A birthday gift of diamonds
Eighty-eight carats donated to museum

Doug Ashbury
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 20/99) - The rough diamonds that started the biggest staking rush in North America's history have been donated to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.

BHP Diamonds, 51 per cent owner of the Ekati diamond mine, donated 88 carats of rough diamonds from Point Lake to the museum.

Employment targets

- Sixty-two per cent of BHP employees were to be NWT residents. Seventy-five per cent of BHP staff are NWT residents (389 of BHP's 518 employees).

- The target for aboriginal employment was 31 per cent (half the NWT residents). As of Oct. 14, aboriginal employment was 39 per cent or 152 people.

- During construction, BHP was required to make 28 per cent of its purchases with Northern firms under the socio-economic agreement. By the end of construction, BHP spent 51.5 per cent, or $354 million, with Northern firms.

- During production, the agreement required 70 per cent of spending to be with NWT entities. From January through September, $188.6 million, or 79 per cent, of the spending was local.

The Point Lake diamonds, as well as two rough stones from Ekati's Panda open pit -- one eight carats and one four carats -- were donated during a gathering at the museum to celebrate the mine's first birthday last Thursday.

Ekati officially went into production Oct. 14, 1998.

"Seventy five per cent of our employees are Northern (total employment is 518 people). This project has had a lot of positive input," BHP Diamonds' president James Rothwell said.

"We have over 250 people who call Yellowknife home," he said.

Rothwell also said Ekati diamonds have been well received in the marketplace.

Dia Met, 29 per cent owner of Ekati, recently reported that from February through July, sales of 936,000 carats were achieved at $163 US per carat, ahead of the $130 US conservative estimate.

Ray Ashley, who also spoke Thursday, called Ekati a story of persistence.

"It's a story that inspired me," he said.

Ashley, currently Dia Met's vice-president of operations, was with BHP in 1991. The geophysicist was sent to Point Lake to oversee the attempt to determine if there was a kimberlite pipe beneath Point Lake.

Ashley recounted how geologist Chuck Fipke and Fipke's son, Mark, found diamond indictor minerals at Point Lake.

"He (Fipke) got to a point where he had a few hours of helicopter time left (that day). He made a decision to fly back to a lake he'd seen earlier," Ashley said.

Fipke would then land at Point Lake and dig through the snow and ice. Fipke and Mark hit big rocks. But he correctly figured the ice would have pushed soil to a spot nearby.

"They reached ground. Mark picked up a chrome diopside," Ashley said. Bright green chrome diopside is a diamond-indicator mineral.

In November 1991, when BHP and Dia Met announced that diamonds had been found at Point Lake, the news sparked the massive staking rush. BHP funded a geophysical survey of the entire claim block which includes Ekati. Point Lake, within the block, is located close to Ekati's Misery pipe.

BHP chief geologist, Jon Carlson, who also spoke Thursday, said Ekati put to rest all the doubt about diamonds in the NWT. "I remember one analyst said publicly, if they come up with any diamonds, I'll eat them all." So far, such a meal would include about 1.5 million carats -- Ekati's estimated production since commissioning.

Carlson also said that the rough diamonds found are as good as any in the world.

"It's a tremendous lesson to be learned," he said. "Don't give up on your dreams."