The mining process starts with prospecting and claim staking. Explorationists hike through the bush to stake claims, collect rock and soil samples and comb the land for signs of an ore body. Because it is impossible to predict where a viable ore deposit will be found, explorationists require access to as large an area of land as possible. Ultimately, only a small number of claims (0.1 percent) will show enough promise for diamond drilling and evaluation. See The Mineral Exploration Roadmap infographic.

Ontario closely regulates land access and exploration activites. Ontario's Mining Act mandates that staking claims cannot infringe on individual propery rights or disrupt another land use, such as gardens or recreation areas. Special staking and exploration practices apply on land designated by the Ontario government as environmentally sensitive.

The Mining Act also protects heritage values and focuses heavily on the rights of Aboriginal communities. It requires notification of and consultation with Aboriginal communities regarding the impact of proposed exploration and mining activities: lower impact activities require the filing of exploration plans, while higher impact activities require exploration permits.

In 2009, the Ontario government introduced the Far North Act, making 225,000 square kilometres of public land in the Far North permanently unavailable to mining. Mining activities in the remainder of the Far North public lands will only be permitted if there is an approved community-based land-use plan in place.

Land Access Requirements

chart showing land access requirements
Chart courtesy of the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines

If there are favourable signs of above normal mineral levels, basic and intermediate exploration will begin, once an exploration plan is submitted to the Minister of Northern Development and Mines or an exploration permit is obtained. Consultation with affected Aboriginal communities is required before any exploration activities are conducted.

Exploration activities include geological mapping and aerial surveys to obtain detailed geological data. Geophysical and geochemical tests on the ground detect the possible presence of valuable minerals through measurements of electrical conductivity, magnetic fields, or sampling of rock, soil or water. Explorationists may explore rock formations by extracting core samples with a diamond drill, stripping (removing soil and vegetation) or trenching (removal of rock using jack hammers and explosives). Note that stripping and trenching usually covers only a few metres of ground.

The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada has developed e3 Plus: A Framework for Responsible Exploration, while the CIM's Mineral Resources & Mineral Reserves Committee (MRMR) publishes Mineral Exploration Best Practice Guidelines.These guidelines, along with those issued by the province, represent the working standards for the industry. 

Ontario's mineral reserves, particularly in base metals, are being depleted faster than they are being replenished. As a result, exploration is critical both to develop additional reserves near existing mining operations and for the discovery of new ore bodies.

Learn more at the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and the Ontario Prospector's Association. Read the Exploration and Mining Guide for Aboriginal Communities