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Diamond Mines in Canada

Almost everyone was surprised when Canada suddenly became a world-leading producer of gem-quality diamonds.

map of Canada's diamond mines

Diamond Mines: A map of Canadian diamond mines showing the approximate location of the five existing mines and the Gahcho Kue project. View a larger map. Map by Geology.com and MapResources.

Diamonds in Canada?

Throughout the 20th century most people would never have thought about Canada being an important producer of diamonds. [1] Most people's knowledge of diamonds was fixed on mining operations in Africa and diamond trading centers in Europe.

All of this started to change in 1991 when two geologists, Chuck Fipke and Stewart Blusson, found evidence of diamond-bearing kimberlite pipes about 200 miles north of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. One of these pipes was developed by BHP Billiton into the EKATI Diamond Mine, which produced Canada's first commercial diamonds in 1998.

Diavik Diamond Mine

Surrounded by Water: Aerial photograph of the Diavik Diamond Mine located in the North Slave Region of Canada's Northwest Territories. Diavik was the second diamond mine to open in Canada, producing its first diamonds in 2003. The pipes being mined were originally exposed on the bottom of Lac de Gras. Dikes were built around the pipes and the area to be mined was dewatered by pumping. This created an island which now allows mining below the level of the surrounding lake. Photo Courtesy of The Diavik Diamond Mine.

Canada: A Major Diamond Producer

The EKATI discovery launched one of the most intense mineral prospecting rushes in the history of North America. Thousands of prospectors travelled to the Canadian North. Instead of bringing wooden stakes with them to mark their claims, they all intended to purchase stakes near their destination. So many wooden stakes were being purchased by the miners that local lumber companies were unable to meet the demand!

By 2006, three major mines were producing over 13 million carats of gem-quality diamonds per year. This placed Canada as the third largest producer of diamonds in the world. [2] The activity associated with the production of diamonds brought billions of dollars in commerce to the economy of the Canadian North.

Canada diamond production

Canada's Diamond Production History: The first commercial production from Canada's diamond industry was in 1998. By 2006, three major mines were producing over 13 million carats per year and Canada was the third largest producer of gem-quality diamonds in the world. Graph by Geology.com using data from the United States Geological Survey.

mining underground at Diavik Mine

Drilling Blast Holes: In September 2012, surface mining at the Diavik Mine was completed and production moved to underground. Photo Courtesy of The Diavik Diamond Mine.

The Attraction of Canadian Diamonds

Canadian diamonds have been very successful in the marketplace. They are high-quality diamonds that have been very popular in the Canadian gemstone and jewelry markets where people are excited to support the diamond industry of their own country. Much of the rough has been exported because only a small number of diamond cutters in Canada produce finished stones.

Many diamonds that have been mined and cut in Canada are documented and have their certificate number laser-inscribed on their girdle along with a trade logo such as a maple leaf, polar bear, CanadaMark symbol, or the words "Ice on Fire." This inscription assures consumers of their diamond's origin, connects it to the certificate, and has been a very successful marketing feature.

Canadian diamonds also appeal to people who are concerned about environmental and human rights issues. They are produced from diamond mines that have some of the world's highest environmental standards. In addition, the proceeds of the mines go to legitimate companies instead of groups who have obtained the diamonds through forced labor, theft or other exploitation. The certification process allows the stones to be tracked from mine through manufacturing, wholesaling and to the retail consumer.

Compared to rough produced in other parts of the world the diamonds produced from Canadian mines are very high quality which supports a high average price per carat. This is good news for mining companies. BHP Billiton in 2011 reported that their EKATI mine supplied about 3% of world production on the basis of carat weight but 11% of world production on the basis of value. [3]

World diamond production graph from 1994 - 2008

Diamond Production Leaders: Graph showing the production history of selected gem-quality diamond producing countries. This graph shows Canada holding its position as the third most important diamond producer on the basis of carats. Values for 2014 are estimated. Graph by Geology.com. Data from USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries.

EKATI Diamond Mine

The EKATI Diamond Mine is Canada's original diamond mine. It was opened in 1998 by BHP Billiton, Canada, Inc. and is currently owned by Dominion Diamond. It was initially an open pit mine but mining moved underground as the surface mineable ore was depleted. EKATI is located about 200 miles north of Yellow Knife, Northwest Territories and about 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Diamonds from the mine are sold under the Aurias trade name and verified through the CanadaMark service.

The underground reserves currently being mined at EKATI are expected to be depleted by 2020. The company is working to develop a new open pit operation in additional reserves on an adjacent property. These additional reserves are thought to be adequate to extend operations for about ten more years.

Google Map: A satellite view of the Diavik diamond mine.

Diavik Diamond Mine

Diavik was the second diamond mine in Canada to produce diamonds. It is owned by the Harry Winston Diamond Corporation and Diavik Diamond Mines Incorporated. It is located about 200 miles north of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories and about 120 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The pipes being mined were originally on the bottom of Lac De Gras and were discovered by drilling through the ice. To mine the pipes a dike was built around them and the water was pumped out. Open pit mining then began on the lake bottom. Production moved underground as the surface mineable ore was depleted. [4]

Jericho Diamond Mine

The Jericho Diamond Mine was the third diamond mine in Canada and the first in Nunavut territory. It is located about 250 miles northeast of Yellowknife, Northwest Territiries. The mine was opened by Tahera Diamond Corporation and produced diamonds from 2006 to 2008 but the company lost money. In 2010, Shear Minerals, Ltd. acquired the property with the intent of bringing the mine back into production.

Information Sources - Canadian Diamonds
[1] Geology.com, 2010, What Countries Produce Gem Diamonds?, Article from the Geology.com website.

[2] Donald W. Olson, 2011, Gemstones, 2009 Minerals Yearbook, United States Geological Survey.

[3] BHP Billiton, 2011, Diamonds and Specialty Products, quote from the corporate website.

[4] Rio Tinto, 2009, Diavik Diamond Mine Factbook, .pdf from the diavik.ca website.

[5] De Beers Canada, 2011, About the Snap Lake Mine, website article on Canada.DeBeersGroup.com.

[6] De Beers Canada, 2011, About the Victor Mine, website article on Canada.DeBeersGroup.com.

[7] De Beers Canada, 2011, About Gahcho Kué, website article on Canada.DeBeersGroup.com.

[8] Mining.com, 2015, Canadian Arctic Readies for World's Largest Diamond Mine Opening, website article on Mining.com.

Snap Lake Diamond Mine

Canada's fourth diamond mine was the Snap Lake Mine, located about 150 miles northeast of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. The mine is owned by De Beers and it was their first mining operation outside of Africa. It was Canada's first completely underground diamond mine. Instead of mining a vertical pipe the mine follows a kimberlite dike about 2.5 meters thick that slopes down under Snap Lake at an average dip of about 12 to 15 degrees. The first commercial production at Snap Lake was in 2008. [5] The mine produced for seven years without turning a profit. [5]

Victor Diamond Mine

The fifth Canadian diamond mine was the Victor Diamond Mine located in Ontario about 50 miles west of Attawapiskat. It is an open pit mine owned by De Beers and was the first diamond mine in Ontario. Mining occurs in one of sixteen diamondiferous kimberlite pipes on the property. [6]

aerial image Gahcho Kue diamond mine

Gahcho Kué: Aerial image of the Gahcho Kué diamond mine in Northwest Territories, Canada. Image provided by Mountain Province Diamonds.

Gahcho Kué: The World's Largest New Diamond Mine Under Development

The Gahcho Kué diamond project is located about 170 miles northeast of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. It is a joint venture between Mountain Province Diamonds and De Beers Canada. They propose to mine three kimberlite pipes located beneath Kennady Lake. [7] A fourth smaller pipe is located nearby and may be mined as the project progresses. Gahcho Kue is expected to begin production in the second half of calendar year 2016.

The mine is expected to have an output of about 4.5 million carats per year over a 12 year life. That makes it the world's largest new diamond mine under development. [8] In recent years, Canada has been one of the top three diamond-producing countries in the world on the basis of carats produced. With the expected closure of Diavik and EKATI, Gahcho Kué might be able help Canada continue as a major diamond producer.

Canadian Diamond Challenges

The diamond mines in Canada face a number of challenges not face by competing mines in other parts of the world. The first problem is their very remote location. The mines can only receive overland freight during a short "ice road" season that might last between six and ten weeks. Any supplies not delivered in that limited time window must be delivered by air. The mines must also have housing and full facilities for all of their employees because they are all located away from towns or settlements where employees could be housed. These serve as logistical and economical disadvantages for these mines.

A second problem is the cost of labor. Wages in African mines and Indian cutting facilities are very low compared to the wages paid to mining and manufacturing employees in Canada. The Snap Lake mine closed without turning a profit.

A third problem is the fact that the open pit mines are being depleted and continued work in the ore body requires underground mining - which costs about 50% more per ton of ore produced. Some of the mines also incur a high water pumping cost as they excavate below the water table. Nearby lakes serve as an infinite source of recharge water.

diamonds from the Diavik Mine

High-Quality Rough Diamonds: Octahedral diamond crystals from the Diavik Mine. The mine is well known for its large diamonds of exceptional quality. Photo Courtesy of The Diavik Diamond Mine.

Canadian Diamond Opportunities

Canadian diamond mines enjoyed great success in their first two decades. Much of that success was supported by rich ores, containing high quality diamonds that could be produced by open pit mining. The diamonds produced by these mines were favored by consumers who value stones produced from mines that are environmentally responsible and conflict free. Canadian customers have also patronized gems obviously marketed as a Canadian product.

Although exploration for new deposits continues, the pace has dropped dramatically from the original boom. New discoveries in Alberta, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, and Quebec are being evaluated, and some of them might be developed into profitable new mines.

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