Imagine finding a large diamond in a gravel bed! The largest diamond found in the United States–the 15-carat Eagle Diamond–was discovered near Eagle, Wis., in 1867. Two other diamonds of about five carats each, the Young Diamond and the Stanley Diamond, were discovered over 100 years ago in Indiana. Neither Indiana nor Wisconsin have any kimberlite pipes, the normal diamond host rock. The diamonds in these areas must have been carried there by the glaciers 10,000 or more years ago. In Suspect Terrain by John McPhee (1982) quotes Anita Harris of the U.S. Geological Survey as saying, “At least one pipe containing gem diamonds must exist somewhere near a line between Indianapolis and the Otish Mountains of Qubec.” She couldn’t have been more right.
History of Diamond Discoveries in Quebec
Diamonds are transported by a kimberlitic magma from the diamond stability field in the host rock to the earth’s surface. Diamond-bearing kimberlites are most often found in stable host rock generally older than 2.4 billion years. There are three Archean cratonic areas in Canada–the Slave geological province in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, the Nain province in Labrador, and the much larger Superior geological province in Qubec, northern Ontario and Manitoba. About half of the Superior Province is in Qubec.
The first discovery of kimberlite dykes in Quebec was in 1955 at Bachelor Lake near Desmaraisville. Subsequent exploration found five very weakly diamondiferous kimberlite pipes. In the Tmiscamingue area, five very weakly diamondiferous kimberlite pipes have been uncovered, the first one by Monopros (now De Beers Canada) in 1983. Currently there is almost no diamond exploration activity in either of these areas. Ongoing geological mapping by the Ministry of Natural Resources of Qubec (MNR) assisted in identifying promising targets in the Torngat, Wemindji and Otish Mountains areas.
There are about 6,000 known kimberlite pipes in the world and only about one in 100 are economic mines for diamonds. According to James Moorhead, resident geologist for Val d’Or, Que., and kimberlite specialist for Gologie Qubec, 18 kimberlite pipes and numerous dykes have been discovered so far in Quebec. Seven of these were discovered in the last year in an area to the north of the Otish Mountains in the Near North of Qubec (see map).
Preliminary results released by the joint venture of Soquem Inc. (a Qubec government agency) and Ashton Mining of Canada (62.7% owned by Rio Tinto plc) in this area are encouraging. Ashton and Soquem have been exploring in the Otish Mountains since 1996, and the diamond discoveries in the fall of 2001 by the joint venture triggered a staking rush that is still going on in this area. However, more work with much larger sampling must be done to evaluate the economic potential of these and other newly-discovered kimberlites in other locations, such as the dykes discovered near the village of Wemindji by Majescor Resources.
New Claim-staking System
Before this year, claim-staking in Quebec was done in the traditional, land-based method. A staking rush would involve the hurried chartering of helicopters, and the secrecy of both hiring crews and moving crews into isolated areas. Thankfully that somewhat romantic link with the past mining tradition has been replaced by claim-staking via the Internet using the MNR’s GESTIM system (see article on page 19) . Claim-staking can now be done in a much more cost-effective manner. According to Brooke Clements, vice-president, exploration of Ashton: “The system makes it easy for anyone to acquire exploration permits quickly.” David Willis, Ashton’s land administrator, stated, “The creators of GESTIM have pioneered staking for the 21st century. No other mineral tenure system in the country comes close to the efficiency and brilliance of GESTIM.”
Now senior exploration officers of companies might be drinking cappuccino or smoking their favourite cigars while staking claims on their computer. One executive located in Europe was so excited, he actually staked a claim over the Internet for his son as a birthday present. No word on how the son is making out with his claim, but we wish him all the best.
The chart shows the significant activity generated by the diamond discoveries in the Otish Mountains beginning in December 2001. The number of claim requests in the peak month, January 2002, increased to almost 10 times the average monthly volume from the previous year, and about 30 times the average volume in 2000.
This phenomenal increase in claim requests could not have been forecast. The MNR doubled the number of mining registrars, and even added an evening shift. Initially there was a delay of up to 90 days to complete registration while the new staff was being trained, but this was down to less than seven days by June.
Current Diamond Exploration
Diamond exploration expenditures in Qubec have increased from $1.9 million in 1999, to $7.1 million in 2000 with estimates of $8.3 million for 2001 and also for 2002, according to the Statistics Division of Natural Resources Canada. Quebc is “the land of opportunity” for diamond exploration according to Jacques Letendre, president of Majescor Resources, and formerly with De Beers Canada. He explained that many prospective targets in the Slave Craton in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have already been reviewed by two or sometimes three waves of geological exploration, while many targets in Qubec are still in the preliminary phase.
Exploration for kimberlite pipes in Qubec does require different techniques, due the comparatively shorter distance of glacial transport of indicator minerals. Diamond indicators can normally be found within a few kilometres of the pipes in Qubec, whereas their dispersal in the Lac de Gras area in the Northwest Territories reaches to 100 km. Another difference in Qubec is that the background of indicator minerals tends to be very minimal, whereas in other glaciated areas the indicators can be dispersed over a much larger area.
Mining analyst Joe Hamilton with Dundee Securities, is impressed with the results so far, and notes some similarities with the initial results from the Ekati and Diavik diamond mines. However, none of the Qubec diamond prospects are in the feasibility stage. The economic feasibility of a diamond mine would require a bulk sample of at least 10,000 tonnes in order to obtain at least 3,000 carats of diamonds. A detailed evaluation would determine the value per carat, which could range from US$20 up to $200 depending on the gem quality. The cost of a mine feasibility study for a diamond-bearing pipe could require a $20-30-million program over three to five years.
Diamond exploration in Quebec has attracted risk capital from junior exploration companies combined with the resources of major companies such as De Beers, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. Investor interest in current diamond discoveries combined with the tax benefits for investors of flow-through shares are providing more capital for junior diamond exploration companies. The current tax structure for mining companies in Qubec is also favourable. While it is extremely difficult to predict if and when a diamond mine will be operating in Qubec, we can be optimistic that one will begin operating in the next decade.
Companies Working in Quebec as of August 2002
Most of the diamond exploration activity in Quebec is the Otish Mountains area, with Ashton/Soquem being the most important. The joint venture is using a drill program to evaluate the diamondiferous Renard kimberlite cluster, and is exploring the remainder of the Foxtrot property. Ashton’s Brooke Clements stated: “Because of the competitive aspect of diamond exploration we do not comment on the nature of our indicator mineral dispersion fans.” Detailed evaluation is ongoing for the Renard kimberlites, and the results announced so far are shown in the table.
Majescor Resources/BHP is working on the Portage property. Initial drilling of geophysical anomalies for a total of 1,087 m, com
pleted April 23, 2002, produced no kimberlite results. Glacial sediment sampling is ongoing in areas that showed good indicator minerals. Jacques Letendre, president of Majescor, says he has a personal preference for glacial sediment sampling as the first tool for diamond exploration. He learned and refined this technique from his previous experience with De Beers.
Majescor Resources and Canabrava Diamond Corp. have completed ground investigation on the Mistassini project and have collected 294 till and esker samples. A drilling program is scheduled for the fall of 2002, once the results for these samples are known.
Pure Gold Resources and Ditem Explorations announced drilling results July 23, 2002, with their H1 kimberlite discovery on the Tichegami River property, which is immediately north of the Beaver Lake project. Four macrodiamonds were discovered in 1997 in the Beaver Lake kimberlites, about 75 km south of the Renard kimberlite cluster. Detailed work is ongoing in both the Tichegami River and the Beaver Lake areas.
Many other companies are active in the Otish Mountains area including Bard Ventures, Blackstone Ventures, Ecstall Mining, Dianor Resources, Dios Exploration, Ditem Explorations, Gold Summit Resources, Northern Empire Minerals, Oasis Diamond, Osisko Exploration, Poplar Resources, Plexmar, Pure Gold Minerals, Strateco Resources, Tandem Resources and Troymin Resources.
Majescor Resources has been working on a large group of claims in this area since 1998, continuing work done by Monopros (now De Beers Canada). A mini-bulk sample of 5-10 tonnes from a kimberlite dyke was collected in July 2002, with microdiamond analysis results expected in August. Other companies active in this area include Archon Minerals, Dianor Resources, Dios Exploration, Inlet Resources, International Taurus Resources, Mano River Resources, Masuparia Gold, Oasis Diamond Exploration, Osisko Exploration, Strathmore Minerals, Troymin Resources and Wemex.
Torngat Mountains (Abloviak Fjord)
Twin Mining has discovered a 1- to 4-m-wide diamondiferous kimberlite dyke and has traced it over 37 km. The company has done extensive sampling on the diamond-bearing dykes since 1999. In 2000, Twin Mining excavated a 342-tonne mini-bulk sample and extracted in total 1,936 gem-quality diamonds for a total weight of 13.12 carats. This would result in a grade of 3.8 carats per 100 tonnes. One of the gem diamonds–a 0.566-carat diamond–became the “First Quebec Diamond”. Hermann Derbuch, president of Twin Mining, stated they are presently focussing on the 4.5-km-long Torngat North section of the dyke, which has already produced anomalously-high diamond grades. More than 3 tonnes of 300-kg grab samples are being processed in July 2002, with results expected in August 2002.
Farther east of Abloviak Fjord, Diamond Discoveries International and Tandem Resources have discovered other similar dykes, from which small samples returned a total of 13 micro- and macrodiamonds.
Other companies active in this area are Caribgold Resources, Dumont Nickel, International Tower Hill Mines, Nunavut Mining Fund, Oasis Diamond Exploration and Southern Africa Minerals.
Nottaway River Area
Poplar Resources and Majescor Resources are most advanced in their exploration work in this area. Walter Melnyk, Poplar’s exploration manager, commented on his experience with the exploration of De Beers’ Snap Lake project in the Northwest Territories compared with current exploration in Quebec. “There is a major difference in the terrain in the James Bay Lowlands including Nottaway River and Wemindji. The overburden cover in the James Bay Lowlands consists of large areas of muskeg with peat moss up to 1.5 m in depth. This overburden cover creates an additional difficulty for gathering samples.”
Other companies active in this area are Dianor Resources, Dios, Dumont Nickel, Geodex Minerals, International Taurus Resources, Mano River Resources, Oasis Diamond Exploration and Sirios Resources.
Majescor Resources and Soquem/Ashton Mining of Canada are working in this area.
Private companies and individuals have acquired claims in this area.
Brian O’Hara is a freelance writer in Montral, with a background in mining engineering and financial services.
Work by Ashton/Soquem in the Otish Mountains
||(Numbers of microdiamonds*
||205 kg sample
||54 micro, 5 macro
||163.1 kg sample
||116 micro, 29 macro
||June 11, 2002
||2.44 tonne mini-bulk sample
||est. 69.3 ct per 100 tonnes
||July 2, 2002
||156 kg sample
||21 micro, 17 macro
||June 13, 2002
||102 kg sample
||21 micro, 14 macro
||June 13, 2002
||100 kg sample
||15 micro, 20 macro
||June 13, 2002
||100 kg sample
||25 micro, 6 macro
* Microdiamonds – 0.1-0.5 mm in one dimension ** Macrodiamonds – >0.5 mm in one dimension