In Canada’s far north, the opening of the biggest new diamond mine for more than a decade could mean a revival of the region’s flagging fortunes
Canada’s Northwest Territory in Autumn is an endless wilderness of pine forests, carmine grass and trees turning yellow, pocked with copper-ringed lakes blooming with algae. The plane up from Calgary to the capital, Yellowknife, disgorges a handful of tourists from Japan who stop to take selfies in front of the stuffed polar bear on the baggage carousel.
The nascent tourism industry has been buoyed by a small but significant uptick in visitors from the Far East hoping to see the Aurora Borealis, which are considered auspicious in some quarters; children conceived under the Northern Lights are believed to be set up for a lucky life.
Locals may not always agree. After a mining-driven boom in the early-2000s, the territory’s economy hit the skids around the time of the global financial crisis, and has declined more than 15 per cent since its highest point in 2007.
In September, De Beers – the world’s biggest seller of diamonds – formally opened its new Gahcho Kué mine 280km north-east of Yellowknife. It is the largest new diamond mine opened anywhere in the world for 13 years, and something of a milestone for the industry, which has had to invest heavily in expanding production at its existing mines, and to dig deeper to tap the last reserves of diamonds in the ground.
“New diamond mines don’t happen very often,” says Kim Truter, chief executive of De Beers Canada, speaking on the edge of the pit at Gahcho Kué. “If you look typically, from discovery to bringing a diamond mine to production takes about 20 years. So this mine is 20 years in the making. That’s a big deal… for the region it’s a big deal, because for some of the surrounding diamond mines the end is in sight.”
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