With a population of approximately 33,000, Nunavut is both one of the country’s largest regions (roughly the size of Western Europe) and one of its most sparsely settled. The Territory of Nunavut legally came into being in April 1999, with Iqaluit as its capital city – a status that was officially granted in 2001.
As the service centre hub to all of the Baffin region communities, the city of Iqaluit is strategically located to benefit from a largely as yet untapped mining industry. According to the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines, this industry (extraction only) represented approximately 19 per cent of the total Nunavut GDP in 2011. But according to Iqaluit Deputy Mayor Mary Wilman, there is a lot more still to come.
“The eyes of the world are on Nunavut,” she says. “We’re seen as an untouched, unexplored area with lots of potential for mineral exploration and development.”
Nunavut’s mining industry is overseen by Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporation (NTI), a separate entity that co-ordinates and manages obligations and promises made under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA).
“Until Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.’s Meadowbank Gold Mine came into production, there was no mining in Nunavut on Inuit Owned Lands,” said NTI President Cathy Towtongie.
In April 2014, Towtongie announced that NTI and Agnico Eagle Mines had concluded a series of agreements regarding exploration and mining on Inuit-owned lands. As a result, there are now 15 mineral exploration agreements in place, which will allow for the exploration of 110,241 hectares of land in the Kivalliq region.
The Meadowbank Gold Mine is an open-pit mine located about 300 kilometres west of Hudson Bay and 70 kilometres north of Baker Lake. The mine employs approximately 650 people. Gold production for 2013 totalled 430,000+ ounces. The mine is expected to produce 430,00 ounces of gold in 2014, with an average of 380,000 ounces of gold per year from 2015 through 2016, with a mine life through 2017.
In the works
The Mary River Iron Mine is another active project in Nunavut. Located on Baffin Island, it is owned by Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation. Initially, for the early revenue phase, 3.5 million tonnes of iron ore will be mined per year and transported by trucks to Milne Port and shipped to market during the open water season. As global markets improve for the prices of iron ore, the company intends to proceed with the construction and operation of the larger approved project, which could involve a production rate of 21.5 million tonnes of iron ore per year.
The first shipment of iron ore is expected to take place during the open water season of 2015.
Other mining projects in the works but not yet in commercial production include: Kiggavik, a proposed uranium mine located 80 kilometres west of Baker Lake and owned by AREVA Resources; Meliadine Gold, an Agnico Eagle Mines-owned advanced-stage gold mine located near Rankin Inlet, with 2.8 million ounces of gold in proven and probable reserves; Back River Gold deposit, which is currently in the advanced exploration and permitting stage, is located in southwestern Nunavut about 75 kilometres southwest of Bathurst Inlet and owned by Sabina Gold & Silver Corp.; Hackett River, a proposed silver mine owned by XStrate Zinc Canada and located 45 kilometres west of the Back River Gold Project; Izok Corridor Project, a proposed zinc mine owned by MMG Resources Inc.; ULU & Lupin Gold Mines, both of which are advanced exploration properties owned by Elgin Mining Inc.; and Hope Bay Project (Doris North), an early stage gold project development located about 160 kilometres southwest of Cambridge Bay and owned by Newmont Mining Corp.
Towards a new tomorrow
According to an annual global survey of mining executives released in March 2014 by the Fraser Institute, Nunavut ranks 44th out of a total of 112 worldwide jurisdictions as the most attractive jurisdiction for mining investment. The NWT, by comparison, ranked 47th.
“If we ever become an independent territorial government with more authority and powers, we will have to be more self-sustaining,” states Wilman. “Right now, we’re not. We depend solely upon the governments. We have to demonstrate that we have the natural resources available to become self sufficient.”
How and when Iqaluit – the largest city in Nunavut, with a current population of approximately 7,200 – will deal with this anticipated growth from the mining industry remains to be seen.
“As a municipal government of Iqaluit, we would need to be kept in the loop,” says Wilman. “If there is any planning going on, then we need to be at the table. As the capital city of Nunavut, any potential mineral exploration and development will certainly have an impact on our infrastructure. And we will need to be prepared to handle the demands of that growth so that we can continue to meet the needs and aspirations of young and old, Inuit and non-Inuit, long-time and new residents, business owners and employees.”
With buy-in from all parties involved – the NTI, municipal officials and the mining companies themselves – it would seem that Nunavut and its capital city Iqaluit are poised to become a future economic power engine of the north.