Former PDAC President John Hansuld

by Angus Gillespie

The successful development of a gold mine provides much the same rush of adrenaline and excitement for a geologist that winning an award or title would be like in most any other business industry or even competitive sport. Former PDAC President John A. Hansuld is a man who knows what that feeling is all about, as evidenced by his wealth of achievements in the mining industry dating back to the 1950s.

The Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada was formed 80 years ago as a ways and means of supporting the mineral exploration and development industry in our country and its major annual event takes place each March with the International Convention, Trade Show & Investors Exchange.

An Ontario native, Hansuld was born in 1931, just months prior to the PDAC being formed. He is best known as a pioneering geochemist and mining industry advocate. Hansuld attended McMaster University in Hamilton before heading out to Vancouver where he obtained his Master’s degree from the University of British Columbia, after which came a PhD from McGill and then a PMD from Harvard Business School in 1968, which is much like an MBA here in Canada. Oddly enough, there was a time when Hansuld didn’t think he wanted to attend college or university at all.

“But I ended up going to university until I was 30,” Hansuld laughs. “My father was an educator so I guess sooner or later I would have gone. In Grade 13, I wasn’t terribly motivated and wasn’t doing that well.” But a close friend strongly encouraged him to keep moving forward and enroll, and the rest as they say, is history.

During his last year at McMaster in a seminar course he had to summarize the base metals discovery in Bathurst, NB. Given that geochemical prospecting had played a role in that, he was advised he’d be best served by pursuing his interests out west at UBC, where he did his Master’s. Hansuld intended to continue his education even further, but his father had recently passed away and he was married by then and so he decided it was time to settle down and get a job.
Hansuld had been making good money in the summer months, but landed a full-time post working for British Newfoundland Exploration, whose head offices were in Montreal, which is where Hansuld and his wife moved to, from Vancouver.

“We had a whole bunch of joint ventures,” Hansuld says of his time with British Newfoundland Exploration. “I went to one of those meetings and when I got home my wife asked how it went, and I said the only people who seemed to be allowed to speak had PhDs, so I figured I better get one.”

From that, Hansuld got out his application to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with expectations of continuing his higher education there. But it was that same March of 1957 when Hansuld attended his first PDAC meeting. In those days, the train was the main mode of transportation between Montreal and Toronto.

“I got on the train and there was a professor from McGill who knew me and he said come on down to the bar car and I’ll buy you a beer,” Hansuld fondly recalls. “By the time we were in Kingston, I was going to McGill.”

Hansuld then joined AMAX in 1961 and in the 1970s built Amax Exploration here in Canada into a premier mining and exploration company that went public as Canamax Resources in 1983. Canamax was able to raise about $30 million via flow-through shares, which was a tax incentive adapted from the oil and gas sector. It was that financing that led to the formation of partnerships that raised $5 billion in capital over the next five years. In 1988, Hansuld was honoured by being named Northern Miner’s 1988 “Mining Man of the Year.”

“The mining business is cyclical,” Hansuld notes. “We went into a real downer where metal prices had pretty much collapsed and exploration was drying up and overnight we practically did a 180-turn from almost no exploration to one of the biggest exploration booms at the time, which would have been the mid-1980s.”
Many dubbed Hansuld the Father of Flow-Through Share Financing. It’s still in existence today, albeit in a slightly different form, but the basic underlying features remain, whereby Canadian exploration expenditures are written off against corporate income.

“They’ve added what they call an investment tax credit, so we now have what’s called super flow-throughs,” Hansuld tells us. “The program is uniquely Canadian and the envy of a lot of people in the likes of Australia and the U.S. where they don’t have that sort of tax feature.”

Hansuld served as President of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada for three years from 1993 to 1996 and is widely credited with helping to expand the association’s international profile. He was also known as a pioneer in the areas of geochemical prospecting and the application of the tax shelter of flow-through share program to mining. Prior to 1982, it had been used only for oil and gas.

“When I was semi-retired, I became vice president at PDAC for two years and then president for three years because the incoming president wanted to defer for a year for personal reasons,” Hansuld says. “The board very enthusiastically supported me for another year. During those five years we made a lot of changes in working with the executive director such as implementing a new logo and a strategic plan to know what our strengths and weaknesses were and what our role really was in the mineral industry.”

“But most importantly of all we were able to realize that there was a fair number of offshore people coming to our convention and maybe we should really utilize that to the point where the Prospectors and Developers convention is now recognized as the number one mineral exploration convention in the world. We went from a few thousand to more than 27,000 last year.”

“The association went through some cycles and really didn’t have a lot of credence in the political arena and we sort of changed that,” Hansuld notes. “In my early days prior to being president when I was a director and an exploration manager, the PDAC convention was known as being a large party at the Royal York. It was a place where big stories and dreams and scams were generated. We then put it on a firm business footing and as I said, got a new logo, had a strategic plan as to what we were all about and decided to put a real focus on the international aspect.”

Hansuld also spent 20 years doing offshore work for a large U.S. multinational and says the best part of going offshore was coming home.

The greatest compliment and crowning achievement for Hansuld was being inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame. The official induction ceremonies took place in Toronto.

“It was nice to be recognized by your peers,” Hansuld remarks. “A lot of efforts over the years seemed to be appreciated so I was thrilled and it caps a 60-plus year career. I feel very strongly about Canada. I was born here and very proud to be Canadian and to be in the Canadian exploration industry. I think we’ve done a remarkable job and I’m just tickled pink that I was able to contribute to that reputation.”