A Brief History of the Calgary Mineral Exploration Group Society
by Alex Knox (Updated February 2016 by Tim Sandberg)
In the mid to late 1960’s, the mineral exploration scene in Calgary was small. Great Plains Development, Imperial Oil, Scurry Rainbow and others maintained small mineral exploration groups, mainly engaged in the search for gold and base metals. Don Sawyer, Murray Pyke, Sandy Dean and Al Swanson were some of the geologists working for these companies. At this time the Red Fox bar in the Holiday Inn (now Ramada) was the informal meeting place for the mineral exploration community.
The discovery by Gulf Minerals of the Rabbit Lake uranium deposit in the summer of 1968 changed the focus. Oil companies, large and small, began acquiring and exploring ground in the vicinity of Rabbit Lake and the first Athabasca uranium staking rush was on. Pan Ocean Oil (Al Swanson), Candel Oil (Bill Leuchner), Wollaston Lake Mines (Murray Pyke, Ron Netolitzky, Ken Lintott) and Norcen Energy (Laurie Smith, Don Sawyer, Terry Turner) were some of the smaller Calgary companies involved. Ed Schiller moved to Calgary in 1970.
In approximately the spring of 1972 the Calgary mineral exploration community began meeting informally (no name yet) with some sandwiches and cases of beer to present exploration results and ideas to one another. These meetings were held in the Norcen Energy board room or in the basement of Penley’s Ballroom, in the northeast part of downtown. The group also gathered later at the Empress Hotel for the cheap draft beer and the famous Empress Burgers.
The years after the discovery of Rabbit Lake yielded few significant discoveries. The discovery of Key Lake in 1974 ushered in the second Athabasca uranium staking rush, which eventually spread to many other parts of Canada. Numerous oil companies, large and small, began an active search for the large, high grade uranium targets of the Key Lake type. Pan Ocean, partly due to its royalty interest in the Rabbit Lake Mine of Gulf Minerals added staff (Dick Foster, Bob McPherson, Bernie Gallant, Bill Day, Mike McInnis, Paul Hawkins, Robin Chisolm, Rick Mazur). Comaplex Minerals was formed in 1971 and Taiga Consultants in 1973. During the years 1976-1981 Calgary was the hotbed of mineral exploration in Canada, in terms of exploration money spent.
It was sometime during this period, about 1976, that the Calgary Mineral Exploration Group was formalized and monthly talks began and an executive formed. Karl Glackmeyer appears to have been the first President of the MEG, Jim Davis was the first program chairman. Jim recalls that the first formal MEG talk was by Norm Reynolds of Norcen on VMS exploration on Ellesmere Island. These formal MEG meetings were held initially in Penley’s Ballroom, and later moved to the Norcen auditorium. Charles Bizard of Aquitaine, involved in uranium exploration, offered the MEG the Aquitaine auditorium for its meetings in 1977. The Aquitaine auditorium became the home of the MEG monthly meetings for almost 20 years.
During this period, the zenith of the MEG in terms of attendance, the Blizzard (Norcen) and Midwest Lake (Esso) uranium deposits were discovered by the Calgary exploration community and described first at MEG meetings. Ed Schiller began to give his yearly, entertaining talks on exploration. The first MEG Spring Social was held in 1979. It was at the time, and until its suspension in the mid 1990’s, its chief social event, and a hell of a party!
During this period Glen Dickson joined Wollex, Jim Davis, Ron Netolitzky and Rupert Allen joined Taiga. Union Oil’s mineral division was enlarged with Jim Allan, Marc Gidluck, Gary Belik, George Leary, etc. Shell and Mobil started up large mineral exploration groups. Jim Kelly joined Scurry Rainbow. Many other junior companies were active in exploring for uranium.
The Three Mile Island “crisis” and the subsequent drop in the price of uranium was a hard blow to the mineral industry in Calgary and to the MEG. Most of the large and medium-sized oil companies closed or drastically reduced their mineral exploration staffs. The 1982-1984 recession was on. The National Energy Program also resulted in the pull-out of numerous American oil companies from Canada. The active exploration shrank as exploration personnel were shed. Some of these people left town over the years, some joined the petroleum business, others left the business entirely. Suncor, seeking a fuel to raise steam at their Fort McMurray tar sands mine, opened a Coal & Mineral group (Ray Moss, Edwin Fraser, Paul Hawkins). This was later widened to include gold and base metals. A few foreign companies continued to explore for uranium (AGIP and CEGB) from bases in Calgary. Ron Netolitzky left Taiga in 1981 to form the Golden Rule Group with Glen Harper. Comaplex added Phil Mudry and Mark Balog.
The MEG continued to hold monthly technical meetings, often chaired by energetic president Bill Scott of Hardy-BBT. The spring social was held every year. It was in the Bill Scott era that the MEG was registered as an Alberta non-profit society. The MEG became a non-profit society principally to obtain the liquor license required for the monthly meetings at the Aquitaine auditorium. Liquor store staff complained that the MEG was having too many monthly meetings, and insisted it get a license.
The flow-through boom of 1985-1987 was a lift to the Calgary mineral exploration community, although there were relatively few mineral exploration personnel left in Calgary. Kelmet Resources (Jim Kelly – Brian Douglas) explored for gold in the NWT. Jasi Nikhanj was active raising exploration dollars for projects in the NWT and Nevada. In terms of staff, Comaplex, Taiga, Union Oil and the Golden Rule Group were the more active firms. Ron Netolitzky, Glen Dickson (Cumberland), Randy Turner, Gren Thomas (Highwood Resources) and others left Calgary in this period to great success in Vancouver.
The early 1990’s were very slow. Another recession was on and the exploration business was slow. The MEG became increasingly peopled by people who had migrated over to the oil side, retired people and consultants/contractors. However, due to the diligent work of a series of able Program chairmen and women the quality of the technical talks was high. Highlights were the first talk on the Eskay Creek discovery by prodigal son Ron Netolitzky and other talks by Peggy Witte, Jim Kelly and Ed Schiller.
In the mid to late 1990’s the MEG ran a Fall Social, actually in late November, partially to replace the traditional company Christmas Party, as few mineral explorationists in Calgary during this period worked for companies. It was during the 1996 edition of this function that Val Pratico displayed a cheque for $7 million, the result of a recently completed financing for Birch Mountain Resources.
In 1991 Daniel Beauchamp and Hughes Salat, then members of the MEG Executive, championed the idea of running a forum on mining exploration and the Calgary Mining Forum was born. The first Forum was held on the second floor of the Palliser Hotel. Attendance was good, the technical program was very good, and the first Calgary Mining Forum made a profit of $3500. The Forum became, along with the monthly technical meetings, the principal focus of the MEG.
The annual Calgary Mining Forum was moved to the Calgary Convention Centre in 1997 and enjoyed its zenith in terms of attendance in the years 1995-1997. It was during the 1997 conference that first word of the Bre-X scandal was being voiced. David Walsh of Bre-X infamy was never closely associated with the MEG or its functions but made a donation to the Calgary Mining Forum in 1996.
The post Bre-X climate for the mineral exploration industry was very poor and the impact on the MEG was immediate. Attendance at the annual Forum began to drop and the decision was made to move the Forum in 2001 to the downtown Ramada Hotel, where it remained until the last Mining Forum, in 2011.
By 2000 things were very depressed. The Forum had turned into a money loser and was in danger of having to be cancelled. MEG President Alex Knox met with Reg Olson and Rick Richardson of the Alberta Geological Survey. The Survey agreed to help finance the Forum, which became the Open House for the mineral-directed research of the Alberta Geological Survey. This financial support was critical to maintaining the existence of the Forum. AGS support continued one way or another until 2008. The 20th Calgary Mining Forum was held in April 2011, but it was decided to end the Mining Forum after that.
The MEG went online at www.meg.calgary.ab.ca sometime in the late 1990’s. The first MEG webmaster was Val Pratico. Tim Sandberg took over as webmaster in 2000 and continues to operate the website at the new domain name megcalgary.com.
Until October 2004 the monthly meetings had been held in building auditoriums, most notably the Aquitaine Auditorium and later in Bow Valley Square. In the early 2000’s these sites became increasingly difficult to book on a continuing basis and during the MEG Presidency of Paul Hawkins it was decided to have the meeting catered at the Ramada Hotel. This involved a substantial increase in costs, but the meetings were considered a vital service to the members even though they were run at a significant monthly loss to the Society.
Even with the economic downturn of 2008-2009 the MEG continued to operate and generate interest in exploration for our members under the Presidency of Sherri Hodder. Under the presidency of Ms. Hodder the society had a renewed focus on increasing student membership as well as increasing public awareness of both the activities of the MEG and general mineral exploration. Susan O’Donnell became president of the MEG for the year 2009-2010 and the focus on public awareness continued under her presidency. Currently, Alex Knox is the president of the MEG.
The monthly luncheon meetings remain the primary focus of the Calgary Mineral Exploration Group. In January of 2015 the talks moved from the Ramada to the Kerby Centre. The move realized a significant savings in meeting costs, and helped to ensure the sustainability of the Calgary MEG. The talks are now held on the first Friday of the month, October through May. Even in the difficult times of 2015-2016 the meetings continue to be informative, well attended and a welcoming meeting place for the Calgary mineral exploration community.