An enquiring mind, skill as a field geologist and the desire to find orebodies led Walter Holyk to make an outstanding contribution to the understanding of the genesis of volcanogenic massive sulphide deposits. His innovative theories, which he tested and proved in the field, played an instrumental role in the discovery of the Half Mile deposit in New Brunswick, Nanisivik on Baffin Island and, most notably, the world class Kidd Creek deposit near Timmins, Ontario.
Walter Holyk was born March 21, 1921, in Revelstoke, B.C., where he attended high school. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1949 with a B.A.Sc. and received his Ph.D. in 1952 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During the war in Europe, he served with the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1942 to 1945.
In 1950, Holyk joined Texas Gulf Sulphur as a geologist and was given the mandate to locate pyrite deposits from which sulphur could be produced. He persuaded company management that it would be more beneficial to seek base metal sulphides than pyrite bodies alone and, toward this end, initiated exploration in eastern Canada.
When the Brunswick deposit was discovered at Bathurst, Holyk was eager to cross into New Brunswick and apply the theories he had developed from his studies of massive sulphide deposits. These emphasized the close association of sulphide ores with rhyolites and sediments under certain structural conditions and were vastly different from the hydrothermal theories then held in wide acceptance. But the “proof of the pudding” of his approach was demonstrated at the Half Mile Lake deposit in New Brunswick. After staking claims on the basis of a favorable geological setting, his work led to the discovery of a substantial zinc lead deposit.
A short time later, Holyk and colleague Richard Mollison recognized an economic opportunity in a Geological Survey of Canada report on Baffin Island. They flew to the area and staked what is now the Nanisivik zinc lead mine. Texas Gulf defined the deposit by mapping, geophysical surveys and drilling. It was later farmed out and has been a profitable mine since the 1960s.
The discovery of the Kidd Creek deposit was the result of the Canadian Shield program initiated by Holyk for Texas Gulf in 1958. He recruited a team which researched government records to choose areas in which he believed massive sulphide bodies would occur. The geological targets were then surveyed using the Texas Gulf airborne system. This work continued throughout the 1950s, and 69 anomalies were drill tested in the Timmins area alone, with little success. Only the persistence of the Texas Gulf staff enabled the company to acquire and drill, in October of 1963, a favored strong anomaly which had been difficult to option from several owners. Drilling revealed that Kidd Creek, a 100 million ton massive sulphide deposit, occurred at the rhyolite sediment contact. Holyk’s working hypothesis had discovered one of the world’s greatest zinc copper lead silver mines.
Holyk has received numerous awards, including the CIM’s Dufresne Award for Mineral Exploration in 1980 and the PDAC’s Distinguished Service Award in 1992. His geological thinking and exploration successes not only produced great wealth for Canada, but continue to inspire those who have taken up the search for volcanogenic massive sulphide deposits.