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Arctic Diamonds

Diamonds in the Canadian Arctic

by Murray Lundberg

To Northern Mines & Mining Links

Originally published October 15, 1999
Updated April 2004; January 2019

    In the fall of 1991, following 13 years of searching, diamonds were discovered in the Northwest Territories. Within 3 years, the largest mineral rush in North American history had resulted in Boeing 727 jets landing in what had generally been considered to be an almost inaccessible area. The story of the search, the discovery and the start of the resulting rush is told in Fire Into Ice: Charles Fipke & the Great Diamond Hunt (Raincoast, 1999). On December 27, 2018, Charles Edgar Fipke was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada "for his leadership in heavy mineral exploration and for his philanthropic support for educational and health-care related initiatives."

    De Beers states that approximately 250 tons of ore must be mined and processed in order to produce a single one-carat polished, gem quality diamond. In the Canadian Arctic, getting that 250 tons of ore is an even more massive undertaking than in gentler climates. Prospector Grenville Thomas told Forbes Magazine that over the winter of 1992-1993, Aber Resources "shipped 3,000 tons of ore in thirty 100-ton trucks across 400 miles of ice, and you could fit 70% of the value of what we got out of that in a shot glass." But with an ore grade of 3.9 carats per ton, that made it the richest diamond find in the world.

    Despite the huge royalty checks expected in the coming decades, diamond mining in the Arctic is not all good news. The fragile environment is damaged just as much by mining for diamonds as it is by mining for zinc. The Canadian Arctic Resources Committee has been conducting environmental reviews for over 25 years, and their analysis of present and future mining infrastructure megaprojects is not encouraging.

    One of the suprises resulting from the diamond drilling programs has been the discovery of turtle bones and wood dating back to 53 million years BP.

    As of the summer of 2004, there is a book that describes Canadian Arctic diamonds and the industry - click here for a review of Gayla Meredith's Canada's Northern Diamonds: from rocks to riches.

    In 2017, Canada was the world's third largest producer of diamonds by value (14.6%) and the second largest producer by volume (15.4%). Canada's total primary exports of diamonds were valued at $2.6 billion in 2017.

Canadian Diamond Mines

Diavik Diamond Mine
Production at Canada's largest diamond mine began in early 2010 and is expected to continue until at least 2020.

Ekati Diamond Mine
Exploration, production, environmental and other information on this mine, owned by Dominion Diamond Mines (January 2019), which started production in October 1998.

Ekati Diamond Mine
From Mining Technology, a well-illustrated look at the mine, and the equipment and processes being used in developing in.

Gahcho Kué
Located at Kennady Lake, approximately 280 km northeast of Yellowknife, this project is a joint venture between De Beers Canada and Mountain Province Diamonds.

Renard Diamond Mine
Owned by Stornoway, this mine started production on January 1, 2017. It is located approximately 250 km north of Mistissini in the James Bay region of north-central Quebec.

Snap Lake Diamond Mine
Located approximately 220 km northeast of Yellowknife, this was De Beers' first mine outside of Africa.

Star-Orion South Diamond Project
Owned by Star Diamond Corp., located approximately 60 kilometres east of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Victor Diamond Mine
Owned by De Beers Canada.

Other Canadian Diamond Information

Certified Arctic Diamonds
Information from the Government of the Northwest Territories about certified Canadian diamonds.

Polar Bear Diamonds
Once the most famous of Canadian brands, production of the polar bear diamonds ceased in October 2010.