Barely two hours after sundown on Tuesday, security at Toronto’s swanky new Shangri-La Hotel rushed to the lobby to control the size of a fast-growing crowd. Upstairs, the party was bustling under the chandeliers in the third-floor ballroom, and masses of people were flocking from across the downtown core, creating a capacity problem.
The attraction: PricewaterhouseCoopers’ “crystal cocktail party,” put on for the annual mining conference run by the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada. While Dee Dee and the Dirty Martinis performed live cover songs, swarms of men and a sprinkling of women – a 5-to-1 ratio, at least – treated themselves to oysters, sushi and free drinks. By 8 p.m., they were on the dance floor, doing their very best to find the beat.
The crowd was full of people from different countries, especially the mining hotbeds of Australia, Britain, China and Peru. Despite the chill felt across the global mining sector, they drank and danced like they didn’t care – at least not for the four days they were in town.
It was a spectacle led by the people who lead a troubled industry. Plagued by billions in recent writeoffs from ill-conceived acquisitions and an uncertain outlook for metals prices, mining stocks are in the dumps. Yet it’s hard to subdue PDAC, as the conference is universally called.
"It is the event that everybody needs to participate in if you're in the exploration and development stage,” says Robin Goad, the chief executive officer of junior miner Fortune Minerals Ltd, who brought a team of 10 to network. He speaks from experience. Mr. Goad’s attended PDAC since he was in his second year of university more than 30 years ago, back when it was hosted at the Royal York Hotel and “you could stand in one place and see the entire industry by noon."
More than 30,000 attendees – developers, geologists, government representatives, lawyers – descended on the Toronto event this year. Yet even though they all came in an official capacity, for many the real draw is PDAC after dark.
Like to salsa dance? The Latin American group of law firm Borden Ladner Gervais hosted a special event at Babaluu Supper Club for hip shakers. Love casino games? Law firm Gowling Lafleur Henderson had them at their shindig at the recently opened Ritz-Carlton. Prefer a more casual atmosphere? The party at the Loose Moose, which typically caters to inebriated sports fans, offered an oxygen bar. (Las Vegas casinos and clubs pump oxygen to keep people awake.)
There were also some tantalizing charity events, such as Bullion Belts, which ran full-fledged cruiserweight and lightweight boxing matches. At the Four Seasons hotel, some of the biggest names in the mining world played in the fourth annual high-stakes poker game started by Aaron Regent, the former chief executive officer of Barrick Gold. This year, the lingerie models were scrapped – though not because of budget cutbacks.
Despite the glitz, these events wouldn’t be so renowned if it were not for the rough-hewn nature of the miners themselves.
Many of them spend weeks or months at a time at remote mines, with few women around. When they descend on Toronto for PDAC, business soars at local strip clubs. At the Brass Rail, a well-known Toronto establishment, the delegates started to stream in around 11 p.m. on Monday, easily identifiable by the bulky conference passes some of them simply never bothered to take off. The women offering dances were happy to see them. Asked why so many of them were working on a Monday night, a few gave the exact same explanation: “Mining conference.”
Because the PDAC parties can last long into the night, the bankers and lawyers who host clients are forced to grind it out. The hangovers are legendary. At 7:30 on Tuesday morning, only two days into the conference, two men looked desperately dehydrated at a breakfast event. In the spirit of PDAC, one reminded the other that at this conference, “Anything said after 10:30 doesn’t count.”
Yet the bars and hotels hosting these parties welcome the business. At Earl’s, a go-to drinking spot in the heart of the financial district, general manager Ann Topp said revenues this week were expected to be up 50 per cent over the norm, and at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday her bar was already packed.
Plus, the crowds aren’t overly rowdy. In the past PDAC was the home of mustaches and mullets, but the delegates today are more accustomed to doling out cash because so many of them made big money during the commodities boom of the past decade – billion-dollar writeoffs notwithstanding. Some ill-fitting double breasted suits were still on display, but PwC’s party also had orange Hermes ties, turquoise pocket puffs, and not one, but two, spring scarves sported over suit jackets. (The two men were friends. And European.)
Still, even the most sophisticated man can lose his way on a Tuesday night. On the way out of the Shangri-La there was a delay at the coat check; the woman fetching jackets looked perplexed. Finally someone explained the holdup. A man who lost his ticket climbed past the barrier to find his coat. But there was one problem: He was too drunk to recognize it.