Four new inductees boasting outstanding achievements in the diverse fields of diamonds, gold, uranium and copper, joined the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame in the twenty-fifth annual ceremony in Toronto on Jan. 10.
This year, former Mining Association of Canada president Gordon Peeling took over as master of ceremonies for the evening from usual host, Pierre Lassonde, who was one of the inductees.
The evening’s first inductee was Chuck Fipke, whose hard work, perseverance and innovative exploration techniques led to the discovery of Canada’s first diamond mine, Ekati, in the Northwest Territories.
Before Fipke’s discovery, there were few who believed a diamond mine in Canada would ever be a reality. But Fipke’s discovery in 1991 spawned a staking rush in the north and the start of a brand new industry for Canada — the success of which no one could have foreseen.
Ekati started production in 1998 and today, Canada is the world’s third-largest producer of diamonds by value. The industry employs about 2,000 people and adds $1 billion to the national gross domestic product.
Born in Edmonton, Fipke studied geology at the University of British Columbia, then travelled the world working for major companies such as Kennecott and Cominco after graduating in 1970.
During that time, he developed an interest in one particular exploration technique: heavy mineral geochemistry. Back in Canada in 1977, he established his own lab specializing in processing heavy mineral samples, CF Mineral Research, in Kelowna, BC.
Fipke soon became involved in diamond exploration in northern Canada through Superior Oil, and then with Dia Met Minerals, a company he founded in 1982 with fellow geologist Stu Blusson.
Early on, the partners heard that De Beers was exploring at Blackwater Lake in the Northwest Territories and started to stake claims in the area, where they found diamond indicator minerals.
“In working the claims, we realized basically that the indicator minerals there must have been brought in through glaciation,” Fipke said in a video presentation before the induction. “And the more we sampled eastward, we kept finding indicators in the tills.”
This successful detective work led to a joint venture deal with BHP Minerals in 1990, thanks to the late BHP geologist Hugo Dummett (inducted in 2010), and the pivotal Ekati discovery at Lac de Gras one year later.
CF Mineral Research became and remains a leading processing facility in the world of diamond exploration, and Fipke published the first guide to diamond exploration using indicator mineral geochemistry in 1995.
Born with a sense of adventure, Fipke worked in far-flung regions of Papua New Guinea, Brazil and South Africa during his career, as well as the Arctic. While he had some close calls, including surviving cerebral malaria and a helicopter crash, Fipke confessed in the video presentation that he doesn’t fear anything.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “I should fear more.”
Stepping up to the podium to accept his award, however, Fipke admitted “I do fear one thing and that’s what I’m about to say — in front of all these people, it is a little scary.”
Visibly overwhelmed by the honour, Fipke thanked those who nominated him and explained that he hadn’t realized he was worthy of the Hall of Fame.
“I always thought you’d need to find at least two to three mines in order to get inducted!” he said to audience applause and laughter.
Touting the Ontario and Yemen-based projects being advanced through his current company, Metalex Ventures, Fipke added: “Maybe I’ll redeem myself and I will make [up] my deficit.”
Fipke acknowledged that the key to making the Ekati discovery was a top notch team that included his partner at Dia Met, Stu Blusson, as well as Hugo Dummett, John Gurney and many others.
“But I have to say, probably the most important person that helped me out right from when I was born was my mom, she’s here today,” he said, gesturing to his mother in the audience.
Notably, Fipke affirmed that money has never been the driver behind his thirst for discovery.
“Just about every geologist and prospector knows what I’m talking about, the find — you want to discover, it’s what you were trained to do and that’s what you want to do,” he said. “You don’t really do things for money, it’s trying to find something.”
Before he left the stage, Fipke counselled that success — whether in exploration or athletics — comes down to hard work and discipline.
“Most people don’t do their best,” Fipke said. “I find the harder I work, the luckier I get.”
The second inductee of the evening was Gerald Grandey, under whose stewardship Cameco became a world leader in uranium production, nuclear safety and the largest corporate employer of aboriginal people in Canada. Upon his retirement in 2011, Cameco’s market capitalization had grown to $9.6 billion from $2.1 billion at the start of his term, and the integrated nuclear energy company represented 16% of the world’s uranium output, with mines in Canada, the United States and Kazakhstan.
Grandey joined Cameco as senior vice-president of marketing and corporate development in 1993 before becoming chief executive in 2003. Under his watch the company deftly handled water inflow and other technical challenges at McArthur River, the world’s largest and highest grade uranium mine, and at Cigar Lake, the largest undeveloped high grade uranium deposit, both in Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin. He also engineered, in co-operation with the government of Kyrgyzstan, the spinoff in 2004 of Cameco’s gold assets, including the Kumtor gold mine, creating Centerra Gold and raising $871 million, enabling Cameco to focus on its core business.
Among his many achievements was Grandey’s leadership in negotiating the complex Highly Enriched Uranium agreement, under which Russian nuclear weapons were dismantled and the displaced uranium sold to Western nuclear power plants to generate electricity. The implementation of that agreement was the biggest “swords-to-ploughshares” program ever undertaken, and elevated Cameco and Canada on the world stage.
It took six years to negotiate that transaction and, in the process, Grandey said he travelled to virtually every secret city in the former Soviet Union. “I can remember on one of my first visits seeing a sign that said: “Well, if this is your first trip to Russia, you are welcome to it,” he recounted, to widespread laughter in the audience.
Grandey recalled that when he joined Cameco, the industry’s prospects were fairly dismal. “Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, reactors being postponed, electricity demand declining, public acceptance at an all-time low,” he said. “And yet we were optimistic and we did know that uranium demand was growing.”
But he said that was “ephemeral optimism” greeted by massive liquidations of uranium inventory.
“The question for all of us in the industry was how to survive,” he said. “Part of our strategy was to put our hands around as much of the inventory as we possibly could, and that led to our involvement in the dismantling of 20,000 Russian nuclear warheads over a twenty-year period.”
Along with efforts to mitigate the market impact of seemingly infinite inventories, Grandey and his team pursued the development of “two of the most spectacular orebodies on the planet,” McArthur River and Cigar Lake, while at the same time trying to extend Cameco’s reach into Kazakhstan and Central Asia.
“We pursued the vision because we firmly believed the benefits of nuclear energy would one day be rediscovered,” he explained. “Well here we are now, in a similar situat
ion because of the catastrophic failure in Fukushima. Notwithstanding this setback, we are still dealing with the same vexing issues of energy security, climate change, clean air and energy diversity with renewed faith that this technology will continue to grow and provide those benefits to mankind.”
Grandey graduated with a degree in geophysical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines in 1968 before obtaining a law degree from Northwestern University in Chicago. Ironically he spent his early legal career opposing the licensing of nuclear plants in the United States, some of which later became Cameco’s best customers. But he had a change of heart and in 1978 joined Denver-based Energy Fuels Corp., growing the company from a small uranium producer into the largest producer in the United States.
In 2011 he was appointed chairman emeritus by the World Nuclear Association and also received the Ian McRae Award from the Canadian Nuclear Association for his role in advancing nuclear energy in Canada. He was nominated the same year by the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce for the Oslo Business for Peace Award in recognition of his efforts to aid disarmament through the HEU deal, and in 2005 received Saskatchewan’s Centennial Medal for contributions to the province and the quality of life.
In his remarks Grandey noted that whatever success he has enjoyed is attributable to the help and support of the fine people he has had the honour to work with over the years, both within and outside of Cameco, and thanked his wife Tina and his children. “They endured lengthy absences while I pursued a vision of creating within Canada a globally dominant nuclear energy company,” he said.
Nobody would be more pleased with his induction than his parents, he added,. “Most people would say the same thing but there’s a little bit more than just parental pride here,” he explained. “My father worked on the Manhattan project, hence was part of the very first application of nuclear technology. If I do the math correctly, I was conceived in Los Alamos. So you see, it was inevitable that I enter the nuclear business, because I was exposed in the womb.”
James O’Rourke was the third inductee of the night, in recognition of the leadership, integrity and dedication that led him to build successful companies, operations and lasting partnerships over his long and fruitful career.
O’Rourke played an important role in developing and revisiting some of British Columbia’s well known operations, including the Cassiar asbestos mine, the Quinsam coal mine, the Endako molybdenum mine and copper mines Gibraltar, Huckleberry and Similco. The latter was revived and reopened as the Copper Mountain mine.
Along with building quality assets, O’Rourke led mining companies, including Princeton Mining and Copper Mountain Mining, which operates its namesake mine near Princeton, BC. The Copper Mountain mine officially opened in August 2011 and is expected to produce 80 million lb of copper in 2013, along with gold and silver by-products.
O’Rourke said his induction into the Hall was a “great honour” and attributed his success to the excellent people he has worked with over the past 50 years.
“I’ve been very fortunate to spend most of my career involved in developing and building mines — the part of the business I find most exciting and most challenging,” he said. “It’s extremely rewarding to be a part of a team that visually witnesses a transformation of a barren site into an active mining operation with people running around.”
But O’Rourke admits he knew nothing about mining while growing up in Prince George, BC, other than the fact that his grandfather toiled in a mine. Once he enrolled in the University of British Columbia, O’Rourke decided to try his hand at mechanical engineering, but quickly dropped it to study mining.
“After taking a drafting course, it was very clear that I didn’t want to do it, and mining was a nice alternative,” O’Rourke said in a video presentation before the induction.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mine engineering, O’Rourke joined Placer Development. “This was a great decision,” he noted, because the company was expanding, and so it allowed him to take part in the start-up of several mines.
During his first 10 years at Placer, O’Rourke said his wife and children lived at six different mines, including Endako and Gibraltar in British Columbia and Marcopper in the Philippines. On stage, he thanked his wife and four kids for being his “greatest supporters.”
“They willingly adjusted their lives and embraced the pioneer spirit as we moved mine to mine in Canada and internationally, and I’m deeply indebted and thankful for their flexibility and their support.”
After 14 years with Placer, he joined Brinco and spearheaded the development of the Quinsam mine on Vancouver Island, before becoming the president of Princeton Mining.
Throughout his career, O’Rourke has been praised for his ability to motivate and relate to his employees.
Commenting on this, he said it may have something to do with being raised in a female dominated household.
“Shortly after I was born my father was killed, so I was brought up with my mother, my grandmother and my two sisters. So I definitely was brought up in a woman’s world, and I think it probably just gave me a real strong respect for everyone regardless of their gender, and any other aspect of their personality and whatnot,” he said in the video.
While employed at Huckleberry near Houston, BC, O’Rourke attracted Mitsubishi Mining and three other Japanese firms to invest in the $140-million operation. Huckleberry started up in 1997 and should keep producing until 2021.
More recently, he engaged Mitsubishi again to come onboard as a 25% partner of the Copper Mountain mine.
“Although our business is extremely capital intensive, it is the people that really make things happen,” he said.
Along with cultivating relationships overseas, O’Rourke has connected with First Nation communities at home and made philanthropic contributions locally.
He’s the founder of the “Mining for Miracles” campaign, which supports the BC Children’s Hospital and has raised more than $20 million since 1988.
Some other awards O’Rourke has received include the Order of British Columbia in 2011 and the Edgar A. Scholz Medal for excellence in mine development in 2005.
At an age when most people are enjoying retirement, O’Rourke is eager to keep working, and he serves as the CEO of Copper Mountain Mining.
“It’s basically my hobby,” he said. “I really enjoy being involved in mining. There are a lot of nice people, and you know, it’s just a lot of fun.”
The night’s final inductee was Pierre Lassonde, cofounder of the wildly successful, trailblazing royalty firm Franco-Nevada, and educational benefactor.
He was introduced by business associate of 33 years, friend and previous inductee Seymour Schulich. Living up to their reputation as mining’s version of the Rat Pack, the pair took to the stage in matching gold lamé blazers, to howls of laughter from the audience.
Referring to Lassonde’s usual role as a raucous emcee at the annual event, Schulich joked that “this guy couldn’t speak English when I met him, and he’s turned into a silver tongued devil.”
Seymour noted that “some people say Pierre and I fell into a sewer, and we came out with a gold bar in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other … To me, men like Pierre Lassonde have done an enormous job building bridges across Canada, and uniting our great country, and he is most wor
thy recipient of this award.”
In congratulating Fipke for his induction, Lassonde quipped that “Chuck is quite a special man … the voices in his head may not be real, but let me tell you, they have some good ideas.”
Born in Saint-Hyacinthe, QC, Lassonde picked up a degree in electrical engineering in Montreal, followed by an MBA from the University of Utah in 1973. After graduation, his first wife started working in Bechtel’s nuclear department in San Francisco, and Lassonde got involved in the firm’s construction department. “I thought I’d learn a lot about construction and then start my own firm,” Lassonde recalled. “But I started speculating in junior mining stocks, and that’s when I got the bug. After that, there was no turning back.”
Lassonde then moved to Beutel Goodman & Co., where he managed its gold investment fund for a decade and met Schulich. The two started Franco-Nevada as a private company in 1982, took it public in September 1983, and in 1985 hit on the idea bringing oil and gas-style royalties into the world of mining.
Testing the waters, Lassonde recalled how they’d asked their geo in Nevada to keep his eyes peeled for any mining royalty for sale. “Well, our geologist was sitting at his desk on a Friday morning, reading the Reno Gazette and drinking his coffee, and on page three was a box ad, two inches by three, ‘royalty for sale’, with a phone number in Texas.”
After a phone call, Lassonde met with the potential vendor in Salt Lake City the next Monday morning. Lassonde realized it was either $2 million or nothing, because the man had a bank loan due. “Anything less than that, and he was bankrupt anyway.” And so Lassonde and Schulich forged Franco’s first ever royalty deal, even though it consumed their entire treasury.
After Lassonde and the vendor verbally hammered out the deal, they immediately went to the lawyer’s office, dictated the contract terms, and signed it after lunch.
“When he went back to his office, guess who was at the door there to meet him, but the manager of the little mine next door, and he was there on orders to buy the royalty,” Lassonde recalled. “If I had not been there that Monday morning and taken him right to the lawyer to sign, we would have never had that royalty.”
Lassonde said it was a lesson: “Carpe diem, seize the day. Grab the day by the you-know-what and don’t let it go. A year later Barrick bought the property, and it turned out to be the Goldstrike royalty. From a $2-million investment, there has been more than $700 million in cash flow so far.”
Lassonde then turned to current Barrick Gold CEO Jamie Sokalsky at the head table, and said with big smile, “Thank you, Mr. Sokalsky. Love it, and keep it coming.”
A few years after that fateful royalty purchase, Barrick had discovered 20 million oz of gold at Goldstrike, and Franco-Nevada’s stock had gone from 65 cents to $15.
“‘Oh boy, we were rich.’ we thought. ‘There’s nothing to this game — we need to sell Franco and do it all over again,’” Lassonde said. So they hired an investment banker, and wrote up documents to sell Franco-Nevada.
“We went to the Holt-McDermott mine opening. I was all puffed up … ‘look at me, look at me!’” Lassonde remembered. “I was telling Brian Meikle, the guy who discovered Goldstrike, our plan. And Brian said, ‘Pierre, you don’t understand, do you?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean, I’m smart, I made all this money, I’m nouveau riche.’”
Lassonde described Meikle’s response as being “very, very prophetic words: ‘this is not a discovery of a lifetime, this is a discovery of three lifetimes.’ And boy, it was like someone stuck a pin in my balloon. That whole day and the rest of the night, those words kept coming back at me.”
Lassonde recalled telling his partner the next day, “Seymour, we are the two dumbest bastards. Brian is absolutely right. We will never have a chance to do something like this again.”
He then asked the induction ceremony attendees, “When was the latest time you heard of a discovery of a hundred million tonnes at over ten grams per tonne — that was Goldstrike in its early days. An incredible discovery, and to this day it has never been equalled.”
Lassonde then turned deadly serious for a moment: “That day we made the decision to build a real company. That day changed our lives. Luck may bring you riches, but it will never bring you wisdom. Wisdom walked in that day in the form of Brian Meikle, and we owe him so, so much.”
Franco-Nevada was eventually sold to Newmont Mining in 2001 for $3.2 billion, creating the world’s largest gold miner in a three-way merger with Australia’s Normandy Mining, with Lassonde as president.
In 2007, Lassonde and a group of investors arranged to buy Franco-Nevada back for $1.2 billion, leading to what was, at the time, the largest ever initial public offering for a mining company on the TSE. Today the company is worth $8 billion.
“The reason I’m here tonight is because of all you that are here tonight: the counsel, the advice, the support and the love of family and friends, is really what gets us up here,” Lassonde said. “And I have a special debt of gratitude for Seymour – without him none of this would have been possible.”
Lassonde also paid tribute to current Franco-Nevada CEO David Harquail, who he said had “good hand-to-wallet reflexes” and retired Falconbridge president and centenarian Marsh Cooper, who he joked had taught him that “impotence was just Nature’s way of saying, ‘no hard feelings.’”
Schulich noted that Franco-Nevada has sometimes been criticized for being a “virtual company,” but said, “there is nothing ‘virtual’ about Pierre’s support of the industry. He will have given more than $120 million to support mining and business education in Ontario, Quebec and Utah in 10 projects.”
Lassonde established the Lassonde Chair in Mining Engineering at the University of Toronto in 1996, followed by the Lassonde Mineral Engineering program and the Lassonde Institute for Engineering Geosciences in 2000. Other large donations have been made to York University and the University of Utah, among others.
Lassonde’s numerous awards include the Order of Canada in 2003.
A full list of inductees and their biographies are available at www.mininghalloffame.ca
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