic mine trend has seen very little cohesive exploration. This opens up even more options for potential multiple deposits, which is not uncommon in this type of geological environment.“
The aforementioned phase 1 drill collars are represented in blue on the last map, and can be seen here on a somewhat enlarged map:
I wondered why Eustache picked these targets to drill, was it a combination of historical drill results, recent sampling and geophysics? This is what he had to say: “The Phase I drilling campaign was designed to better understand the general structural framework of the 5.5 km long Historic Mine Trend, targeting some large step outs from the known mineralized zones. This strategy was design to validate some structural and potential gold continuities at depth to help vectorize the next drilling phases.”
As drilling of these five holes was completed in December, but results are expected at the end of March, I wondered if COVID-19 could have anything to do with this. CEO Fedosiewich answered, “Lab delays are very common these days, and are related to COVID as you say, but also labor shortages, holiday time at the end of the year and an overall increase of drilling activity. The turnover for our summer field program samples was also three to four months, so we conservatively guesstimate about three months for our drill results.”
The next 4,000m+ phase 2 drill program will commence as soon as management can secure a solid drill rig contractor. Discussions are ongoing and should be finalized soon, and management expects to start drilling sometime early March, based on the submissions/availability they have received. Besides a phase 2 drill program, there will also be a new field program, and both are fully funded with the currently available cash. Management is also contemplating a phase 3 drill program later this year for Belleterre, but this will depend on additional funding, which is scheduled at some point mid-year.
So far for exploration plans. When looking into ownership and royalties, the complete Belleterre project is, aside from the majority of the claims already 100% owned by Vior, largely subject to three option agreements: with JAG Mines Ltd., 9293-0122 Quebec Inc. and Osisko Mining Inc. The option with JAG allows Vior to acquire 100% of this specific land package for C$2.3 million in cash and/or shares, and C$2 million in exploration expenditures, over the course of four years, with C$2 million of the C$2.3 million in cash or shares scheduled for the last year, representing very little payment obligations until June 31, 2025. JAG holds the equivalent of a 1% net smelter royalty return (NSR) over the property.
The purchase option with 9293-0122 Quebec Inc., which covers the Belleterre Gold Mine and its direct surroundings, allows Vior to purchase a 100% interest, by paying C$2.1 million in cash and/or shares before 2023 year-end or thereabouts, and with no exploration expenditures. There will be no royalty involved on these claims. This purchase option was arranged during the main consolidation acquisition phase for the Belleterre project, when numerous other claims were acquired from other parties. Most of these parties were granted a 1% NSR, and Globex was granted a 2% gross metal royalty.
The option agreement with Osisko Mining allows Vior to acquire up to 75% of Osisko’s current interest in its Belleterre properties. 51% can be acquired by issuing C$225,000 in shares over three years and by incurring C$1.25 million in exploration expenditures before August 2024. Vior has the right to acquire another 24% by incurring another C$1.75 million in exploration expenditures within three years after exercising the 51% option. No royalty is part of this deal, unless the interest of one of the JV partners drops below 10%.
The second most important project for Vior is the Skyfall project, also located in Quebec. This is an equally large land package of 26,758 hectares (260.6 sq km), and 100% owned by Vior. It is located adjacent to the east of the Windfall deposit (6 million+ oz Au resource, owned by Osisko Mining), and the Gladiator and Barry deposits (combined 2 million ounce Au resource, owned by Bonterra). Management could consider doing a joint venture with players in the area, which include Osisko and Bonterra. The interesting thing is that this package covers the eastern extension of the Urban-Barry Greenstone Belt, and is very underexplored, due to limited land access until a few years ago. As can be seen, it isn’t directly next door to Windfall but the geologic makeup of the property (Greenstone) combined with the inclusion of a major fault zone and gold showings makes this land package at the very least reasonably prospective for gold exploration.
A till sampling program from March 2021 provided lots of gold samples, and on top of this seven clusters were identified, which created lots of enthusiasm with company geologists and management, but unfortunately this type of sampling cannot be translated or extrapolated into g/t Au samples, so there obviously is gold, but how much exactly will have to be verified by standard sampling first.
Vior commenced field exploration in May of this year on Skyfall, and completed this program in August. It consisted of prospection, mapping, stripping, channel sampling and more till sampling. According to Eustache, the company has prioritized Belleterre, however, it is in the process of generating the new maps and exploration targets for Skyfall based on the 2021 summer field results.
Vior sees the Ligneris project in Quebec as its third priority, and has budgeted C$250k for exploration expenditures in 2022. It was optioned out to Ethos Gold Corp., but that company decided to return it to Vior for a compensation of 1 million Vior shares (plus 1 million full 3-year C$0.30 warrants, for exploration expenditures incurred) last year, as drill results did not generate sufficient economic grades, after historical drilling returned impressive results like 13.5 g /t Au over 10.5m, 62.1 g/t Au over 2.9m and 5.1 g/t Au over 5.9m. Eustache had this to say about the current status of Ligneris: “Historic drilling demonstrates the economic potential of the property. Very little exploration has been done in the extensions of the main mineralized zones. We are completing a comprehensive till survey and a high resolution magnetic survey that will help to delineate the orientation of potential extensions of mineralization on the property.”
Another project of interest is Mosseau, that hosts the Morono deposit with a historical non-compliant resource of approximately 40 koz Au. The project’s footprint was recently increased in direct extension of the Morono deposit, via a property exchange with SOQUEM at no cost. Vior is currently seeking a strong partner to advance and create value on the project.
Vior appears to be ready to make the most of the current high gold prices, after completing its phase 1 drill program at Belleterre in December of last year and expecting drill results next month. I view the exploration of the district-scale Belleterre project as a new beginning, after advancing several lower-profile projects in the last five years. The region, part of a prolific Greenstone Belt, has been historically underexplored even though it hosts a historical high grade gold mine, a significant vein system (over 20 known high grade veins) and numerous high grade gold showings, and as such it is likely to represent significant exploration potential. A wildcard for Vior is its early investment in Ridgeline Minerals, which could potentially provide lots of cash in case of exploration success with its projects in Nevada and Idaho. As with all early stage explorers, chances of success are almost binary, but I like the odds for Vior as Belleterre is an impressive brownfield project with lots of indications for mineralized potential.
I hope you will find this article interesting and useful, and will have further interest in my upcoming articles on mining. To never miss a thing, please subscribe to my free newsletter on my website www.criticalinvestor.eu, in order to get an email notice of my new articles soon after they are published.
The Critical Investor is a newsletter and comprehensive junior mining platform, providing analysis, blog and newsfeed and all sorts of information about junior mining. The editor is an avid and critical junior mining stock investor from The Netherlands, with an MSc background in construction/project management. Number cruncher at project economics, looking for high-quality companies, mostly growth/turnaround/catalyst-driven to avoid too much dependence/influence of long-term commodity pricing/market sentiments, and often looking for long-term deep value. Getting burned in the past himself at junior mining investments by following overly positive sources that more often than not avoided to mention (hidden) risks or critical flaws, The Critical Investor learned his lesson well, and goes a few steps further ever since, providing a fresh, more in-depth, and critical vision on things, hence the name.
The author is not a registered investment advisor, and currently has a long position in this stock. Vior Inc. is a sponsoring company. All facts are to be checked by the reader. For more information go to www.vior.ca and read the company’s profile and official documents on www.sedar.com, also for important risk disclosures. This article is provided for information purposes only, and is not intended to be investment advice of any kind, and all readers are encouraged to do their own due diligence, and talk to their own licensed investment advisors prior to making any investment decisions.
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