[Canada] Northern diamonds in the rough – by Lisa Wright (Toronto Star – April 23, 2011)

Lisa Wright is a business reporter with the Toronto Star, which has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on Canada’s federal and provincial politics as well as shaping public opinion. This article was originally published April 23, 2011.

These women know the drill in a quest for a girl’s best friend

It was the little Canadian diamond mine that could – then fell off the rails.

Hopes were high for the Jericho mine when it started cranking out carats five years ago in Nunavut, 420 km northeast of Yellowknife. But operational setbacks, the strong loonie, skyrocketing oil prices and sinking rough diamond prices all took their toll. Former owner Tahera Diamond Corp. went into bankruptcy protection and was forced to mothball it less than two years into production.

But the daughter of a Canadian mining icon and a very determined geologist hope to breathe new life into this former gem after purchasing the shuttered property last year with a goal of reopening it as early as next year.

“Ultimately we bought Jericho with a view that it wasn’t irreparably broken, but there is a lot of work to do to get it to where we want it,” says Julie Lassonde, executive chairman of the mine’s new owner Shear Diamonds Ltd.

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Mining for victory [Inco, Nickel, World War Two] – by Stan Sudol (National Post – August 25, 2005)

Inco World War Two Poster
Inco World War Two Poster

Stan Sudol is a Toronto-based communications consultant who writes extensively on mining issues. stan.sudol@republicofmining.com

The Royal Canadian Mint last spring introduced the Victory Anniversary Nickel to commemorate the sacrifices and achievements of our fighting forces in the Second World War. In Sudbury and Port Colborne, Ont., that victory coin has many additional memories, especially for Inco Ltd and its work force.

During the war years, International Nickel Company of Canada, as it was known back then, and its employees in Sudbury and Port Colborne, supplied 95% of all Allied demands for nickel — a vital raw material critical for our final victory.

In fact, for much of the past century the leading source of this essential metal was the legendary Sudbury Basin; the South Pacific island of New Caledonia came a distant second. Until the mid-seventies, Sudbury supplied up to 90% of world demand during some periods.

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[Viola MacMillian] The Prospector in the Pink Penthouse – by Christina MaCall

This article was originally published in Maclean’s magazine on July 20, 1957.

Viola MacMillan believes “anybody can do anything” and has mink, a mansion, a Miami apartment and mines worth $10,000,000 to prove it

Mining papers credit her with building the Prospectors and Developers
Association from a loosely knit agglomeration of fieldmen and promoters
into a powerful organization representing one of the most important
segments of the mining industry.

The Prospector in the Pink Penthouse

Canada’s sprawling two-billion-dollar mining industry owes its boom to a motley army of men: sleek brokers in big city offices, lonely prospectors in frontier camps, geologists and bush pilots, road builders, professional engineers. But their spokesperson is a women who lives in a pink penthouse, wears a mink coat and buys size ten dresses from Sophie of Saks.

For fourteen years Viola Rita MacMillan has been president of the Prospectors and Developers Association, the largest organization of mining men on the continent, and in that time she has made scores of biting speeches that lash out at anything and everything impeding the development of mining. The sophisticated apartment and the soigné clothes are really only trappings. As she says herself, “I’m a miner. I love this business and I want to stay in it until I die.”

She doesn’t look much like a miner she so proudly calls herself. A small woman, she stands just over five feet tall and weighs little more than a hundred pounds. She has alert cobalt-blue eyes and short dark hair. The most striking thing about Voila MacMillan is the agility and speed of her movements. She darts about so quickly that bigger people sometimes feel almost cumbersome, when they are in her presence.

Mrs. MacMillan often says with firm conviction that Canada’s future greatness depends to a large extent on the growth of the mineral industry. For more than thirty years she has dedicated her unusual energy and persistence to that industry. In returen she has gained both money and prestige.

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Ramp-Up: A Study on the Status of Women in Canada’s Mining and Exploration Sector – Executive Summary

Women in Mining (WIM) Canada is a non-profit, industry-led group tasked with advancing the interests of women in the metals and minerals sectors. WIM Canada seeks to provide Employers, Employees, and Educators with tools and resources to break down barriers to employment, improve advancement opportunities, and ultimately increase the representation of Women in leadership positions. www.wimcanada.org

Executive Summary

Canadian women in mining and exploration represent a highly-skilled talent pool in a range of occupations, from CEOs, engineers, and geologists, to heavy equipment operators, and related industry workers. Recognizing the value of this resource to the sector, and concerned about women’s under-representation and underemployment, Women in Mining (WIM) Canada initiated the Ramp-UP study. Its purpose is to gather data on the issue and establish a baseline for measuring improvements.

The study gathered baseline statistical data on the representation of women as well as the perspectives of four key stakeholders, Female Employees, Employers, Female Students, and Educators on issues such as:

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Women In Mining Meet the Mining Mogul Contest Winners Announced at PDAC Convention

March 4, 2009

The three winners were announced yesterday in the Meet the Mining Mogul contest, a first of its kind, put on by the Women in Mining (WiM) networks in Toronto and Vancouver. Each has won a one-hour private meeting with one of the three mining financiers who agreed to be the “prizes” in the contest, which is part of a fund-raising effort by the Women in Mining for The Townships Project.

A one-hour meeting with Frank Giustra of Fiore Financial will be the prize claimed by Guy Saucier. U.S. Gold’s Rob McEwen will meet with Karen Sutherland for an hour’s chat. And Eric Sprott of Sprott Asset Management will meet with Virginia Heffernan.

The Meet the Mining Mogul contest was part of an ambitious fund-raising effort by the Canadian WiM branches to support microloans for impoverished people in the township areas of South Africa. Their goal is to raise $250,000 this winter for the Toronto-based registered charity. Every donation in the campaign up to the time of yesterday’s draw was an entry in the contest. The amount of money raised for the charity at press time was $75,035, but that amount was expected to rise with the publicity that has been generated for the campaign during the Prospectors and Developers of Canada annual convention in Toronto this week, with an attendance of 18,000.

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Canadian Women In Mining Townships Project Offers Choice of Three Mining Moguls – by Marilyn Scales

Marilyn Scales is a field editor for the Canadian Mining Journal, Canada’s first mining publication. She is one of Canada’s most senior mining commentators. What do Eric Sprott, Rob McEwen and Frank Guistra have in common? They have volunteered to be the prizes in a draw of people who donate to The Townships Project, a …

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Women Into Mining Jobs at Inco: Challenging the Gender Division of Labour – Jennifer Keck and Mary Powell (Part 5 of 5)

Submitted to the Inord Working Paper Series, June 30, 2000

Jennifer Keck, Ph.D. Associate Professor – School of Social Work

Mary Powell, Ph.D. Associate Professor – Department of Political Science

Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario

Getting Active in the Local ‘we were part of a generation that stood up for our rights’

Like most of the men they worked with, the majority of the women were not radical. They were prepared to challenge conventional gender prescriptions to earn a man’s wage but few of them considered themselves feminists or were interested in broader political struggles. Still, few of the women remained untouched by the militancy of mining work culture and the impact of women’s movement in the 1970s. It was not long before a small number of women emerged who were willing to hold the company and the union- to the original promise that they would be treated the ‘same as men’ and receive ‘equal treatment and opportunities.’

Women became active with the union under much the same conditions as new male workers. They were recruited early, often after complaining about conditions on the shop floor, and put on health and safety committees at the various plants. The first two women union stewards took office in 1975; women were also elected as delegates to the Ontario Federation of Labour convention the following year. While the union gave early support for the women to become active, there was generally more support for the women working on traditional union issues than there was for their attempt to challenge differences based on gender. This was probably not surprising given the large number of male workers and the union’s traditional support for the family wage.

A women’s committee was established in 1977 to address this problem. One of the organizers challenged the company and the union in an article that appeared in the union’s newsletter, The Searcher: “Over the last three years women have had to prove themselves to the company and the union. As women workers we share and support the concerns and struggles of our brothers… Now we want to be active so we can have a voice in our local… that is not our privilege, it is our right.’(22)

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Women Into Mining Jobs at Inco: Challenging the Gender Division of Labour – Jennifer Keck and Mary Powell (Part 4 of 5)

Submitted to the Inord Working Paper Series, June 30, 2000

Jennifer Keck, Ph.D. Associate Professor – School of Social Work

Mary Powell, Ph.D. Associate Professor – Department of Political Science

Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario

While there was little publicity about the issue, sexual harassment was another reminder that the women were ‘different’ workers. Sexual harassment demonstrates the complex relationship between sexuality and the paid workplace and is one of the ways men used sexuality to maintain masculine dominance in the workplace. Harassment took many forms. Sometimes it involved foremen or shift bosses. One woman was assigned extra work shovelling asphalt after she refused the invitation to go to her foreman’s camp after work.

Another woman described a more threatening situation that involved a shift supervisor: “he would say to me, okay come with me and he would take another guy and bring us to this god forsaken place where no-one’s ever going to work there because it’s full of dust and muck and he’d say, oh, I forgot to get the tools and he’d send the guy down, then he’s left alone with me and he’d try rubbing his private area against my knee and I told him, if he appreciates talking in a deep tone he wouldn’t do it ever again. But then he tried calling me at home and asking me if I would meet him and I told him I’m not desperate for company and that I don’t sleep with a pig.”

While sexual harassment by supervisors was serious because management had more control over the women’s working conditions, women often found it difficult to deal with harassment by co-workers. This was a contentious issue with both men and women. Part of the problem was that masculine work culture was already highly sexualized before the women entered the workplace.

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Women Into Mining Jobs at Inco: Challenging the Gender Division of Labour – Jennifer Keck and Mary Powell (Part 3 of 5)

Submitted to the  The Institute of Northern Ontario Research and Development (INORD) Working Paper Series, June 30, 2000

Jennifer Keck, Ph.D. Associate Professor – School of Social Work

Mary Powell, Ph.D. Associate Professor – Department of Political Science

Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario
Getting Started: ‘You got dirty and tired but you showered… and the pay was good’

Like their male co-workers the women began as process labourers. The work involved shoveling, sweeping, hosing down dirty areas and in some cases painting and unloading supplies. The women responded to the first day with more than the usual apprehension.

“You have no idea what to expect… when we first walked in we saw these flotation cells and they’re all bubbling and its seems like it’s really hot, it was very scary… walking over the grating and looking down three floors…I had never seen this kind of machinery in my life.”

It took awhile to get used to the heavy machinery and the noise, dirt and smell of an industrial work environment.

“In the mill it was really dirty, from the time you walked in you were dirty. Like I got dirty just looking at it. There was a smell of lime, varsol and sometimes when the gas was coming in you’d have to sit in the lunch room. Lots of noise. It’s like nothing in your experience… it’s not like walking into an office cause everybody knows what an office looks like.”

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Women Into Mining Jobs at Inco: Challenging the Gender Division of Labour – Jennifer Keck and Mary Powell (Part 2 of 5)

Submitted to the  The Institute of Northern Ontario Research and Development (INORD)Working Paper Series, June 30, 2000

Jennifer Keck, Ph.D. Associate Professor – School of Social Work

Mary Powell, Ph.D. Associate Professor – Department of Political Science

Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario

The Women: ‘It was good money and I thought I could do the job’

It was just sort of a competition one day. Why don’t you go and apply and so I did. I just went at the beginning of the day and stood in line with all the men and all that. They would either say that we are hiring or we are not. … you would get some strange looks too. Here you are standing in this line with all these men… but actually there was quite a few women in the line.

While their hiring was of historical significance few of the women who applied in 1974 were interested in being the first women to break new ground for women in mining. Like the men, they were motivated first and foremost by the prospect of a ‘good job’ at Inco and its promise of better pay, benefits, and job security.

The women heard about the jobs from family, friends and the media. News that Inco was willing to hire women was widespread: ‘I don’t know anyone in that small community who hadn’t heard that Inco was hiring.’ While some women thought they would be the only ones interested in such work, they were surprised to find that there were hundreds of applicants.

Everyone seemed to be talking about the fact that Inco was going to open their doors and I thought here I am almost 5’8″ a 160 pounds strong and I’ll just go and apply… the woman behind the counter said I suppose you think you are one of the first… then she preceded to show me file cabinets full of applications… hundreds and hundreds… I would have imagined thousands of applications were in.

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Women Into Mining Jobs at Inco: Challenging the Gender Division of Labour – Jennifer Keck and Mary Powell (Part 1 of 5)

Submitted to the The Institute of Northern Ontario Research and Development (INORD) Working Paper Series, June 30, 2000

Jennifer Keck, Ph.D. Associate Professor – School of Social Work

Mary Powell, Ph.D. Associate Professor – Department of Political Science

Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario


In 1974 Sue Benoit was a single mother with a five year old daughter living in Levack, a small mining community located outside of Sudbury, Ontario. After leaving an abusive marriage she was living with her parents and working as a cashier at the local grocery story. She worked long hours for low pay: “That was rough because the total pay to take home was seventy dollars a week and I had to pay $25 for the babysitter and $25 for rent. You’d have to be there at eight and the store didn’t close until six and then you’d usually have to balance the tills… by the time you got home it was seven o’clock. It was hard, really hard with a baby.” When she heard that Inco was hiring women for hourly rated blue collar jobs at the Levack mill for the first time since WWII: “it was just like heaven.”

It was an historic occasion when Benoit and other women were hired as blue collar workers at Inco. While the women were not the first generation of women to enter the mining industry, they were the first to enter as permanent workers. With the exception of a brief period during WWII, it was illegal in Ontario for mining companies to hire women at surface operations. The law was changed in 1970.(2)

Between 1974 and 1976 the company hired 100 women for hourly rated jobs at the company’s surface mining operations in Sudbury. The company’s decision was significant because it opened up highly paid, unionized jobs in an industry that was historically closed to women. Access to these jobs had a particular significance for women in a local economy dominated by a single industry- mining- and a labour market shaped by the hiring practices of two multinational mining companies. At the time Inco was the community’s largest and most prestigious industrial employer and its workers earned one of the highest industrial wages in the country.

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Three Mining Moguls support Women in Mining initiative in South Africa

The Townships Project - Mrs. Nozakhe Jacob, butcher, Site B Train Station, Khayelitsha, near Cape Town, South AfricaThree well-known Canadian mining financiers and philanthropists have agreed to donate their time and support to the latest Canadian mining industry social cause. In a “Dragon’s Den meets The Apprentice” format, Frank Giustra, Rob McEwen and Eric Sprott have agreed to meet with the winners of a MEET THE MINING MOGUL contest being organized by the WOMEN IN MINING to support a CDN$250,000 fundraiser for microlending in South Africa. (See biographies below.)

Rob McEwen, who is CEO of US GOLD, comments about his reason for supporting this fundraiser: “I believe in the concept of instilling confidence, causing people to believe in themselves and to strive towards financial independence. Microlending exists for that purpose.” Contest winners will be announced during the International Women in Mining Reception on March 3, 2009, at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada Convention in Toronto.

The major initiative, launched today by the Women in Mining (WIM) networks (www.women-in-mining.com) in Toronto and Vancouver, aims to raise $250,000 by March 2009 to benefit impoverished people in South Africa. WIM’s latest corporate social responsibility initiative builds on its successful fundraising campaign for breast cancer research, raising over $232,000 in 2007 primarily from private donations and companies in the mining industry.

The 600 members of WIM are seeking donations to The Townships Project, a registered Canadian charity that supports microfinance institutions (MFIs) in township areas in South Africa. The Townships Project - Mrs. Kalan Makes Choir Gowns for Local Churches

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Mining Women in the City (Toronto-style) – by Jane Werniuk

Several members of the Women in Mining Network at the WIM reception during the Toronto, Canada, PDAC convention in March 2008. From left to right: Rosario Astuvilca of the Bedford Group, Catharine Shaw of Golder Associates, Sue Hebert (assistant deputy minister of mines in Ontario), Jane Werniuk of Canadian Mining Journal, Pat Dillon of Teck Cominco, MaryAnn Mihychuk of Hudbay Minerals, and Kim MacDonald of the PDAC. Photo Credit: Stan Sudol


Small groups, organizations and networks of women related to the mining industry have existed for decades all over the world.  Until recently, there has been little or no interaction between any of them. That all changed in the summer of 2007 when a major fund-raising effort captured the imagination of mining industry people across the country and beyond.

The Women in Mining (WIM) – Toronto Branch decided to form a team for the two-day, 60-km Weekend to End Breast Cancer, an annual event benefiting the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation, one of the top five comprehensive cancer research centres in the world. 

During lunch in June after one of the many training walks, one of the team suggested that a goal of $200,000 and taking first place in the overall fund-raising was “not only reasonable but easily achievable” given the links that each of the members had and the size of the industry.  This was quite a feat considering the event had over 5,300 walkers, 1,000 volunteers and raised $17.3 million that year.

The goal was achieved through extensive communication and networking.  Links were established with branches across Canada, the US and around the world.  Everyone was committed to the cause as it represented a very loud voice for women in mining and also showed just how much the mining industry cared.  Over 399 donations came in, including money from 66 companies involved in mining, engineering, law or finance—a virtual Who’s Who of large and small mining firms.  The WIM team was recognized for its efforts by Canadian Mining Hall of Fame chair Don Worth during his organization’s annual dinner in Toronto in January 2008. 

Downsview Park, Toronto, at the start of the second day of the Weekend to End Breast Cancer walk. From left to right: Cathy Fletcher, Amanda Fletcher, Fabiola Astuvilca, Rosario Astuvilca, Jane Werniuk, Catharine Shaw, Kate Armstrong, Ingrid Hann. Photo Credit: Team mate Monica OspinaThe walk was a major catalyst for other opportunities: increasing membership across all Branches; seeking out, discovering and communicating with other WIM groups around the world; launching WIM networks in other locations, across Canada and in such places as Moscow, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru. 

The Inaugural International WIM Reception at the PDAC convention in March 2008 drew a crowd of 450.  Golder Associates shared half its double booth at the PDAC trade show with WIM, giving the group a highly coveted base for publicizing its reception.

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Inco’s Sudbury Nickel Mines were Critical During World War Two (Part 5 of 7) – by Stan Sudol

Women Working at Inco During Second World WarWomen working for International Nickel

Since 1890, Ontario mining legislation had prohibited the employment of women in mines. Using its powers under the War Measures Act, the federal government issues an order-in-council on August 13, 1942 allowing women to be employed, but only in surface operations. On September 23, 1942, a second order-in-council was issued to allow women into the Port Colborne refinery.

Over 1,400 women were hired for productions and maintenance jobs for the duration of the war. They performed a variety of jobs such as operating ore distributors, repairing cell flotation equipment, piloting ore trains and working in the machine shop.

Twenty-one year old Elizabeth “Lisa” Dumencu, a resident of Lively, a Sudbury suburb, answered the call. “Women didn’t normally do this type of work, but we had to do our part,” she recalls. “It was really remarkable, but my husband Peter, worked even harder underground at Creighton mine.”

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Canadian Mining Women Plow More Money into Fighting Breast Cancer – by Jane Werniuk and Kate Armstrong

The Women are back, and they’re walking (well, … just barely!).

We are referring to the nine-member team of the WOMEN IN MINING (WIM) Toronto Branch as they participated for the second time in the annual, 60-km Weekend To End Breast Cancer (WEBC) on September 6-7, 2008.

The walk benefits the Campbell Family Institute at the PRINCESS MARGARET HOSPITAL FOUNDATION in Toronto. The Princess Margaret is one of the top five comprehensive cancer research centres in the world. In total, 4,757 walkers supported by over 1,000 volunteers raised over $13 million this year for the fight to end breast cancer. The Foundation has raised $79 million since the inaugural walk in 2003.

The WIM Toronto Branch team trained over the summer and approached their friends, family and colleagues for donations. For the most part, the team only approached individuals this year, collecting just over $57,000 in about 300 donations. This included a major contribution of more than $20,000 from DE BEERS CANADA and its employees in honour of Faye Logan, a De Beers geologist who lost her life to cancer this summer. Other corporate donations came from SCOTT WILSON RPA, GOLDER ASSOCIATES, EXCELLON RESOURCES, SANDVIK and THE BEDFORD CONSULTING GROUP.

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