Thunder Bay | Tradeswoman of the Year
Ruth, Jessica and Veronique Bjorkman
For sisters Ruth, Jessica and Veronique Bjorkman, one of the challenging parts of being prospectors isn’t so much the work itself, but trying to explain to an outsider what it is they do for a living.
“The stigma is that somebody goes out with a donkey and a gold pan and spends months and months in the bush wandering around,” said Ruth Bjorkman, a spokesperson for the sisters. “So in reality, there’s a huge lack of understanding of what we do and where it can take you.”
Working at the family company, Bjorkman Prospecting, founded by their father Karl, the sisters traverse rugged terrain in Northwestern Ontario and beyond, on behalf of exploration mining companies, staking mineral claims, conducting GIS analyses, soil sampling and geological mapping, and preparing assessment reports on mineral finds.
It’s rare for a woman to do it. Even rarer for a trio of sisters to do it together.
But the freedom of working unencumbered and the unpredictability of the job are what appeal most to the sisters — one day they’re writing a report in office and the next they’re being flown in to a remote claim by chopper. It’s never boring, it’s always challenging, and their skill sets are unique.
“Not anyone can just go and do it,” Bjorkman said. “You have to have the desire to get out there and not be afraid to get dirty, and if something breaks down, you can’t call up CAA; you have to fix it yourself.”
Early on, the Bjorkmans’ parents fostered in their children a love of the outdoors and a passion for adventure, providing them with the flexibility to explore their interests.
“In grade school, we would stay home from school and go out with our dad because we’d rather be out in the bush than in a classroom,” Bjorkman said. “It’s something we were born into. My dad has such a passion for being out in the outdoors and working hard, and I guess it’s pretty contagious.”
Three other siblings are also invested in the industry: Katarina is a PhD student with the Center for Exploration Targeting at the University of Western Australia, while Bjorn and Karla join their sisters in the field.
Bjorkman credits their strong work ethic with guiding them through the challenges. The Bjorkmans’ Christian faith is also important; the tenant ‘love thy neighbour’ factors greatly into how they approach work and life.
They work hard, treat people with respect, and move through the world with integrity, she said, because in an industry where reputation is everything, performance is essential. “I love working with people who are honest about their work,” she said. “Honest, hard work is the number one ingredient in any job, in my opinion.”
While the sisters didn’t set out to be role models for women in the mineral and mining industry, they do recognize their vocation, uncommon amongst women, puts them in a position of influence, and they’ve taken note.
Ruth sits on the board of directors for the Northwestern Ontario chapter of Women in Mining, while Jessica sits on the board for the Northwestern Ontario Prospectors Association. They also host workshops to mentor youth and promote careers in mining.
With so many prospectors retired or retiring, Bjorkman says this is a perfect time for more women to enter the profession. It takes experience, curiosity, drive, a sense of adventure, and, she admits, a little bit of ‘gold fever,’ which can propel a prospector to stake a new claim and, just maybe, find the next big mineral deposit. “There’s this huge void of skilled, trained prospectors, and I don’t know of any other women who make a full-time career out of prospecting,” she said. “I’m pretty sure prospecting is the dream job.”