GAHCHO KUÉ MINE — The old Jumbolino, a small, 1980s-model British plane, circles above the pack ice and its multitude of frozen lakes. Aboard, the 90 passengers, all of them miners, are waking up. “Welcome to Gahcho Kué,” the purser chants in a hoarse voice.
Gahcho Kué means “place of the big rabbits” in the indigenous Chipewyan language. But for outsiders, the name is synonymous with diamonds. The Gahcho Kué mine, owned by the De Beers company, is located in Canada’s Northwest Territories, about two-hour by plane from Edmonton, Alberta. It looks a bit like a lunar base, stranded on the tundra, endlessly flat and white.
After they land, the miners make their way onto a pair of school buses. The men are quiet. Later they arrive at the entrance of the camp, which is made of prefabricated huts arranged in parallel lines. A stern young man calls for silence. He wants to fill the miners in on what they missed during the two weeks they were away. He has both good and bad news: no diseases or serious incidents, but a few minor injuries. The miners go straight to their dormitories, ready to work.
Nearly 300 employees live in Gahcho Kué, where they’re cut off from the outside world. For the operational staff, the isolation lasts for two weeks and is followed by a two-week break. The managers work for four days and take a three-day break.
The staff rotates via plane, flying in and out of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories and home to the Yellowknife Indian tribe. The city, population 22,000, was once one of jumping off points for the Klondike Gold Rush, in the late 19th century. Since then, the diamond rush has replaced the gold fever.
As backwater as Yellowknife may seem, Gahcho Kué, 280 km north, is more isolated still. There is no road or train, so the mine has to be fully self-sufficient. The site includes a fire station, a clinic and a restaurant where the chef, Mark Plouffe, makes sure that the miners eat fruits, vegetables and meat. The person in charge is Allan Rodel. “Managing Gahcho Kué is like managing a small town,” he says.
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