Gold mining puts Dubreuilville on the comeback trail

Gold mining puts Dubreuilville on the comeback trail

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The Sudbury businessman is knee-deep into gold exploration around the northeastern Ontario community that his grandfather, Joachim (George) Dubreuil, and his uncles made famous in the early 1960s when they carved out the former sawmilling town from the bush.

Dubreuil, a local developer, tourism operator and unabashed community promoter, wants to economically diversify Dubreuilville beyond just being a bedroom community for the mining industry and a seasonal snowmobiling and off-roading destination.

“I want to go back to the roots of Dubreuilville,” said Dubreuil, vice-president of community and First Nation engagement with Manitou Gold, a large holder of exploration property near the community of 613, north of Wawa and a 38-kilometre jaunt off the Trans-Canada Highway.

“Don’t get me wrong, mining is great, but it’s not Dubreuilville. It’s not our heritage or history.”

The sawmill complex built and expanded by the legendary Dubreuil Brothers during the 1960s and 1970s had fallen into disrepair and is being dismantled by a Québec contractor.

The township has eyes on the soon-to-be-cleared piece of ground for an industrial park. Negotiations have started with the contractor to reacquire the property.
If the municipality can secure the land and salvage a few usable buildings, the ambitious Dubreuil intends to be the park’s first commercial tenant.

He’s enamoured with a heat-treated wood product made by New Brunswick’s ThermalWood Canada. 

The Bathurst company uses a kiln technology to make an environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing product that’s become increasingly popular for use as siding, decking, countertops, outdoor and indoor furniture – even Fender guitars. Dubreuil thinks he can create up to 20 local jobs in town with a manufacturing plant. 

But value-added wood won’t pay immediate dividends to the town that lost 20 per cent of its population by the time the sawmill closed for good in 2008.

The resurrection will come from what Manitou Gold is searching for, and what the nearby Island Gold Mine is producing, to the tune of 150,400 ounces in 2019.

The Dubreuilville and Wawa area is a mining and exploration hotbed, situated in an expanding gold belt that’s populated by past producing mines dating back to the 1920s.  

One of Canada’s top performing mines, Alamos’ Island Gold, is 10 kilometres southeast of town. The high-grade results from its non-stop exploration program give every indication that the underground mine could be in business for decades to come.

The workforce of more than 500 consists of about 180 locals drawn from the town and other surrounding communities, Dubreuil said.

What has locals truly excited is in the development pipeline right next to Island Gold.

Argonaut Gold expects to make a construction decision later this year on its proposed Magino open-pit mine, once they obtain all the permits and raise enough financing to build the US$321-million project.

That translates to 500 to 600 construction jobs, and 350 permanent jobs by the time Magino enters commercial production.

Then there are junior miners like Manitou Gold, Trillium Mining and Red Pine Exploration with well-funded exploration programs working on projects that have the potential to become mines themselves.

Dubreuil thinks developing an industrial park, with an existing rail spur access, positions Dubreuilville as a mining supply and service centre to Wesdome’s Eagle River Complex, just up Highway 17, Harte Gold’s Sugar Zone Mine at White River, and Newmont’s Borden Gold near Chapleau.

“Dubreuilville is 100 kilometres from everything,” he said. “There’s going to be room to bring in people who want to service other mining companies in the area.”

But as mines expand or come into production, convincing working families to settle in this semi-remote town could be a challenge.

The community has a relatively new secondary school, takes great pride in its arena, and has the infrastructure in place to handle a population of 1,300. However, finding available and affordable housing or rental units is practically non-existent, Dubreuil said.

“Right now there’s no housing available in Dubreuilville.”

Most of the homes, built between the 1960s and 1990s, are renovated trailers with a few single detached bungalows in the mix. 

To accommodate its workers, Alamos built a modular camp with kitchen facilities on the road to the mine. 

The housing crunch only gets worse when mining contractors come to town. Some park their RVs in a local campground while others bed down at Dubreuil’s motel.

To make things shovel-ready, Dubreuil is ready to donate some of his properties to the municipality for development.

“I’m sitting on 68 lots. I own 90 per cent of the building lots in Dubreuilville. I told the (municipality) I will give you the land for free. Just, let’s develop it because my goal is to fill the school and the arena.”

With that in mind, the local economic development group, of which Dubreuil is a director, and Alamos Gold are rolling out a promotional campaign – Bienvenue Dubreuilville – aimed at enticing couples and families to town, similar to a successful strategy launched by Smooth Rock Falls.

The target market is ex-pats or anyone looking to raise family in a safe, rural environment.

“Alamos wants their employees to be local,” said economic development officer Melanie Pilon, “and we want to expand our community and build our population base back up to its pre-2008 numbers.”

Pilon is teaming up with Alamos and other stakeholders on an online housing inventory to showcase available land to those looking to relocate to the community.

While some landowners are demolishing aging buildings to create new space, Pilon looks to access government community improvement funds to encourage property owners to repair and renew the existing housing stock.

These recruiting efforts will be for naught unless Dubreuilville can improve its connectivity, by far Pilon’s biggest priority over the last two years.

“Dubreuilville has the worst internet in the whole region,” she said. “It’s extremely, extremely slow right now.”

Pilon brought together five area municipalities and five First Nation communities to form the Northeast Superior Regional Broadband Network, a multi-million-dollar high-speed internet endeavour to rid themselves of tedious dial-up connections.

Having economies of scale under a regional project banner, with letters of supports in hand from industry from Hornepayne to Chapleau, has helped build the business case with government regulators and funding agencies. Some that money is already starting to trickle in.  

As a largely francophone community, some work remains with the district school board to provide English instruction, or else families might choose to settle in Wawa, a 45-minute drive away, Pilon said.

“That’s not good for us,” said Dubreuil. “We can’t grow that way. We’ll have to get creative when it comes to education.

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