Canada – a diamond mining superpower

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Canada is a relative newcomer to diamond mining. De Beers, the world’s leading diamond company, started prospecting for diamonds in Canada in the early 1960s. In 1987, a second year geology student Brad Wood who was working for De Beers stumbled upon kimberlite rocks, volcanic rocks that sometimes contain diamonds, while fishing on Attawapiskat River, in the James Bay lowlands of Northern Ontario. The site would eventually become today’s Victor Mine.

But it wasn’t until 1991, when two enterprising geologists, Stewart Blusson and Chuck Fipke, discovered large diamond deposits in the Lac de Gras region of the Northwest Territories that the word learned of Canada’s Arctic diamonds.

Diamond production at the Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton’s EKATI Mine in the Lac de Gras region, about 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, started in 1998 (Fipke and Blusson, each hold a 10 per cent share in the EKATI Mine). In 2003, Rio Tinto, another giant British-Australian mining and metals company, opened its Diavik Mine not far from EKATI. And in 2008, De Beers opened its first Canadian mine at Snap Lake about 220 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife.

Ontario joined Canada’s diamond club in 2008, when De Beers started commercial diamond production at its Victor mine, about 90 kilometres west of the First Nations community of Attawapiskat, in northern Ontario.

In less than a decade, Canada was propelled to the diamond mining major leagues, becoming the world’s third-largest producer, by value of rough stones, behind Botswana and Russia.

In 2010 Canada produced 11.8 million carats (Mct) of rough diamonds, worth an estimated $2.4 billion, according to Louis Perron, senior policy advisor to Canada’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

Canada’s diamond production currently accounts for approximately 19.2% of world production, estimated in 2010 at 133.1 Mct and valued at $12 billion, Perron said.

Arctic Diamonds

Diamond Mining and Exploration Projects in Canada

View Arctic Diamonds in a larger map

Links to Eye on the Arctic’s special series on diamond mining in the Northwest Territories:

Diamonds fuel the Northwest Territories’ economy

Dreams made of diamonds

Canada’s ice road to diamonds

Diamonds – the darker side of prosperity

Social ills keep many on the sidelines of NWT’s diamond boom

Smaller communities still suffer from high unemployment

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Levon Sevunts

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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