Eira Thomas: Top 40 under 40 (2005)

Published: 14/06/2013

By TARA WOHLBERG, Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but Eira Thomas, president and CEO of Stornoway Diamond Corp., insists that the thrill of the chase is what drew her to geology, not the commodity. “I have always loved spending time in the field,” she says. That love of the North led her to study geology at the University of Toronto. Not surprising for a kid who spent childhood summers “bushed” with her geologist father near Yellowknife, in the wilds of the Northwest Territories.

Canadian diamond exploration is in its infancy, yet Canada is already the third largest diamond producer by value.

“There was a lot of skepticism at the beginning. The attitude was, ‘Wouldn’t we have found them by now?’ ” Ms. Thomas recalls. She led the 1994 exploration team while working for the Aber Diamond Corp., which discovered the Diavik Diamond mine, currently viewed as the richest diamond mine in the world. Canada’s first diamond mine went into production in 1998 and today there are more than 100 companies searching for diamonds in the eastern Artic.

Vancouver-based Stornoway, which was born in 2003 of a merger between Stornoway Ventures and Northern Empire Minerals, is traded on the TSX. It has raised over $45-million for diamond exploration since 2002 and has a 2005 exploration budget of $20-million.

Stornoway and its partners’ discovery of the first significant patch of diamond-bearing kimberlite in eastern Nunavut triggered a major land rush. Ms. Thomas has backed an aggressive land-acquisition strategy that now exceeds 23-million acres, although the treasure hunt for diamondiferous kimberlite, which looks like bluish, grey concrete, isn’t glamorous.

“The journey from mine to finger is long,” she explains, “but it is environmentally friendly. Diamond mining requires no chemicals and has a limited impact on the landscape. We leave a very small footprint and don’t need any infrastructure. You can fly out a week’s worth of production in a suitcase.” She believes diamond development could sustain and foster economic growth and development in the North, where unemployment levels can hit 100 percent.