Some things in life are surprisingly simple.
For a fee of $25.50, presentation of photo i.d., and the completion of a form that required little more than my name, address, telephone number and birthdate, I became a licensed prospector in the province of Ontario.
I am now permitted to stake mineral claims anywhere in the province, with a few noted exceptions.
So why should you care about my latest avocation?
Because chances are, if you own property anywhere in Ontario (or most of Canada), you do not own the mineral rights to your land. Surface rights, yes. Mining rights, no. Mining rights “are the rights to the minerals located in, on or under the land. Surface rights refer to any right of land that is not mining rights.” A bit of history is in order.
The Constitution Act, 1867 gave the then existing provinces ownership of the public property within their boundaries (i.e. to the provincial Crown), which then issued grants of land known as “Crown Patents”. In 1913, the province amended its Public Lands Act so that any title granted by the Crown before the amendment was deemed to include mining rights ownership.
Any parcels of land granted by the Crown after May 6, 1913, may or may not include the mining rights depending on how the title is worded. Ontario’s current Public Lands Act authorizes the Minister of Natural Resources to sell or lease land. Today, the province’s policy is to reserve mining rights to the Crown in the majority of land grants. – Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM)
Due to Crown ownership and assuming no other filed claim, I can come onto your property without your permission, place stakes on the four corners of that land, and file for the mineral rights that you assume you own. Further, I can conduct my drilling/testing (“assessment”) on your property with one day’s notice and I am not required to compensate you except for explicit damage ie. broken fences. I am not trespassing on your property and I cannot be refused access. This is called the “free-entry system” and is the modus operandi for British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Ontario.
While the majority of exploration and mining activity takes place in Ontario’s north, the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM) website notes that “exploration for minerals such as gold, uranium, molybdenum, copper-nickel, wollastonite and calcium carbonate is on the increase in the more populated areas of Ontario’s south.”
There are some restrictions to staking but it’s worth noting the definitions used and the possibility of exceptions.
No staking may occur on subdivisions for residential purposes, railway lands, Crown town sites, Ministry of Natural Resources summer resort locations, lands certified by Ministry of Transportation for public purposes, Indian Reserves and provincial parks. The Mining Act also states that prospecting cannot occur on that part of a lot where there is a dwelling, cemetery, church, public building, dam, garden, vineyard, orchard, or crops that may be damaged, without the prior consent of the surface rights holder. In some cases, consent to stake these areas may be obtained through an order from the Mining Recorder or the Mining and Lands Commissioner.
The part of a lot where there is a “dwelling” is not open for staking or prospecting without the prior consent of the owner. Also, residential lots on a registered plan of subdivision are not open for staking without the consent of the Minister of Northern Development and Mines.
I must follow a very specific methodology for staking a claim and I must register it with MNDM within 30 days of completion. Once I’ve made my claim, I must perform a minimal amount of annual assessment work to keep it valid. I must spend at least $400 per claim unit per year (16 hectare unit=39.52 acres), with the exception of the first twelve months after registration. I must report this work to the Mining Land section of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines by completing forms and including drawings of the claims. If I fail to do so, the mineral rights revert to the Crown and may be staked by others. All of the Mining Act forms can be found here.
While I am given exclusive rights to prospect that claim, there is no right or title in the land until I exercise my right to obtain a leasehold on that property. After that, I can start pulling out whatever treasure trove may lie in wait. While consultation with the surface rights owner prior to any access is recommended by the MNDM, it is not absolutely necessary.
I can, at any time, transfer these rights to any other unlicensed individuals or companies, Canadian or foreign-based. Although it’s an American example, it’s worth noting that D.R. Horton, a Texas-based builder has been doing just that.
Texas-based D.R. Horton, the country’s largest homebuilder, has been systematically keeping the mineral rights starting at 500 feet below homes it sells for a number of years. The company then transfers those exploration rights en masse to a subsidiary, DRH Energy.
The terms give DRH Energy, also based in Texas, “the perpetual right to drill, mine, explore … and remove any of the subsurface resources on or from the property by any means whatsoever, ” according to property deeds filed in Chatham, Wake and Durham counties.
Closer to home, the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU) have been fighting uranium prospecting on their collective lands in Lanark and Frontenac counties. And according to the WISE Uranium Project, there are dozens of international companies exploring uranium deposits in Ontario today. The work of the Ontario Landowners Association focusses on rural property rights and issues including Crown Grants/Letters Patent as a tool to aid in the protection of private property rights.
So while it’s unlikely to be me staking and claiming the mineral rights to your property, it could be just about anyone else. And if the Big Boys With Deep Pockets end up sniffing around, you can pretty much guess the outcome.
In 2011 the National Film Board (NFB) released The Hole Story, a feature documentary by Richard Desjardins and Robert Monderie which explores the big business of mining in Canada, analyzing company profits and the impact of mining on the environment and workers’ health. The NFB concurrently released an interactive project that allows players to step into the shoes of a mining and exploration company and control the outcomes of developing resources around the country.
So as a property owner what can or should you do about your mineral rights?
Get informed. The MNDM encourages the public to get informed. Their website is undergoing a major overhaul to make it more user-friendly; the new site is slated to be rolled out in early May. However, all of the basic information remains available. The CLAIMaps website provides information and the location of approximately 228,894 active mining claim units throughout Ontario. Information is updated every day. The MNDM provide detailed geological maps of Ontario indicating areas where the greatest mineral potential exists and encourages the public to contact the Provincial Mining Recorder’s Office.
Additional information is accessible at the following web sites:
- The GeologyOntario Web site at http://www.mndm.gov.on.ca/mines/geologyontario/default_e.asp
- The Mineral Exploration and Mining Information web site – ServiceOntario http://www.ontario.ca/en/information_bundle/mineral/STEL01_033476
See if you already hold title or find out who does. Ensure your lawyer checks title on your property purchase. On new home purchases, ask your developer/builder who retains mineral rights. Determine your risk. Discuss the risk with your local Landowners Association. Decide if you want to stake your own property.
Alternatively, kick back with a glass of wine, forget the whole thing and pray you never have to deal with the issue. At least you’ll have made a decision.
CORRECTION: If I stake your property, I need to notify you within 60 days of making the application to record the mining claim or apply for a waiver if I am unable to reach you (“Confirmation of Staking”). If I fail to do that, the claim will be null and void.