The history of the Canadian diamond story has a few twists and turns. Most interesting of which involves Canada's long delay participating in the world diamond industry.
Obviously, many areas of Canada are well known for inhospitable climate and utter remoteness. It is no wonder then that it took almost an entire century to start mining diamonds since Professor W.H. Hobbs (University of WI, USA) first suggested, in 1899, that diamonds were likely in Canada…somewhere. Professor Hobbs' hunch was based on earlier, but limited, diamond finds in the U.S. that he figured were glacial based.
It wasn't until the 1960s that Canadian diamond exploration began. About twenty years afterward, a major kimberlite (igneous rock containing diamonds) discovery was made. Then, in 1991 a diamond-bearing kimberlite pipe at Point Lake was discovered that would yield Canadian diamonds wholesale.
Low Temperature: A Great White North Reality
"Ice highways" are a reality in the frozen arctic reaches of Canada.
Literally, a Canadian diamond mines very creation and continuing existence depends on frigid temperatures. Most mining locales have airfields but it is trucks that perform the heavy lifting on the front-end providing infrastructure and building materials. Ice highways are formed every year stretching up to 200 miles and as wide as a football field.
Covering nearly half a million mile of land the Canadian NWT (Northwest Territories) is above the tree line - remote and barren. This is where cold is COLD - exposed skin freezes quickly. One second you feel your hand, the next it is numb.
Super frigid minus 50 Celsius is not unheard of with minus 30 - 40 being common. With or without wind those temps are bitterly cold.
Located in the Lac de Gras region are the Diavik and Ekati mines. Geographically speaking, they are only 120 miles from The Arctic Circle.
What's the chance for snow today? Oh, about 69%. And that's not just today - that forecast is accurate the entire year.
Of the various types of possible precipitation, it should be no surprise that snow dominates in Canada's NWT region. February is particularly cold. The majority (basically 100%) of the month is officially considered "frigid" in meteorological lingo. Daily highs are below 0 degree Fahrenheit on average during the cold season - November 23 through March 25. In January, a high of -16 degrees F can be the coldest day.
Summer brings some relief. In July, highs can hover around 20 C with lows near 11 C.
All these freezing figures contrast what is necessary for diamonds to form in the first place. The kimberlite "pipes" loaded with demands that every miner dreams of finding was once volcanic magma over 1,200 F. Without this heat natural diamonds wouldn't exist. With that in mind it is a bit ironic that frigid temperatures must be endured to free these now cold carats from their once molten magma resting place.
Terrific Times On The Tundra
Canada quickly became the new kid on the world stage of diamond exploration in the early 90's when Ekati, the first Canadian diamond mine opened.
Operations at Ekati commenced in 1998 Northeast of Yellowknife…an area that is virtually frozen year-round. Meanwhile, Diavik, on a small island near Yellowknife (capital of Canada's Northwest Territories), is expected to continue output until 2025 at an annual production of 10 million carats.
Victor, the first Ontario mine, opened in 2008 and is well known of exceptional rough diamonds that have commanded upwards of $400/carat on the "rough" market.
In summer of 2006 Tiffany & Co. provided substantive construction funding for Jericho Diamond Mine which is close to 250 miles from Yellowknife. Several diamond deposits at Jericho have yielded stones as large as 56-carats and at least three measuring more than 100 carats!
These mines are but a few of Canada's many shining stars in the industry.
Godfather Of The Canadian Diamond
Who would have figured that a rogue Oil company geologist would be responsible for putting Canada on the world diamond map?
Chuck Fipke is best known for his part in the discovery of the diamond-rich Point Lake area. This find lead to a diamond exploration rush upon which the Ekati mine opened and was the largest staking rush since the Klondike gold rush a century earlier.
Although De Beers geologists were already searching Canada for the proverbial "girl's best friend" Fipke, recalling the glacial declarations of Professor Hobbs, decided to look "upstream" (into Canada's NWT) using air support and a magnetometer.
It took eight years after Fipke's discovery for diamond extraction to begin. Canada became a world power in the diamond industry in just about a decade later behind Russian and Africa.
"We took all the supplies and all the samples in ourselves" Fipke said. His sampling of the ground in Canada was occurring by 1981. Fipke was down to his last funds and had the backing of goodwill from some friends and relatives who held down his "hardship" camps as they were called. There was no helicopter support - times were rough for sure.
Besides ties to the oil industry Fipke was a dogged gemologist who, with his fellow prospector Stewart Blusson, was "crisscrossing the vast frozen hinterland of Canada's Northwest Territories" in search of a most precious gem - diamonds.
Although an expensive proposition, floatplanes were a blessing in Fipke's early searching days. "'They were living on beans and bacon,' says Mike Vaydik, with the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Chamber of Mines. He says Fipke borrowed money for his barebones operation." When his diamond discovery was official the rush began. Floatplanes, helicopters and airplanes were worth "gold" due to excessive demand and much needed financing. Yellowknife Mayor Gordon Van Tighem summed up the magnitude of the rush as the largest North America ever saw.
Staking frenzy got so wild that lumber yards ran short of wood due to companies such as Slumber-Magic Adjustable Bed Co. This Vancouver-based company, like many others, had no mining experience to speak of yet was staking claims during the height of diamond fever. Brian Weir, a geologist himself, staked ground for miners during the diamond rush and spent over half a million dollars in yearly helicopter rentals.
Learning from the past, going on a hunch and being persistent earned Fipke a place in Canadian history. To this day Canadian diamonds are respected the world over.
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