Baffin trio strikes gem of a deal

“He saw something blue and shiny out of his peripheral vision”

By JIM BELL

Make way for the little guys.

Seemeega Aqpik of Kimmirut and his partners, Nowdlak Aqpik of Kimmirut and Chris Lloyd of Iqaluit, are proving this summer that you don’t need a multi-national corporation behind you to take part in Nunavut’s mineral exploration boom.

The three Baffin residents, who hold the rights to two promising sapphire deposits near Kimmirut, cut a deal last summer that could generate a lot of pay-days for Kimmirut.

“Right now, we want to work together for everyone’s benefit,” Aqpik said in an interview last week.

Last year, Aqpik and his partners entered into a hush-hush deal with a small but ambitious junior exploration firm: True North Gems Inc. of Vancouver.

According to financial information disclosed on the company’s web site, True North has agreed to give Aqpik’s firm $70,000 plus 50,000 shares in True North for each of the two sapphire deposits near Kimmirut, plus 2 per cent of royalties from gemstone production.

In return, the company promises to spend $125,000 over four years to explore the site. If True North meets that commitment, the company will earn a 100 per cent interest in the property.

True North Gems is best known for being the developer of the Regal Ridge emerald deposit in the Yukon. They also control the 5,500-hectare Fiskenaesset ruby property in the Qeqertarsuatsiaat district of Greenland, about 160 kilometres south of Nuuk.

The company’s goal is to become a major player in the production of the world’s most highly sought-after coloured gemstones: emeralds, rubies and sapphires, known as the “big three.”

Thanks to Seemeega Aqpik’s keen-eyed brother, True North was able eventually to add sapphires to their gemstone portfolio.

Though Aqpik staked a claim to the site in 2002, the family knew about the sapphire deposit well before that time — because Seemeega’s brother noticed it while on a recreational ATV ride one afternoon.

“He saw something blue and shiny out of his peripheral vision, then turned around to see what it was and it was a sapphire,” Aqpik said.

After taking some samples of the shiny blue stones, Aqpik showed them to geologists from BHP who were in town to do geophysical surveys in other areas of south Baffin. One suggested that it might be sapphire.

Then they showed the samples to Mark Webber, a former Arctic College jewelry instructor. Webber had them tested and confirmed that the blue rock was indeed sapphire.

“So then I decided to stake it,” Aqpik said.

But after doing some research, he discovered that someone else held the right to explore the area for minerals. After waiting patiently — and very quietly — for the old agreement to expire, Aqpik and his partners registered their claim in 2002.

Then they approached True North Gems. True North’s former president, Bernard Gaboury, flew to Kimmirut in 2003 to see the site for himself, and was so impressed he worked out the option deal with Aqpik and his partners that led to an exploration program that started near Kimmirut last month.

Natural blue sapphires, like those found near Kimmirut, are rare. Many sapphires sold around the world are white, yellow, pink, purple or orange when they’re taken out of ground, and must be heat-treated to produce the highly-desired blue colour.

Sapphires and rubies are actually the same mineral: known to rock-hounds as corundum, a form of crystallized aluminum oxide. It’s trace amounts of titanium in the crystals that make them look blue. Rubies owe their red colour to tiny amounts of chromium in the crystal.

Most of the world’s sapphires come from mines in Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, with a few coming from Australia, and the U.S. state of Montana. The most expensive sapphire ever sold is the 62-carat Rockefeller Sapphire, which sold for $3 million U.S. at an auction held in 2001.

True North Gems believes the “Beluga” deposit, as they now call it, has the potential for economic production of sapphires.

The area near Kimmirut that they hold rights to is small: about 1.004 hectares, or 2.5 acres in size, and overlaps Kimmirut’s municipal boundary. But if this year’s exploration efforts prove that theory to be correct, the Beluga deposit could turn into Canada’s first commercial sapphire operation.

This year, the sapphire-hunters are focusing on rock that’s about three by 30 metres in size at the surface.

Using a portable drill and a diamond saw, a crew from Kimmirut has dug a pit that’s about three metres in diameter and about two metres deep. They will extract at least 10 tonnes of rock that will be sent to Iqaluit to be crushed, sorted and sent south for testing.

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