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Northern mini-boom

Prospectors staking claims around Coronation Gulf

Thorunn Howatt
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 03/01) - There are mysterious happenings in the Kitikmeot region. People are sneaking around the Coronation Gulf. There are whispers of a great diamond rush.

NNSL Photo

Aurora Geosciences Ltd.'s Gord Clarke loads stakes in order to stake claims during the recent diamond rush near the Coronation Gulf. - Thorunn Howatt/NNSL photo

"It's a game you know. The mystery out there and everyone's excited and there are people out there staking and having a good time," said diamond exploration company Diamondex's Randy Turner. "It brings smiles to people's faces."

The muffled flurry of excitement is setting off a Northern mini-boom.

"There's exploration, so it supports the expediting, the helicopters, the fixed-wing industry, fuel industry, there's exploration jobs for geologists, prospectors and the like," said Turner.

Diamondex, which has operated for about two years, has interest in about 1.5 million acres in the Northwest Territories.

The company has been exploring close to DeBeers' Snap Lake property but is now looking further North.

"We also have staked 150,000 acres immediately to the west of the new discovery reported by Ashton," he said, referring to the Ashton Mining of Canada Ltd.'s Artemisia discovery near the Coronation Gulf.

After Ashton announced last September that it found diamonds, Diamondex, along with many others, staked the area surrounding Artemisia.

"There is something more exciting about exploration than there is about development because it is all about mystery, the potential for a world-class discovery," said Turner.

"That is really the backbone of explorationists -- to find the next mother-lode, to find the next Snap Lake or Ekati or Diavik."

But Turner isn't the one who will actually go out and stake the claim. He hired a consultant to go do that for him.

A consulting geologist will be the one to put the stakes in the ground and tag the property.

"In diamonds it is a little different than perhaps in other types of exploration in that people tend to take out big blocks of land, explore it, then reduce it as the years go on," he said.

In the North, explorers can hold land for free but at the end of the second year, work valued at $4 per acre will have to be finished in order to hold that land.

"So if you take out a million acres and you want to hold onto that block, it will cost you $4 million," said Turner.

Diamondex is holding the property for now but won't do more checking until March.

Turner talks about the odds of finding diamonds on the property - only .7 per cent of found kimberlites become producers.

"It's high risk, but a very high reward because an average kimberlite diamond mine will produce for 25 to 50 years and produce up to $50 billion worth of diamonds," he said.

The diamond hunters are a breed apart -- they have scientific minds and gambler's hearts.

"I think we have seen it since the first reported gold rush in North America," said Turner.

"There's the excitement, the mystery, the challenge that drives the prospector inside of all of us geologists."

The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development offices in Iqaluit and Yellowknife have been busy for the last two weeks with prospectors and geologists picking up tags to stake claims.

"We are looking at a million acres that we are working on," said Aurora Geosciences' Gord Clarke.

The Yellowknife consulting company was aware of the rush and has been busy for close to a month now.

"It's a hard time of the year to be doing this," said Clarke.

Temperatures of -60C have been reported from the Coronation Gulf area. But that's when there is money to be made.

"It's radial staking around the Ashton discovery - it was growing slowly and then Ashton had an impressive release."