Stornoway’s Renard mine: Quebec’s diamond in the rough looks to make history – by Nicolas Van Praet (National Post – November 2, 2013)

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NEAR THE OTISH MOUNTAINS, QUE. – Matt Manson remembers being cold. And thinking about divine retribution.

It was November 2006 and the wounds were still raw from Stornoway Diamond Corp.’s unsolicited takeover of Ashton Mining, part of a $200-million play that also saw Stornoway buy Contact Diamond. As president of the newly consolidated company, Mr. Manson had just finished visiting its flagship asset — the Renard diamond project in northern Quebec — for the first time when a snowstorm closed in.

He jumped into a helicopter and the pilot flew him at low altitude two hours south to Témiscamie, an aircraft refuelling and logistics station with no permanent residents. Huddled against the side of a shed and waiting for a truck to take him to Chibougamau, he found himself completely alone.

“I’m sitting there, shivering away against the wall, getting covered in snow for about three hours and thinking ‘Here’s my punishment’,” recalls Mr. Manson, now Stornoway’s president and chief executive. “‘We went hostile and now I’m being punished. The gods were paying me [back]’.”

The affable Scotsman (a descendant of the Lamont and Gunn clans, who plays the bagpipes) is telling this story now, as we wait for our own helicopter to refuel in Témiscamie. It’s clear his first contact with Renard has become an obsession.

We’re on our way there, to Stornoway’s camp on the edge of Lac du Lagopède, a collection of tents and trailers just north of Quebec’s Otish Mountain range on site of what will be the province’s first diamond mine. But this goes well beyond the novelty of seeing with our own eyes a precious jewel operation in the making.

Three years after former Liberal Premier Jean Charest launched his ambitious Plan Nord to develop Quebec’s north, Stornoway’s Renard, and the new all-season road that links it to the provincial highway network, is among the rare resource-infrastructure projects still alive under the Parti Québécois. The company has won approval from local community and other stakeholders to operate where others have failed. Now it’s trying to strike a comprehensive funding deal to build a diamond mine in a market in which investor interest in new development schemes is as rare as the stones themselves.

“Everything we’re doing here is under the assumption that we’re going to finance the project,” Mr. Manson says into his chopper headset as the skinny trees and bogs of Cree hunting lands slide past below. “We’re not in standby mode. We’re not reining in. We’re going for it.”

It’s been a long time coming.

Renard’s nine kimberlite pipes, the carrot-shape rock formations in which diamonds are found, were discovered in 2001 after five years of grassroots exploration. Ashton explored initially, together with Quebec government-controlled Soquem. Mining giants De Beers and BHP Billiton may also have been digging in the area, but missed it.

Five of those pipes can be economically mined immediately, Stornoway says. According to its updated feasibility study filed in March of this year, Renard is sitting on one of the biggest undeveloped sources of diamonds in the world.

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