It's exceedingly rare for a junior exploration company to make a discovery that results in a more than 100x return for early investors and a multi-billion dollar market capitalization. Junior gold mining investors just witnessed one such example when Great Bear Resources was acquired by Kinross Gold for nearly C$30 per share (C$1.8 billion). And a few years ago, base metals explorer/developer Arizona Mining was acquired by South32 for more than C$2 billion. It seems that every few years resource investors are shown an example of spectacular success that serves as a reminder of why one bothers to speculate in this sector at all.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the grandfathers of Canadian mining, Gren Thomas, a man who is familiar with world class discoveries and 100x returns. Gren founded the company (Aber Diamond Corp.) that made the Diavik diamond discovery in the Northwest Territory in the early 90s, one of the great resource discoveries of that decade.
The conversation was filled with kernels of wisdom and Gren shared some of the reasons why his largest investment today is his son Gareth's company, Westhaven Gold (TSX-V:WHN, OTC:WTHVF); Westhaven recently reported one of the best gold drill results seen anywhere in the world in the last year with 23.03 meters grading 37.24 g/t gold and 209.52 g/t silver at the FMN Zone at the Shovelnose Project in southern BC, Canada.
Goldfinger: Gren, it’s great to speak with you today. Let’s begin with how you got into the mining industry. What was your inception story?
Gren Thomas: Well, I come from a coal mining area in Wales. I started working at coal mining when I was 16, and that's where I got into mining.
Goldfinger: So you began in coal mining in Wales when you were 16. When did you move to Canada?
Gren Thomas: When I came to Canada, I was 23. In 1964.
Goldfinger: And what brought you to Canada?
Gren Thomas: After working in the coal mines for a while, I eventually went to college and I got a degree in mining but I had never worked in anything except coal mines. I thought I'd come to Canada and gain some experience in something else. I ended up working in the nickel mines in Ontario in '64. Then I got transferred to a gold mine in Yellowknife later that year. I tried working the gold mines in Yellowknife for a while but a year or so later I went into exploration and worked in the bush. I became a prospector/geologist, a bush guy.
Goldfinger: What was your biggest moment, your biggest accomplishment in the mining industry and your life so far?
Gren Thomas: I suppose it would be my involvement in the Diavik diamond mine. In 1981, I started Aber Resources which went on to discover the Diavik diamond mine. By which time, Rio Tinto was our partner on the project. Eventually, Aber Resources became Aber Diamonds which then took over Harry Winston, a diamond company from New York.
It then became the Dominion Diamond Company and, at one time, it was the third largest diamond company in the world. I wasn't running the company by then, of course, but I was the founder. By the time I exited the last of my position (around $50 per share) and stepped away from the company it had a market valuation of more than $4 billion.
Goldfinger: What was the vision for the company when you started it?
Gren Thomas: It was an exploration company. We were looking for everything. Aber Resources was a spinoff of another company I started called Highwood Resources, which discovered a rare-earth, tantalum and columbium deposit near Yellowknife, which has now had its first ore shipped from it, and it has become a small rare-earth mine. Although it's quite a large deposit, they've just started initial test production from there. The rare earths discovery near Yellowknife was my first discovery, before Diavik.
Goldfinger: So you started Aber in the early '80s?
Gren Thomas: That's right.
Goldfinger: And when was the discovery made, the big diamond discovery?
Gren Thomas: '94.
Goldfinger: And so, this is an important topic for many investors in the junior mining sector. And that it is unrealistic to expect a substantial new discovery to occur in the first five years of a company's life. And sometimes it takes a decade, sometimes it takes two decades, and sometimes it never happens.
Gren Thomas: Yes, that's right. We worked on dozens of different properties before we staked the diamond property. And we found a few interesting deposits along the way including several gold deposits and the previously mentioned rare earth deposit. We searched for all sorts of things before we got into diamonds in '91. That was the way exploration companies used to be. They had a lot of different projects of which one would eventually pop out as being important. Then you'd have one company running that.
For example, when I had the company Highwood Resources, we had lots of properties, but then the rare-earth, tantalum, columbium and zirconium property popped out. So we put all our other exploration properties then into Aber, and that's how Aber came about. And then when Aber made a diamond discovery, those additional exploration properties were taken and put into other companies while Aber focused on the diamond industry. And that's the typical evolution of exploration companies in Canada in those days. One company would have numerous exploration projects going until one would pop out as being important, and then they would focus on the project with the most promise.
Goldfinger: So tell me about the Diavik discovery. How did this happen? And what was the price the company was eventually sold for? What was the valuation?
Gren Thomas: Well, the company was never sold. We staked the ground in '91 and then merged with another private company I was involved with that was working in Iceland. So this company came into being and roughly 6 months later we were offered a proposal by Rio Tinto to joint venture the land. Rio Tinto had a copper project that we were interested in. Rio Tinto agreed to let us farm into the copper project, which is up on the Arctic coast and then the idea was for them to farm into Diavik project. In the end, Rio Tinto ended up with 60%, we ended up with 40% of Diavik. And then when it went into production, we put up 40% of the money, and they put up 60% of the money, and we ended up sharing the diamonds.
We each took our own share of the diamonds. We marketed the diamonds ourselves, and set up our own marketing company, which had decent revenues. I can't recall what they were now, but it was $300 million or $400 million a year. And using that money, the company acquired Harry Winston, which was the diamond retailing company in the US.
Gren and Eira in 1995. Examining core from the A-418 kimberlite pipe at the Diavik property.
Goldfinger: The diamond business is a pretty obscure one, not well understood. And obviously it's been getting some bad press in the last decade or so, the so-called blood diamonds of Africa and such. What do you think the future of the diamond industry is?
Gren Thomas: I think it looks prosperous. The diamond industry is doing quite well right now as DeBeers can’t keep up with the demand. I am a major investor in a company called North Arrow where we're exploring for fancy diamonds in the Arctic, in Nunavut. Diamonds are very much in demand again. Don't ask me why, but they are. Things go in cycles, and they went out of favor for a long time, but now they're very definitely back in favor.
Goldfinger: Last week, I went into the Cartier store at the Boca Town Center. I live in south Florida. And so the Boca Town Center is kind of a fancy shopping place, and they have a Cartier. And I was surprised at how small the diamonds are that they're selling. They don't really have the two or three carat diamonds that I would expect a high-end jeweler to have. They're selling these very small diamonds for crazy amounts of money, $25,000 for a diamond ring with tiny diamonds.
Can you tell us a little bit about some of the projects that Aber explored and how you eventually got to the diamond discovery in the Northwest Territories? Sort of the short version of the evolution of the company.
Gren Thomas: Yeah, well it's not just the history of one company. There were several companies involved. My first public company was a company called Highwood Resources and our principal project was called Thor Lake. It is a rare earths discovery. It was the rare earth, tantalum, niobium, beryllium, that sort of thing. And that discovery was what Highwood worked on principally for about 10 years, together with a nickel project, which was near the border with Saskatchewan.
Most companies in those days wouldn't have one project, they'd have several. But as you explore these various properties, one of them would turn out to be better than the others and the company would focus on that.
Highwood became focused on the main project, which was the Thor Lake rare earth project. We spun out the other projects into Aber Resources. Thor Lake is in production now although it’s owned by another company.
So eventually what evolved was that Highwood had the rare earth property and Aber had then a miscellany of gold projects, base metals projects, like zinc, copper, silver, that sort of thing.
Aber got into the diamond business because we had acquired ground in the area in 1991. But from its inception in 1981, Aber worked on small exploration projects throughout the North, and that's what it principally did, just like Highwood did before.
When Aber made the diamond discovery, we shed a lot of the other projects into separate companies and Aber carried on then as a diamond company, and eventually became Harry Winston, which in turn became Dominion Diamonds. This all took place between '91 and up until recently. The company went into receivership about two years ago.
Goldfinger: So what was the experience of making a discovery of... I assume it was a kimberlite pipe, and suddenly you drilled into something where there were all these diamonds and you knew that you had something that was worth hundreds of millions of dollars? What was that experience like for you?
Gren Thomas: When you're in an exploration business, you get inured to disappointment, because oftentimes you drill things and they never quite work out the way you hope. But at the same time, when you find something really exciting, you don't get too excited either because you try to live on this plane where you don't get too excited, don't get too depressed. You try to level out your feelings.
When we first found it, we thought, "Well, this is great and this is really exciting," but you don't let yourself get that excited because exploration can be very disappointing. You try to control your enthusiasm and control your pessimism when you're disappointed. But clearly, this was quite something. We started work there in '92 in a serious way and we found this discovery in '94 when we drilled.
We flew airborne surveys to try and find magnetic targets because these pipes are magnetically anomalous. We had found and drill tested numerous kimberlites that were not diamond-bearing. And then we drilled this discovery. We realized this discovery was different and this was a different type of kimberlite. It ended up having two diamonds that you could see in the drill core, which is very unusual in an exploration project.
To actually see diamonds in drill cores is very rare. So, if you do see them, then the chances are, the pipe you have is quite rich.
And of course, this discovery was made underneath a lake. We were drilling through the ice so we could not see the pipe. It was completely hidden. It was a magnetic target that we were drilling from the ice. It was very exciting of course, and it was the first time in that whole area that anything like this had been reported. And this stone found in the drill core, which was a 2-carat stone, became known as the Aber Diamond, and it became a well-known diamond.
Goldfinger: So, you're drilling a magnetic target, basically an anomaly?
Gren Thomas: That's right.
Goldfinger: ... through the ice. You can't see anything, really.
Gren Thomas: Correct.
Goldfinger: So, it's kind of a blind discovery. And in the drill core, which is a few inches in diameter, you intersected two diamonds, including one that's 2 carats, which is a pretty good size.
Gren Thomas: That's right.
Goldfinger: So the odds are that those two diamonds are not there in isolation.
Gren Thomas: Exactly. It has to be a particularly rich pipe. Of course, it turned out to be one of the richest pipes in the world ever, which is pretty unusual. We weren't in the diamond business; we were just in the exploration business. We didn't know much about diamonds.
Goldfinger: I know you said, "We want to keep our emotions in check and not get too excited, because oftentimes it leads to great disappointment in exploration." But when did you realize that you probably had a major discovery on your hands?
Gren Thomas: When we started to speak to other people that knew a lot more about diamonds than we did, they said, "Look, this is incredible." They said, "It's got to be a very rich pipe." And it slowly started to sink in. When we put out the news of what had happened, the stock took off because the people who knew a lot more about it than we did recognized that this was a very significant event.
Goldfinger: All right. And so that was in the '90s.
Gren Thomas: Yes, the early 90s.
Goldfinger: That was almost 30 years ago. What have you done since then, and what companies are you involved with now?
Gren Thomas: That company ended up being run by my old partner from years ago. He took it to the phase where it took over Harry Winston and then it became Dominion Diamonds and as I said, the third largest diamond company in the world. By then, I had started to play less of a role in it although I was the honorary chairman at the end. And then I did other things. I formed a company called North Arrow (TSX-V:NAR), which was to look for diamonds. I formed another company called Strongbow that worked in Ireland and had worked on gold discovery in Northern Ireland and a base metal discovery in the South. We also worked on a nickel project in the Northern Saskatchewan area. We carried on exploring in the Arctic for gold and whatever else and doing all the stuff that I'd done previously with Highwood and Aber.
Eventually we sold the Irish gold company, and then with the money we went and explored a belt called the Spences Bridge Belt, which is where Westhaven now has its properties. A geologist named Ed Balon was working for Almaden and they pioneered the first modern exploration work in the Spences Bridge Gold Belt. The company called Strongbow optioned Skoonka from Almaden and conducted the first diamond drilling in the Spences Bridge at Skoonka in 2005.
The first modern gold discovery in the Spences Bridge was made by Strongbow in 2005 at Skoonka with a core intercept grading 20.2 g/t gold over 12.80 meters. And that's been our principal activity since then, in a company called Strongbow. That company eventually got into tin mining in Cornwall and the properties that it discovered, the gold projects, ended up in Westhaven.
Goldfinger: 20.2 grams over 12.80 meters is a pretty good intercept, what follow-up work has taken place at Skoonka since 2005?
Gren Thomas: There were difficult drilling conditions (weathering and challenging angle of the vein) at Skoonka and the last drilling was in 2007. After that first intercept, we had trouble replicating that early success. Westhaven has drill permits in hand and may get back to Skoonka this year for a 2,500 meter diamond drill program.
Going back to North Arrow. There was another company (Piedmont Lithium) that took the lithium projects that we had found in North Carolina, near the town of Lincoln. We worked on that for several years and we found a new lithium field. We were early in the lithium game. A bit too early. If we'd had that now, it would be a more exciting company, but the land is now owned by an Australian company. But we did a lot of pioneer work in the Lincoln area. And we also found a new lithium field in the Arctic, to the west of the diamond fields. And we did all sorts of little projects that didn't evolve into anything large enough to really talk about. The original Highwood company that found Thor Lake, actually, we had oil and gas wells in Australia as well, which we sold in order to finance our development of that rare earths deposit. Principally our work has been involved in Canada. Northern Canada and Greenland.
Goldfinger: Let's take some time to discuss Westhaven and the Spences Bridge Gold Belt, because I think this is a very interesting area of the world, and Westhaven is a company that a lot of junior mining investors are aware of. So how did you identify this area? What had you stake the claims that you have now? And when did you start Westhaven as a public company and what was the vision?
Gren Thomas: Well, what happened was... By the way, of all the discoveries I've been involved in, and I made quite a few new discoveries, the three most important ones were Thor Lake, the rare metals deposits, Diavik diamond mine and the Shovelnose deposit of Westhaven. Those are the three most important things I've worked on up until now. There may be others yet. I have a daughter and a son, of course, both of whom work in the mining business. My eldest daughter Eira, are you aware of her?
Goldfinger: Yeah, I know she's a CEO in the diamond industry.
Gren Thomas: Yeah, she has a diamond mine in Botswana which produces these very large stones. The largest stones in the world actually come from there. And that's in a company called Lucara. Anyway, she was in the mining business because she got into it at the young age of about 14, 15, 16. My son, who is my youngest child, also got into the business because he worked with me again in the bush when he was young. In 2010, he decided he wanted to start his own company with his partner, Shaun, and they called it Westhaven. And they were casting around for projects, so I made some suggestions as to things they could do.
About that time, Strongbow had the Skoonka gold property just outside a place called Lytton, BC, but the play had died out. Strongbow was early on in what is now the Westhaven play, which is the Spences Bridge Gold Belt.
Interestingly, the gold price had died off then and Strongbow was having trouble financing itself. But nickel was quite a bit of interest, and so Strongbow went off and worked on this nickel project, which is called the Nickel King. Strongbow spent the next few years working there and left the gold projects in Spences Bridge, because we'd not had a lot of success exploring there. Strongbow had left a lot of work undone, so I suggested to Gareth and Shaun that they take a look at this and go make a deal with Strongbow to end up with these projects.
Starting in 2011, Westhaven started to follow up on the work that Strongbow hadn’t done because the market hadn't been that good for gold. They started working in 2011. Of course, they finally hit a serious gold discovery in 2018. It took seven years to get to that stage, but they persisted for all that time. Since 2018, now we've found numerous other small deposits, which are starting to shape up, and it looks like it's going to be a mine. This project would be the third mine I'm involved with, but this of course is my son's project and Shaun's project, but I'm the chairman.
Goldfinger: So, Shovelnose is the project that you're referring to in the Spences Bridge Gold Belt that is Westhaven’s focus right now.
Gren Thomas: Westhaven has four properties across the Spences Bridge Belt: There's the Shovelnose property itself, then there's the Prospect Valley, which is further to the Northwest, and further to the NW still is a project called Skoonka, and then north of that again is another called Skoonka North. So there are three other properties, all of which contain significant gold showings, but the most important to date is Shovelnose.
The three other properties are also very prospective, but we have been so focused on the Shovelnose that we haven't spent a lot of time on the other properties since. Although initially we did spend some time on the Prospect Valley gold property. When we decided to work on Shovelnose, we started to get some encouragement and ended up making this discovery in 2018...the best-looking discovery made up until that point. The first discovery in the Belt was made in 2005 by Strongbow, the predecessor company, which was on the Skoonka claims and there's a small deposit there too, but it became superseded by Shovelnose. And Shovelnose was originally discovered by Strongbow following up on the original stream geochem program.
The government in BC has done a survey of the whole BC taking samples from creeks for all sorts of metals, and they published maps. And there was a map that showed a gold anomaly in the Shovelnose area, and Strongbow acquired that ground because they thought, "Well, maybe we can find the source of that gold." And it was a single stream anomaly, and subsequently of course we found this million-ounce deposit there. But we went there originally based on a government regional geochem survey.
Goldfinger: Yeah, let's talk about Shovelnose and how the South Zone discovery was made. That was made in September, October of 2018, and it was... I forget the exact number of holes, but it was probably like the 40th or 50th hole that you drilled into this project.
Gren Thomas: Yeah, we'd been drilling there since 2011, right?
Gren Thomas: And eventually, they hired a geologist (Peter Fischl) there who understood these deposits better than we had previously. Peter came in and he was the one that was responsible for that discovery. Previous to the South Zone discovery, Peter had been working on Kupol in Eastern Russia for Kinross, a low sulphidation epithermal system which has similar geology as Shovelnose.
Goldfinger: So my next question is as an explorationist, and knowing that the odds of failure are pretty high, what motivates you to continue to drill a project year after year? You said you were drilling Shovelnose since 2011, frankly without much success.
Gren Thomas: Because we always thought, "There has to be something there." There was so much gold in small amounts distributed around the property, we thought, "There's got to be a source of this gold, and we've got to be able to find it somehow." The problem was that this property has overburden cover, in some places 100 meters thick. And in fact, when we drilled the discovery hole, we went through like 50 or 60 meters of overburden before we hit this thing. It was a bit like drilling through the ice in the Northwest Territories (NWT). But this geologist Peter had this idea and he persisted, and we found the South Zone. But previously, we had found small amounts of gold in numerous places. And in fact, there are places where it’s found in outcrops on surface, but not in big quantities. But we persisted because we thought, "There's got to be a source to this gold somewhere there, and if we keep drilling, we can find it." And we did find it, but it took one hell of a long time and a lot of drilling, and a lot of persistence.
Goldfinger: Exactly. And I think that's a great lesson for everybody that's reading this interview. It takes persistence and sticking with the vision and the original intention, until you get... I guess if you get overwhelming evidence year after year that, hey, there's just nothing really there, then you walk away. But as long as you're getting a lot of signs that there's got to be something there... As you said, there's gold all over the property, it was just lower grade, but it was coming from somewhere, right?
Gren Thomas: That's exactly it….gold mineralization comes up through structures, and the general consensus, "Well there's got to be a feeder structures around here somewhere." Now we know where at least one is, that's the structure that has the South Zone, FMN, Franz. It's a structure that’s gold-bearing and that’s what has been feeding the gold into these other areas. There are also likely going to be other feeders as well besides this one, but it looks like this one, we'll probably find a couple of million ounces on it. We also think there'll be others.
Goldfinger: I love the history of the Fraser River Gold Rush, and the theory that the Spences Bridge Gold Belt hosts multiple feeders for the abundant placer gold found in the rivers and streams in the area. So the discovery at the South Zone was made late 2018, so it's three and a half, four years later. Westhaven has published a resource on the South Zone. It's about 1.1 million ounces.
Gren Thomas: That's right.
Goldfinger: But Westhaven also just recently drilled the best hole ever at the project, at the FMN zone. A remarkable intercept grading nearly 40 g/t gold over 23 meters.
Gren Thomas: That's right.
Goldfinger: So there's definitely a lot of promise that this could be significantly larger than a million ounces. What are your thoughts on Shovelnose and how big this thing is?
Gren Thomas: Well, I can see a couple of million ounces at least now. The FMN is probably at least 200,000-300,000 ounces, but it could be a million. You don't need a lot of tons when you get intersections like 23 meters of 37 g/t gold. You don't need a lot of tonnage if you get those sorts of grades. And we have drilled other holes at the FMN that looked similar to that hole, that we're waiting on assays for right now. The nature of FMN is not quite the same as South Zone, but it's very similar. It looks like it might have narrower, higher-grade chutes in it. But there's enough evidence there that you can see hundreds of thousands of ounces in that.
I don't know what the economic number is, but two million ounces of gold would definitely be mine. I believe that the one million ounces we have right now probably might be able to be mined at a profit, too. If Westhaven is able to prove that there are two million ounces I think it would be fairly obvious it would be a mine. I think that there is a lot more left to be discovered at Shovelnose. There are targets that we haven't even touched yet, which I think could prove to be as good as the South or FMN Zones.
Goldfinger: So basically, Westhaven has defined 4,000 meters of strike length from North to South. But it's open. I'm not sure what the situation is at the South end. I know there's some faulting, it gets a little complicated, but in the North it seems like it's open past Franz. So just with vein zone 1, it could be quite a bit larger.
Gren Thomas: Yeah, to the South it looks like it's getting too high in the system. When we come into the South (at Shovelnose) it seems to have petered out in a way, but some of us think it could still continue down there. But we have to prioritize where we put the drill holes, and there are other targets elsewhere that need to be drilled before trying to work to the South, although there are targets there. The Franz is to the north of the FMN. There's an area between FMN and Franz which has received very little drilling too where we are currently completing geophysics.
At the moment, this area between the FMN and Franz looks to be quite interesting in that we're getting DC resistivity anomalies, which might be indicating quartz veining. So that drilling has to be done sometime this year, too. We've got parallel zones that also need to have a few holes put in them, which we hope to, again, accomplish this summer. And then of course, there’s the Prospect Valley and the Skoonka projects, both of which have a lot of gold anomalies on them. And there's at least one deposit on Prospect Valley also.
Goldfinger: There is a lot of potential across the Spences Bridge Gold Belt, you've just been focused on Shovelnose because that's where you had the highest grades. And obviously, it costs a lot of money to explore two or three projects simultaneously.
Gren Thomas: That's right. If we were a major company, we'd be drilling all those properties right now. But because we've got relatively limited funds, we can only focus on certain areas for the time being. Otherwise, if we were to have spent $20 million or $30 million a year, which is what a major company is probably doing in there now, we'd dilute ourselves out of existence, right.
Gren Thomas: But we are getting there and we're building value in the company. I expect one day somebody will come along and make us an offer.
Goldfinger: I noticed that you have been buying some shares on the open market in the last month or so. You already own nearly 20% of the company, so buying more shares is quite a statement as to the value that you see. What value do you see here? What is the upside potential that you see?
Gren Thomas: Well, I think there's not much argument. Most people that look at this say, "Well, this stock is probably worth $1 a share," and that’s without these new discoveries that we just made. A lot of analysts have said that and I believe it myself now that the stock is worth more than $1.00, I could see it being worth at least $3.00 per share. I recently made some purchases around $.60 per share.
I think the stock is worth a lot more than it’s trading at today. I mean, some things you have to bet on sometimes and say, "Well, okay, this is what I think is going on here, and I'm prepared to step in and bet." And I got to sell other things in order to do that, but I'm quite happy with my purchases even though the share price is around $.54 now. But that's the markets, right?
WHN.V (Weekly - 10 Year)
Goldfinger: Yeah, it's a challenging environment right now in the market. I was talking to a pretty well-known investor in the gold mining sector last month and his advice to me was, if the project isn't big enough and the grade isn’t high enough that a Newmont or a Barrick would be interested in buying it, don't even waste your time taking a look at it. Now, maybe that's a little black and white in terms of his advice, but it's food for thought. What do you think it will take for Shovelnose to reach the level where somebody like a Barrick Gold would be interested in it?
Gren Thomas: Well, I've already said that we have majors interested in it already, it's just that we haven't received the right kind of offer yet. And maybe we need to carry on for another year or so on our own before we get there, but I think we'll get there. A major will take this company out eventually, that's what I think.
Goldfinger: Very good, that’s a reassuring level of confidence.
Gren Thomas: It's not easy, commonly, to find a belt that's unexplored with evidence that there are deposits all along it. This is a very unusual situation here. This belt is 120 kilometers long and we've got a million-odd ounces and more to come to one place, but there's plenty of room where we can find more gold deposits. And these are the sort of things that majors like, right? That's why Great Bear got bought the way it was, because people realized they got a belt here and they didn't even publish a resource there. And they were sold for C$1.8 billion (Great Bear).
Goldfinger: Let me ask you one more question. What advice would you give to a young investor just getting involved in the junior mining sector? What words of wisdom would you offer them from your experience?
Gren Thomas: Well, if you want it, you have to be prepared to take risks here. If you had money to invest but you didn't want to take a risk, you'd buy Berkshire Hathaway. I think Warren Buffet is some kind of genius. If you don't want to play the lotteries but you do want to get into something interesting and exciting, the stock market is a good place to be.
I think a lot has to do with getting the right company that's managed properly by the right people, people that have some experience. There's a lot of people out there promoting stocks that really aren’t that good at it. There are some people who consistently find things and people make money. Classic example is Lukas Lundin. He's not really a junior company anymore, but originally they were like a junior company. But he consistently found new deals and found projects that increased the value of the companies he ran.
Goldfinger: So, be prepared to take risk and invest alongside those people who have demonstrated that they've generated value over a longer timeframe?
Gren Thomas: Yeah, that's what I would think. I don't tend to buy a lot of juniors anymore. The one’s I do buy are just to support those businesses. I have some guys raising money out there, and I put money up just to support them a bit. I've played the market for years. And of course, I made my fortune in the junior market, but it's mainly through discoveries that I've made and sold. That’s where the bulk of the money I made came from, playing the market and many other things too. And of course, I know a lot about investing in juniors and even I can't consistently choose things that work out. I'd say one in 10, which is not a bad win percentage in mining.
Goldfinger: Yeah. It's funny, but I think that's the truth. If you pick one out of 10 winners in junior mining, you're a pretty good investor. But the amount that you profit from that one winner needs to be 5X, 10X, or 20X to make up for the other losses, right?
Gren Thomas: Aber for example, when I first started that company in '81, we were selling stock at 30 cents, 40 cents a share. And even when we were staking the ground in '91 in NWT, we did a financing of $1. That stock eventually went to 50 bucks. And so that's the sort of thing that can happen.
Goldfinger: And so, you were buying and investing at 30 cents or 40 cents, but did you sell it at $30 or $40 to make a 100X?
Gren Thomas: I sold some to pay for my kids' education at a dollar, before the diamond play. But during the diamond play, I don't know exactly, but it was probably $15 to $20, I suppose, over the years. I wouldn't know. It's so long ago, I've forgotten, but I did have some that I sold at $51.
I remember at the time I was in the Harry Winston shop on Rodeo Drive in L.A. They had a board meeting there. They used to hold board meetings in their various stores around the country, and that day the stock was $50 and I thought, "I've got to sell a bit here." So that was the highpoint of my career, I think.
Goldfinger: Yeah, there are those market moments sometimes where everything seems almost too good to be true. So on the last shares you sold, it was actually more than a 100x?
Gren Thomas: That's right.
Goldfinger: And that's usually the time to sell, right?
Gren Thomas: That's exactly right. I did something like this about three months ago. I was trying that and I wasn't very comfortable with it, and I thought, "God, buddy, things are so good here," I think to myself. And I pinched myself and said, "Yes," I said, "every time you've felt like that before, the stock market was about to go down."
Goldfinger: Oftentimes when everything feels good and it’s hard to imagine how the trend could reverse lower, that’s the best time to sell.
Gren Thomas: I got rid of some of my debt through the sales of other stuff. And that allowed me of course now to go buy some more Westhaven.
Goldfinger: So, Westhaven is your largest investment holding?
Gren Thomas: Yes that’s correct, and then I have North Arrow, which is my colored diamond company. And we're looking for specialty diamonds up in the Northwest Territories and we've found a nice deposit and we are working on it right now. That's a company called North Arrow, which is a neat little company. I have that to be my second one. Then I have a third one, it's called Cornish Metals, which was the original Strongbow I mentioned to you earlier, which is putting a tin mine into production in Cornwall in England. And I have a big position in that one too. Those are my three things, yeah. And I was the chairman of all three of them at one time, but I'm now the chairman of North Arrow and Westhaven.
Goldfinger: A couple years ago I heard you quoted as saying that Shovelnose was the greatest discovery of your career. Is that true and would you still say that?
Gren Thomas: The Shovelnose discovery is really Gareth’s, Peter’s, and the rest of the Westhaven’s team to take credit for. It’s a great discovery. It has demonstrated the potential on this belt. We have the most prospective properties along this belt, too. There’s going to be more discoveries made on the Shovelnose and across the Spences Bridge Gold Belt.
Goldfinger: Thank you for your time Gren. I look forward to seeing some more results from Westhaven in the near future....
Gren Thomas: There's some results due out here within the next two weeks. They're in the labs right now. And I think one or two of them will be pretty interesting.
Goldfinger: All right. Well, I look forward to that. I would like to thank you for your time and sharing your story with us. I wish you and Westhaven continued success.
Disclosure: Author owns shares of WHN.V at the time of publishing and may choose to buy or sell at any time without notice.
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