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Doing Some Digging – A trip to Yellowknife

It will not come as news to most of our readers that the diamond industry is bringing prosperity to the Northwest T...


It will not come as news to most of our readers that the diamond industry is bringing prosperity to the Northwest Territories. Canadian Mining Journal, The Northern Miner and other periodicals followed the hunt for indicator minerals and the staking rush around Lac de Gras, the discovery of kimberlite pipes and the success of bulk sampling in the early 1990s. You have read about the opening of the Ekati mine in 1998 and its ongoing success, and about the building of the Diavik mine, which will likely be ready for commercial production in February 2003.

However, there’s no substitute for being where the action is. CMJ’s editor was privileged to spend part of last week in Yellowknife, at the epicentre of the diamond boom.

The town of 18,000 is jumping. Work is plentiful. The Ekati mine employs over 1,500 full-time employees or contractors. Diavik’s construction crew peaked at over 1,200 on site earlier this year. A large portion of the mines’ employees are from Yellowknife and the smaller towns and villages in the district, keeping much of the economic bounty local.

Housing is extremely tight, with virtually zero apartment vacancies. The building trades are flourishing as new apartments are going up to meet the demand.

The Diavik diamond sorting facility by the airport is newly completed, and awaiting shipments of diamonds from that mine. Tiffany’s cutting facility next door is still under construction, and should begin to receive some of Diavik’s product this winter. Next door to that are the manufacturing facilities of Arslanian and Sirius, which have been cutting diamonds from Ekati for the past three and four years, respectively. Not only are these employers cutting stones, but they are training people, mainly from the Northwest Territories, in the fine craft of cutting and polishing high-quality, high-priced gems.

The gift stores and jewelers in Yellowknife have beautiful displays of Canadian diamond jewelry, some including local gold or Yukon nuggets in the designs. These gifts are not cheap, so tourists are parting with serious money when they visit Yellowknife.

We were fortunate to witness two milestones reached by the young diamond mining industry. The first diamonds produced from Diavik’s new plant were transported from the mine to Yellowknife on Wednesday, November 27. And on Friday, November 29, there was an official opening ceremony for Ekati’s underground mine, which has begun to produce ore from the Koala North kimberlite pipe. This is the first underground diamond mine in North America, and really launches the industry onto a new plane.

If you can’t (or don’t want to) get to Yellowknife in the dead of winter, read the feature articles about the Diavik mine, the Koala North underground mine and the Sirius diamond cutting facility in the February 2003 issue of Canadian Mining Journal.


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