by Greg Klein | September 30, 2014
A $9.1-million contribution for Alzheimer’s research pushes Chuck Fipke’s total donations and pledges to the University of British Columbia past $17 million. The latest commitment, announced by UBC on September 30, will endow a professorship and buy “cutting-edge equipment” along with “the most novel and coveted brain-imaging technology.” The legendary geologist had already given the university $8.7 million, mostly for buildings and equipment at its Okanagan campus.
Fipke’s fortune comes from Canada’s first big diamond discovery. A 1973 UBC grad with a bachelor in geology, Fipke explored Papua New Guinea, South America, Australia and South Africa before returning to Canada. Along the way, his experience led him to believe diamonds were to be found in Canada’s North. While global giant De Beers spent considerable sums in its increasingly frustrating failure to find Canadian diamonds, a determined Fipke fine-tuned his expertise in indicator minerals and glacial movements, eventually drawing him and co-discoverer Stewart Blusson to the Northwest Territories’ Lac de Gras region and the historic 1992 Ekati discovery.
Fipke’s adventures, including the cloak-and-dagger schemes to keep his anticipated discovery hidden from rivals, have been recounted in books like Treasure Under the Tundra by L.D. Cross and Matthew Hart’s Diamond: The History of a Cold-Blooded Love Affair.
Although nicknamed Captain Chaos by his field crew, Fipke’s approach was described as systematic by Robert Gannicott, CEO of Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC, now Ekati’s majority owner: “The history of Canadian mining is full of stories of accidents of fate leading to discoveries, but the discovery of diamonds in the Slave Geological Province is a story of years of dedicated technical work led by a focused technical expert with unwavering belief in the outcome.”
The discovery led to four other mines in the Lac de Gras area—the Jericho past-producer, De Beers’ Snap Lake mine, the Rio Tinto NYE:RIO/Dominion Diavik operation and Gahcho Kué, a De Beers/Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV joint venture described as “the world’s largest and richest new diamond development project.” Lac de Gras is now undergoing a revival of junior exploration.