From Cupcakes to Diamonds, the Mining Stories that Inspire
Amazing Women Galvanizing a New Generation in Mining
In the midst of life's everyday hustle, there are moments that shimmer with unexpected magic. I walked through my front door the other day, to the happy welcome of my 3.5-year-old daughter, a bundle of enthusiasm. "Tommy, Tommy!" She cried, as she hurried me into the kitchen, where my wife, our 2-year-old daughter, and my in-laws sat, all flushed with anticipation. They handed me a cupcake, promising that it held the secret to our third child's gender, catching me entirely off guard. Taking a bite, I discovered pink icing inside, and in that sweet moment, I realized I was blessed to expect another wonderful daughter.
After my visit to the Madsen gold mine in July, my 3.5-year-old became captivated by gold mining tales. While we swam together recently, she asked for another story. I made one up about a young girl who ventured into a cave in search of gold but found herself trapped. A dynamite blast set her free, revealing the richest gold vein she’d ever seen. With this newfound wealth, she surprised her dad with a new house and swimming pool. She loved the story and begged to hear it again and again.
When she was a small child, Viola MacMillan's brother, Joe, would regale her with vivid tales of the underground riches in the silver mine where he worked. Sadly, tragedy struck when Viola was just a teenager; the Spanish Flu claimed Joe's life. Viola embarked on an ambitious journey, disguising herself as a man to explore the very mine Joe had worked in. This began her legendary career in Canadian mining.
Viola and her husband, George, transitioned into prospectors. Armed with legal knowledge from her stenographer days, she shrewdly drafted agreements. At the height of the Great Depression, Viola established an investment firm, financing prospectors. She eventually built ViolaMac Mines into a multi-asset producer, and amassed considerable wealth.
But Viola's legacy extended beyond financial success. She transformed the Prospectors and Developers Association from a modest organisation into Canada's foremost mining trade group and conference. In 1991, she became the first woman inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, leaving a major mark on the industry.
In May 1994, a young female geologist led a diamond exploration campaign in Canada's Northwest Territories. The last drill hole of the season, with the company teetering on financial ruin, yielded an astounding 2-carat diamond glimmering in the drill-core. Eira Thomas slept with the diamond under her pillow, then flew to Vancouver to present it to her CEO. Aber Resources' stock soon skyrocketed from mere pennies to over $50.
Eira continued her remarkable journey, developing more diamond mines, orchestrating the sale of a Yukon gold project for $520 million, and dedicating 17 years to serving on the board of major energy producer Suncor. She is still a prominent figure in the mining industry today.
Catherine McLeod-Seltzer found herself unexpectedly let go from a brokerage firm at the age of 32. Determined to make the most of a tight budget for Christmas gifts, she baked cookies for her family. In a twist of fate, Catherine earned the trust of an American geologist. They joined forces to explore Peru, ultimately leading to the discovery of a major gold mine and $1.1 billion sale in 1996, just three years later after her abrupt dismissal.
Teaming up once again in Peru with the same geologist, Catherine ventured into copper exploration, culminating in an $840 million sale in 2007. She also collaborated with Eira Thomas on a diamond miner. Today, Catherine chairs the board of major gold producer Kinross ($9.15 billion market cap).
At the tender age of 14, Alexandra Woodyer Sherron started cold-calling mining companies listed in the Yellow Pages. Over time, she rose from an analyst to the position of Director Structure Finance at a prestigious mining finance house, Endeavour Financial, which raised billions for emerging miners.
Alexandra co-founded Empress Royalty Corp (TSXV:EMPR) in 2020 to help junior companies transitioning into production and expanding production. Alexandra's strategy involves creating, not purchasing, royalties using her extensive experience and network. Empress ($32 million market cap) has delivered an impressive initial rate of return averaging around 30%, emerging as a promising player in this lucrative niche.
Gina Rinehart, Australia's wealthiest person, assumed control of Hancock Prospecting in 1992, channelling investments into iron ore projects. Substantial mining operations were developed on her lands, reaping immense profits during the early 21st-century commodities boom, fuelled by China's steel industry.
Mining often transcends generations, with knowledge and passion handed down. Viola's brother initiated her journey into mining, and Eira, Catherine, Alexandra, and Gina all had mining legends as fathers. This isn't to diminish their individual achievements, but it underscores the role of a family background in their mining success, regardless of gender.
A stroll through the PDA conference, founded by Viola MacMillan, spotlights the ongoing male dominance in the mining game. Some have speculated that women may be too savvy and risk-averse for the industry, but change is afoot. Among my peers, Daniela Cambone is an incredible mining educator through her interviews; she sits on the ARIS Mining board. Kelly Earle played a big role in two recent mining wins (Hot Maden & Eskay Creek). And Gwen Preston is all about helping regular investors through her research; Fabiana Lara too. Countless brilliant women are rising through the ranks in finance, exploration and development. It's not just about diversity; it's about broadening the talent pool and gaining fresh perspectives. A UN study revealed that having more women on boards of directors led to 20% better outcomes.
Today, there's a pressing demand for more women in mining, and there are compelling reasons to consider it: the financial opportunities, the sense of adventure, and the opportunity to connect with incredible people.
At bedtime, I leaned over to comfort my restless daughter. This time, I shared the story of the diamond rush in Northern Canada and Eira Thomas's extraordinary discovery. As she began to drift off, I thought of Viola's brother, Joe, and the profound impact stories told in youth can have.
While I may not have the power to dictate my three girls’ future careers, I'm committed to telling them stories. I'll do my best to inspire them to become miners or pursue whatever dreams they hold dear. Because in the end, it's the stories we share that have the potential to shape the extraordinary journeys of our loved ones.