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Home Story Five sparkling features of Canada’s diamond capital

Five sparkling features of Canada's diamond capital

They hid deep in the Earth for 2 billion years. Off the map. In the wild. Forged in fire and ice. They are glamorous, romantic, everlasting, delicate and yet nearly indestructible. And when you see the land that makes them, or bedeck yourself with their beauty, you’ll be shining too.
Here are five sparkling reasons why Yellowknife is Canada’s capital of diamonds.

Remote riches

From deep in our ancient tundra comes the world’s most sought-after stones: diamonds. Every year we pluck them from the permafrost by the tens of thousands. The Northwest Territories is currently home to three producing diamond mines – Ekati, Diavik and Gahcho Kué – generating the vast majority of Canada’s diamond wealth. All three mines are located in our most remote region, the Barrenlands. Yellowknife sits a few hundred kilometres to the southwest and acts as a major expediting and service hub for the mines, which employ thousands of people and are the biggest private contributor to the North’s economy.

The great diamond rush

Until the early 1990s, nobody believed Canada had diamonds. Nobody, that is, except a bull-headed prospector who wouldn’t give up on his dream. Chuck Fipke searched the Barrenlands of the Northwest Territories for years, convinced that something about this place seemed right for diamonds. Turns out he was correct. In 1991, he struck paydirt. What followed was the greatest staking rush in Canadian history. He was an instant multi-millionaire, and by 1998, the Northwest Territories was home to the country’s first operating diamond mine.

A cut above

Located in the heart of Yellowknife, the NWT Diamond Centre is part museum, part gem store, part performance centre. Here, interpretive displays explain the geology and industry of Northern diamond mining. You can also watch expert diamond carvers display their skills, turning rough diamonds into polished gems. And if you’re dazzled by what you see, you can buy a bit of “bling” for yourself.

Million-dollar finds

It’s the largest diamond ever discovered in Canada – and it was a total fluke. The 187.7-carat Foxfire, found in the Northwest Territories in December 2015, emerged from a patch of ground that experts thought contained only small gems. The Foxfire was so big that the sorting machine should have filtered it out and sent it to the waste-rock crusher – but somehow, the diamond slipped through. It’s expected to be sold at auction for many millions of dollars.

Credit: Diavik Diamond Mines (2012) Inc.

One shining road

If you’re a fan of Ice Road Truckers, you’ll know that Canada’s longest ice road is built every winter to service the Northwest Territories’ diamond mines. Running from Yellowknife to the Nunavut border, the Tibbitt-to-Contwoyto Winter Road traverses 560 kilometres of Northern boreal forest and Barrenlands. You can drive it, but be prepared: There’s no gas, food, lodging or other services along the way. Here’s what there is: an endless expanse of glittering wilderness, plus, quite likely, diamonds lying deep beneath your wheels.