Stockpile of mineral samples opens to the public in Yellowknife

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On Friday, the minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment cut the ribbon on a special kind of motherlode.

The ceremony marked the opening of the world’s largest publicly accessible collection of kimberlite, the main type of rock known to produce significant diamond deposits.

Sidney Cohen/NNSL photo
From left to right, Mohan Denetto, regional director of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, prospector Dave Nickerson, Wally Schumann, the minister of Industry Tourism and Investment, and prospector Walt Humphries cut the ribbon Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 on a brand new mineral storage facility in Yellowknife.

“It might sound a little bit funny or over the top that we’re here to open a warehouse with a bunch of rocks in it,” Wally Schumann told the small crowd that had gathered.

But, he continued, mining is central to the NWT economy, and geoscience is the “foundation of mining.”

The 900-square-metre Geological Materials Storage Facility, located across from the Buffalo Airways Hangar near the airport, houses about 50 kiloemtres of drill core from about 500 diamond drill holes. It’s also home to glacial till and stream sediment samples, petrographic thin sections (thinly cut samples for viewing under a microscope) and geochemical powders.

Core samples stored in the unheated warehouse have been donated by exploration companies.

The facility allows prospective investors to examine existing core and could eliminate the need to travel to properties of interest and drill for new samples.

“The thing about mineral properties is they change hands all the time and ideas about the rocks change all the time,” said Scott Cairns, manager of mineral deposits and bedrock mapping with the GNWT.

For example, a core may have been tested for silver in the 1960s but not for gold, copper or other elements.

“A decade or more ago it was quite expensive to analyze for a suite of elements,” said Cairns. Technologicial advancements have slashed those costs.

“Now you can get about 32 elements analyzed for about $15 a sample,” he said.

Semi-retired prospector Walt Humphries aid the facility will make his job “better and easier.”

Drill cores are typically stored on their respective properties, said Humphries in an interview Monday. Having all the samples in one place means prospectors can save time and money that would otherwise be spent on travelling among properties to look at different cores.

Humphries believes easy access to samples at the facility will encourage more work for prospectors.

All specimens in the facility are free, and no one company can lay claim over a core. Once a sample is in the territorial government’s collection, it is available to everyone.

If a company wants to do destructive testing on a sample, they must strike a deal with the Northwest Territories Geological Survey office to ensure they as much data as possible from that sample.

That information then becomes public.

In exchange for the data, the government offers assessment credits that can go toward keeping claims in good standing.

Economically viable diamond deposits occur in about one per cent of kimberlite around the world, according to the Alberta Geological Survey.

The storage facility in Yellowknife was made possible by funds allocated to the territory through devolution.

“It doesn’t look like much,” said Schumann of the unheated building. “But I bet you if you’re in the mining industry this is a very important building when you’re looking at a project.”

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