Rocky future

The mining industry is growing in Nunavut, and so is a love of all that glitters



John Thomas and his stepson Myles Gauthier hover near a white canvas tent on a hill at Iqaluit’s Sylvia Grinnell Park.

Thomas, a member of the Iqaluit Rockhound Association, has two tables set up displaying geodes, gems and minerals from all over the world. Small cubes of gold glitter on a small stone nestled in a piece of cotton in a box on the table.

“It’s pyrite,” he explains – fool’s gold.

Thomas is taking part in an event marking the culmination of Mining Week in the territory’s capital. Organizers of the Rockin’ BBQ have hired a shuttle bus to bring people the site to learn about rocks, minerals and the mining industry before munching on hotdogs.

Qikiqtaaluk Corporation, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, the Iqaluit Rockhound Association, Nunavut Arctic College and the Canada Nunavut Geo Science office pooled their resources to try and bring mining to the forefront of people’s minds last week.

Mike Hine, one of the many organizers, wore two hats. The manager of mineral development for QC and the vice-president of the Chamber of Mines, Hine says he’s trying to encourage people in the North to keep their eyes open for potential mineral resources that could be used for economic development.

“We’re trying to generate employment for Inuit and for people who live here,” he says. If people start looking at rocks a little differently either through looking for minerals such as gold and nickel, or by looking at the floor samples he has on display, the more likely it is the mineral industry will do well.

“You never know,” he says. “It’s a numbers game. The more people know about it the more likely we are to have some success.”

Hine stands in the parking lot near the back of his pickup truck. He has a power saw hooked up to a generator to show people what common rocks look like when they are cut and polished. He has slabs of granite floor tiles on display with flecks of grey and orange peeking out from their shiny surface.

“We were trying to get people to look inside because what you see on the outside is the old weathered lichen-covered rock,” he says. “The key was to get people to look at rocks a little differently.”

Inside the park, Jason Sharp stands at a picnic bench with a fully dressed hotdog. Two young girls sit across from him as he explains which minerals make up the lumps of stone on the table in front of them.
John Thomas of the Iqaluit Rockhound Association and his stepson, Myles Gauthier, with Thomas’s collection of geodes, gems and minerals.

Sharp is being billed today as the “Rock Doc” and people have been encouraged to bring in rocks they’ve found to have him identify them.

“This one’s got a bit of mustard on it,” he says, gesturing with his hotdog hand toward a small stone with what looks like a dollop of mustard on it.

After a confused look from young Anna Lyon and Elizabeth Can, Sharp explains that the colour is more likely from deposits left on the rock as it was forming in running water.

The week’s activities included school visits, a booth at NorthMart and heavy Caterpillar equipment parked outside the grocery store to attract interest.

Mining is important to the territory, Hine says, but not as important as it will be in the future.

“It’s the largest private sector employer with three operating mines,” he says. Two – Polaris and Nanisivik mines – are closing, but there are up to six projects on the verge of development.

“You use mining products in your everyday life,” he says. “Paper comes from a mine. Paper comes from trees, but trees are brown. The reason [paper is] white is because there’s a product in it from a mine that makes the paper white.”

Visitors to the park were also offered information from guides about glaciology and global positioning systems.

As the older people listened in small groups to the talk, children scurried around picking up pieces of rock and stone to bring to the Rock Doc.

“It’s all around you,” Hine says. “It’s important, you don’t see it, but we’re good at it and there are jobs involved.”

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