Canada isn’t known for being one of the key players in the global diamond industry, but since diamonds were first discovered in Point Lake, Northwest Territories during the 1980’s, Canada has become home to the third biggest diamond industry in the world!
Two prospectors, Chuck Fipke and Steward Blusson, discovered large diamond deposits in Canada’s Arctic in the late 1980’s. It took them several years to assemble the investors required to start mining operations, so it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that the Ekati Diamond Mine produced its first stone. Soon after specialized diamond investors from around the world were taking notice, and the largest diamond-staking rush in history ensued in the freezing north.
The diamonds in Canada’s Arctic were formed over millions of years of ice pressure. While the Earth has gone through various ice ages. the Arctic has always been home to the massive glaciers that occasionally cover the planet. The combination of billions of metric tonnes of weight pressing down on minerals, and the long eras that have passed, have served to create the right conditions for the formation of diamonds. The land in the Arctic has been spared from volcanoes and earthquakes and human pollution, and as a result the diamonds that come out of this ground are of astounding quality.
The area around Point Lake has so far been found to contain more than 156 kimberlite pipes, or veins of kimberlite rock that contains diamonds. This makes the Ekati mine one of the ten largest diamond operations in the world today!
The mining process in the far north isn’t without controversy. The open-pit mines dig deep into the Arctic land and the ecosystem of this unique area of the world is still barely understood. Opponents of the mines worry about negative effects these huge mines can have on the surround Arctic environment, and how much industrial stress the land can take.
Proponents of the mines, however, cite the steadily increasing economies of the local Inuit villages, and the high-paying jobs have created verifiable economic spinoffs for local communities, including better infrastructure and decreased substance abuse, domestic abuse and suicide rates. Also, near two of the mines the local Arctic wolf population has actually grown. Whether this is due to an undetermined result of the mines (some theories suggest underground heat transference is affecting surface thermals and attracting more prey, thus spurring a population boom among the wolves) or a completely unattached and coincidental reason is still to be determined.
What is known is that life in the diamond camps is no easy ride. Some workers, particularly in the skilled trades, need to be flown in from the warmer and more settled parts of Canada. These workers are housed in “camps” and work on rotating shifts; some work 14 days on and 14 days off while others might do a season in camp and then spend the rest of the year back home. Either way the workers are paid high wages, living-out stipends and given all-expense paid travel along with generous benefit and bonus packages. The high compensation more than makes up for the rough and sometimes dangerous Arctic living.
The other diamond-producing nations of the world are constantly embroiled in controversies and conflicts. Russia’s diamond industry is under scrutiny by the international community thanks to rampant corruption and political interference. Africa’s diamond mines are infamous for the bloody civil wars and brutal dictatorships that produce them. Canada’s industry, on the other hand, is clean, bloodless and produced by unionized workers living in a first-world democracy. They are truly the world’s first ethical diamonds!
The diamond industry added $36 billion to Canada’s economy in 2012, and created more than 30,000 jobs (direct and tertiary). There are five major diamond mines operating in the north as of this writing, producing nearly 50 million carats of diamonds annually. The average Canadian diamond sells on the common markets for between $1,500 and $3,000, although niche markets, particularly for industry and celebrities, sees specialty diamonds trading for up to $100,000!
Canadian diamonds make up more than 20% of the diamonds on world markets today, and more and more people are taking note. Reasons for the soaring popularity of Canada’s diamonds are easy to pinpoint: the diamonds are bloodless and are mined by unionized professionals adhering to very high labour standards. The diamonds are of incredibly high quality and come out of the arctic ground nearly blemishless. Canada’s environmental protection laws are much stronger than in the other diamond-producers of Russia, Africa and South America. Finally, Canada’s diamonds are polished and crafted by world-class experts, many from northern Aboriginal communities, and bear with them a unique polar bear identifier that gives each diamond an individual story and sense of cultural history. Buyers around the world are beginning to ask specifically for Canadian diamonds!