‘It’s giving back’: Banyan Gold CEO Tara Christie on her lifelong roots in the Yukon

Banyan Gold CEO Tara Christie and her daughter Katie in the Yukon.

Banyan Gold (TSXV: BYN) president and CEO Tara Christie was juggling the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, and at the same time, began a new role. Like many parents worldwide, the mining executive and multi-generational gold miner began home schooling for her six-year-old daughter during the pandemic.

“I’ve had to teach myself phonics,” Christie laughed. But while Christie and her daughter Katie were wading through hard and soft vowel sounds, Katie’s grasp of Yukon placer mining would match many adults.

“She already knows placer gold from pyrite,” Christie said.

Tara Christie at the shovel turning ceremony at Victoria Gold’s Eagle gold mine in August 2017. Photo Credit: Victoria Gold.

Christie ranks as one of the most knowledgeable CEOs in the industry. She joined Banyan Gold in 2016, and under her leadership the junior exploration company has been advancing two key projects: Hyland, in the Watson Lake mining district of southeastern Yukon, 74 km northeast of Watson Lake, and Aurex-McQuesten, located 56 km northeast of Mayo and 356 km north of Whitehorse.

Banyan optioned Aurex-McQueston in 2017 from Victoria Gold (TSX: VGCX) and Alexco Resource (TSX: AXU; NYSE-AM: AXU), and the project sits 40 km from Victoria Gold’s open-pit heap leach mine, Canada’s newest gold mine, and 10 km from Alexco’s mill facility in the Keno Hill district.

In March 2018, Banyan completed an updated resource estimate on the main zone at its Hyland project of 8.6 million indicated tonnes grading 0.85 gram gold per tonne for 236,000 oz. contained gold and 10.8 million inferred tonnes grading 0.83 gram gold for 288,000 oz., and this week reported a maiden resource estimate for its Aurmac property, part of the Aurex-McQuesten project.

The pit-constrained inferred resource estimate was based on two deposits – Airstrip and Powerline – and totals 52.58 million tonnes grading 0.54 gram gold per tonne for 903,945 contained oz. gold. The two deposits lie within 1 km of each other and are near year-round access roads.

The Aurex-McQueston project has a rich history of exploration and mining dating back to 1900 and the last years of the Klondike gold rush.

Wanderlust and the thrill of exploration that drew thousands to the Klondike connect her and her husband, John McConnell, president and CEO of Victoria Gold, who has been in the mining industry for 35 years.

“I don’t even think work is work,” said Christie. “We do it because we are driven and passionate about building mines, doing exploration. It is also building people up. It’s building community. It’s being part of that. It’s giving back. It’s all part of just how you live, and how we operate. It’s why we get along so well.”

Her fascination and commitment to the Yukon were born from her own childhood of home schooling experiences, which took place on-site at placer mines around the west. Her father, geologist James Christie, and mother Dagmar, of privately held Gimlex Gold Mines, one of the Yukon’s largest placer mining operations, spent many years mining at Scoogie Creek.

“I have really good memories from when I was young with my dad,” she said. “With both the freedom and work ethic.”

Returning every summer to live at sites across the territory was the best place for her to explore and grow. Christie’s father encouraged his children to work as much as they could, engaging them and helping them develop skills.

The pandemic has meant a big shift for her parents. For the first time the pair are not in the field yet this year. This is not a signal of anything, aside from following health guidelines.

“I don’t think they’ll ever retire. They’re driven to what they do,” Christie said.

John McConnell, president and CEO of Victoria Gold, and Tara Christie, president and CEO of Banyan Gold, at Victoria Gold’s Eagle mine in August 2019. Photo by Alistair Maitland Photography.

Every summer, the Christie family would move to the Yukon from Vancouver, and Tara and her brother, Seamus, were included in work as they were able, learning how to drive equipment and weld at an early age. Christie staked her first claim at 18, which marked her own right of passage into adulthood, as good as any other for her.

Her opportunities to learn changed and grew in responsibility as she graduated high school with straight A’s, and later earned her master’s degree in geological engineering from the University of British Columbia. She became more interested in the operational aspects of the business, and developed a passion for permitting, staking claims, economics and logistics, which gave her experience as the prices of gold fluctuated.

“I can speak from the heart,” she said. “Placer mining through some of those low gold price years was really tough,” she said of her youth. “That’s really where I learned business skills, and how to reduce costs, and manage costs, and how to really understand where costs were going and budgeting.”

Those memories have been a source for her to draw on as her career grew, and she started to be charged with convincing investors.

“If you don’t have passion for it, you can’t explain to others why what it is you’re proposing is going to help,” she said.

In 1998, Christie became the president of Gimlex, and remained until 2006, after which she joined Newmont (TSX: NGT; NYSE: NEM). She applied her lifetime of skills to consulting the company after it acquired the Hope Bay project in Nunavut, 125 km southwest of Cambridge Bay and 685 km northeast of Yellowknife, in 2007.

After five years with the company, Tara was pregnant with Katie, and preparing for another season in the Arctic. This was the only time in her life that she felt her spark for gold waning.

As she contemplated her career sitting in the airport in Nunavut, pregnant and far from her childhood summer home, her decision was made by Newmont. The company decided to sell the Hope Bay project to TMAC Resources (TSX: TMR) in 2013, and Christie returned to the Yukon of her childhood, and became CEO of Banyan Gold in 2016, where she had served as a director on the board since 2011.

In that same year, McConnell’s company began the charity Every Student, Every Day, with the mission to support community initiatives across the territory to support student success, and Christie became the president.

Christie and McConnell are both keenly aware of the most valuable element in their mining operations – the people. Evidenced by the $100,000 donation McConnell made last month to the Yukon Food Bank, and the ongoing charitable work that Christie does as the president of Every Student, Every Day, with the mission to support community initiatives across the territory to support student success.

Her involvement in the charity, and her knowledge of the communities is deep and detailed, understanding all the elements that contribute to the larger process — including the logistical roadblocks to getting kids to school, and food to homes across the Yukon with the impact of COVID-19. Christie’s involvement in the mining community is considerable.

“If you’re only in it for profits and the share price, one, you won’t be happy, and two, your community and social license won’t be there,” she said. “You really have to have passion for it all.”

At present, Christie is on the boards of Constantine Metal Resources (TSXV: CEM; US-OTC: CNSNF) and Klondike Gold ( TSXV: KG; US-OTC: KDKGF), and has been a board member of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada, the Association for Mineral Exploration, and other industry groups, and was a founding board member of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board.

Tara Christie, president and CEO of Banyan Gold, and John McConnell, president and CEO of Victoria Gold, at the Yukon Student Encouragement Society’s Every Student, Every Day gala fundraiser in October 2019. Credit: Alistair Maitland Photography.

“I don’t sit on a board just to sit on a board. I want to bring something to it,” she said. “I wouldn’t have accepted them without knowing that there was unique skills or information that I could contribute to them. I know there are a lot of people who just want to put women on boards, but I don’t have any interest in that.”

The brilliance of Christie’s understanding of the mining industry seems to have been born from this immersive education in the field. Without missing a beat, she can tell the story of a mine worker who was in tears after COVID-19 meant he might have to move from the Yukon back to Vancouver, and then speaks from the heart regarding the details of permitting and policy processes of placer mining. It is obvious that Christie understands every single element, from human, to mineral, to political, that contributes to the success and failures of the industry.

The pandemic has clarified this passion for the couple.

“It will change all kinds of things, but it hasn’t changed our commitment to the Yukon, our resolve and love for what we do,” she said.

As Canada’s West eases restrictions and begins to move ahead into the new post-COVID19 landscape, Christie’s daughter has been able to return to being schooled in a classroom. Reading lessons might be done for Christie, but she wants to take her daughter into the field with her, adding to the little girl’s more than 400 flights.

“I hope my daughter has a similar exposure to various different things so that she has all the opportunities,” said Christie. “Mining has great opportunities, and you can do so much. I look at my career raising Katie, and taking her with me everywhere, and how our lives have been better for it. She has a really different perspective than a lot of other kids. I hope I can continue to do it.”

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