Throughout the 20th century most people would never have thought about Canada being an important producer of diamonds.
All of this started to change in 1991 when two geologists, Chuck Fipke and Stewart Blusson, found evidence of diamond-bearing kimberlite pipes about 200 miles north of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. One of these pipes was developed by BHP Billiton into the EKATI Diamond Mine, which produced Canada’s first commercial diamonds in 1998.
The EKATI discovery launched one of the most intense mineral prospecting rushes in the history of North America. Thousands of prospectors travelled to the Canadian North. Instead of bringing wooden stakes with them to mark their claims, they all intended to purchase stakes near their destination. So many wooden stakes were being purchased by the miners that local lumber companies were unable to meet the demand!
By 2006, three major mines were producing over 13 million carats of gem-quality diamonds per year. This placed Canada as the third-largest producer of diamonds in the world. The activity associated with the production of diamonds brought billions of dollars in commerce to the economy of the Canadian North.
Canadian diamonds have been very successful in the marketplace. They are high-quality diamonds that have been very popular in the Canadian gemstone and jewelry markets where people are excited to support the diamond industry of their own country. Much of the rough has been exported because only a small number of diamond cutters in Canada produce finished stones.
Many diamonds that have been mined and cut in Canada are graded and have their certificate number laser-inscribed on their girdle along with a trade logo such as a maple leaf, polar bear, Canadamark symbol, or the words “Ice on Fire.” These inscriptions help assure consumers of their diamond’s origin, connect it to the certificate, and have been a very successful marketing feature.
Canadian diamonds also appeal to people who are concerned about environmental and human rights issues. They are produced from diamond mines that have some of the world’s highest environmental standards. In addition, the proceeds of the mines go to legitimate companies instead of groups who have obtained the diamonds through forced labor, theft or other exploitation. The certification process allows the stones to be tracked from mine through manufacturing, wholesaling and to the retail consumer.
Compared to rough produced in other parts of the world, the diamonds produced from Canadian mines are very high quality which supports a high average price per carat. This is a tremendous advantage for Canadian mining companies.
A small number of colored diamonds are produced in Canada. Occasional yellow diamonds are found at Diavik, and a few rare pinks have been found at Victor.
In recent years, Canada has been one of the top three diamond-producing countries in the world on the basis of carats produced. The Diavik and EKATI mines are expected to close during the next few years. Hopefully, new mines at Gahcho Kué, Renard, and Chidliak will help Canada remain one of the world’s leading producers of gem-quality diamonds.
The EKATI Diamond Mine is Canada’s original diamond mine. It is located about 180 miles (300 kilometers) north of Yellowknife, and about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of the Arctic Circle. Numerous kimberlite pipes with the potential for surface and underground mining exist on the EKATI property. The property is anticipated to support mining until at least 2028. Today Arctic Canadian Diamond Company owns controlling interest in EKATI and is the operator.