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Geological acumen, entrepreneurial instincts, and an engaging personality are some of the qualities that contributed to the extraordinary success achieved by Mackenzie Watson during his 50-year career in the Canadian mining industry. His impressive track record of discovery includes involvement in the Holloway gold project in Ontario, chromite deposits in the Ring of Fire district, and the Strange Lake rare earths project in Quebec. He also built flagship Freewest Resources into a respected project generator and provided leadership and support to junior companies and industry associations.
Watson graduated with a BSc in geology from the University of New Brunswick in 1959, and soon after participated in the discovery of the Icon Sullivan copper mine near Chibougamau, Quebec. His 1970s successes included Lynx Canada’s Long Lake zinc mine in southeast Ontario, the Hebecourt massive sulphide deposit in Quebec, and the Ellison gold deposit in Quebec, and a thermal coal deposit in New Brunswick. He later became a technical advisor to Q-Vest, which raised $60 million to invest in junior companies during the 1980s.
Watson came into his own after becoming president of Freewest Resources in 1986. The company’s first major triumph was the Holloway gold project east of Timmins. Its discovery led to Freewest being absorbed by Hemlo Gold Mines and development of the deposit as a 1,350-tons-per-day mine. His successor company, Freewest Resources Canada, went on to discover the Clarence Stream sediment-hosted gold deposit in New Brunswick. Freewest later joined a staking rush to the remote James Bay Lowlands of Ontario. Subsequent exploration led to the discovery of the Black Thor and Black Label chromite deposits in the Ring of Fire region, and the 2009 takeover of Freewest by Cliffs Natural Resources. A spin-off company, Quest Uranium, discovered a significant rare earths deposit at Strange Lake in Quebec near the Labrador border.
Watson is the first person to have received the Bill Dennis prospecting success award twice: for numerous discoveries in 1991; and in 2009, as part of the team responsible for chromite discoveries in the Ring of Fire. His success owes much to his willingness to apply new exploration methods and geological concepts. Freewest, for example, was the first to conduct gravity surveys in the Ring of Fire. Watson treated prospectors with respect, which was reciprocated, and shared ideas and information with government geologists. As a result of these alliances, he became the “go-to” person in a number of terranes, most notably the Beardmore-Geraldton, Shebandowan, Hemlo and Ring of Fire districts of Ontario.
Watson gave back to the industry and society in many ways. He provided bursary and scholarship support to his alma mater, UNB, and Lakehead University. He mentored young geoscientists and served industry associations with distinction. His greatest contribution to society was his foresight in pursuing projects with significant future economic potential, as exemplified by the chromite deposits in Ontario’s Ring of Fire and the Strange Lake rare earths project in Quebec.