Ontario’s First Diamond Mine Officially Opened by De Beers Near Attawapiskat

This article was provide by the Ontario Mining Association (OMA), an organization that was established in 1920 to represent the mining industry of the province.

The De Beers Canada Victor diamond mine is not only officially open but the process plant is officially operating 12% above its nameplate capacity at about 8,200 tonnes of kimberlite daily.   At the opening ceremony held on July 26, 2008 at the mine site, which is located about 1,070 kilometres north of Toronto, General Manager Peter Mah told participants “today, we have officially reached full production at the Victor Mine.”  He said about 330,000 carats of diamonds have been produced from the one million tonnes of ore processed to date.

“To mark this historic achievement of bringing the Victor Mine into production, Cree drummers and dancers will perform,” said Mr. Mah.  “We are Ontario´s first diamond mine and we should celebrate the hard work and dedication that everyone has put into this diamond dream.  I especially want to thank the Elders (16 Elders from the Attawapiskat First Nation were at the event) for their wisdom, guidance, experience they share and knowledge.”

A combination of De Beers corporate officials, suppliers, politicians, including Ontario Minister of Northern Development and Mines Michael Gravelle, First Nations representatives, other dignitaries and media arrived at the remote site 90 kilometres west of Attawapiskat on nine different flights to celebrate the opening of the Victor Mine with employees.  While building the $1 billion mine was a tremendous engineering feat, organizing and coordinating the opening must be viewed as an outstanding logistical achievement. 

The Ontario Mining Association, which had the privilege of being at the launch of a member company´s new mine, congratulates De Beers not only for the successful opening of the Victor Mine in Ontario but also for the official opening of the company´s Snap Lake diamond mine in the Northwest Territories one day earlier on July 25.

De Beers Canada President and CEO Jim Gowans thanked the organizers and expressed great pride in this mine starting official operations.  “Thank you for sharing in this wonderful day for my company and I want to thank our shareholders for their faith in making an investment to bring this dream to reality.”  Several De Beers head office and De Beers Canada officials were on hand including Nicky Oppenheimer, Chairman of De Beers Group, Jeremy Wyeth, Senior Vice President De Beers Canada and former OMA Chairman, and Ingrid Hann, Vice President Human Resources for De Beers Canada.

Before the official opening ceremony, visitors had the opportunity to enjoy presentations on environmental practices at the mine, the geology of Victor and neighbouring kimberlite pipes, the accommodation and facilities at Victor, which people in the tourism trade would consider one of the largest hotels in Northern Ontario, along with tours of the open pit mine and the processing plant.  One special feature of the tour was the teepee on site, which has been built by Victor employees to use for ceremonial and spiritual purposes.  Participants were able to enjoy some goose and herbal tea and learn a bit about the culture and cuisine of First Nation communities in the area.  Also, high quality diamonds from the Victor Mine were on display including some which were four to seven carats in size.

The Victor Mine has a close relationship with First Nation communities.  Approximately 140 people, or 40% of the Victor workforce, are Aboriginals.  Much of the official ceremony was carried out in both English and Cree languages.   The value of First Nations contracts with the Victor mine is more than $165 million.  Jonathan Oppenheimer, Chairman of De Beers Canada, related a bit of De Beers history going back to 1888 and its roots in South Africa.

“The Victor project has been a complicated one and a difficult one,” said Mr. Oppenheimer.  “At De Beers, we believe in longevity and we believe in building significant relationships with our communities.  We need to think what it means to be integrated into the community and develop a relationship that builds trust and a sense of partnership.  We have to create a lasting and sustainable contribution to the communities where we operate and I believe the Victor Mine is a model for how mining should take place in Northern Ontario.”  Gareth Penny, Managing Director De Beers Group, said lessons from the Victor Mine on community relations will be used in the development of future De Beers mines in other parts of the world.  

Timmins, which is about 500 kilometres south of the Victor Mine, is a base for much of the mine´s activities and logistics.  In recognition of this, Timmins Mayor Tom Laughren, officially declared July 20 – 26, 2008 De Beers Diamond Mine Week.  “We´d like to thank the City of Timmins for recognizing the hard work of all our team members, our employees and our partners for bringing Ontario´s first diamond mine into production,” said Rachel Pineault, Director of Human Resources and Aboriginal Affairs for the Victor Mine. 

The Victor Mine is expected to produce 600,000 carats of diamonds annually for 12 years.  During its construction and early production phases, the mine´s workforce surpassed four million hours worked without a loss time injury.  The mine is expected to have a positive impact on Ontario´s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $6.7 billion and a $4.2 billion GDP contribution to the economy of Northern Ontario.