In the film Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery was the ever-suave 007 once again globetrotting from one exotic location to another, in a life and death quest for stolen diamonds and yet another evil genius hellbent on global destruction and control. Jill St. John provided the plunging neckline and expanding cleavage, while South Africa, Amsterdam, and Las Vegas gave us the de rigeur backdrops for murder, mayhem, and money. If the film were re-shot today, who could imagine Wemindji as the scene of high speed car chases, grisly murders, and gratuitous romps in the hay?

Could Wemindji be the center of a diamond rush in northern Quebec? According to a recent press release from Majescor Resources Incorporated, the largest permit holder for diamonds in the James Bay area, high priority geophysical targets have been identified on their Wemindji diamond property. On the heels of diamond discoveries in the Northwest Territory with the lucrative Ekati diamond mine, the mere mention of diamond exploration in Canada’s north can set alarm bells ringing.

Andre Audet, President of Majescor, is very encouraged by the findings in the Wemindji area. Majescor developed out of mining giant Virginia Gold as a diamond arm of the company. Virginia Gold had been doing exploration in the Wemindji area and discovered diamond indicator minerals. “Virginia Gold made the initial discovery then sold their data base to Majescor,” said Audet.

When asked about environmental testing, Audet informed me that Majescor is not at the development stage of operations, but at the earliest levels of exploration and have not begun drilling to see what lies beneath the surface. Drilling is expected to commence in the summer. According to Audet, the environmental hazards of diamond mining are less than other mined elements, like nickel and copper, since diamonds are not associated with sulfides. So far, the company has found kimberlite fragments, indicator minerals on the surface. Drilling has to be conducted in order to find the source.

Though Audet remains optimistic, diamond exploration is an expensive and high risk business and the chances of finding diamonds can be as low as one in a thousand. Audet is confident that they will find diamonds in northern Quebec, since the province “has the right geology, but to find an economical pipe (one which must contain a certain value to warrant development) will take many years of work.”

Jean-Francois Ouellette is a Rouyn-Noranda based consulting geologist who has been carrying out exploration for Majescor. He informed me that Majescor holds permits on category 2 land, about 30-50 kms. east of Wemindji. He works with small crews of two or three men and hires local Crees to help him collect samples in the bush. At this very early stage of exploration they are simply using hand shovels to collect no more than about 20 kgs. of samples at a time. Letters are sent to chiefs and economic development officers explaining the companies intent in an effort to avoid conflict. “We check with the owners of trap lines, even in category 3 land,” Ouellette said.

Ouellette provided technical information, explaining that kimberlite comes from 200m below the surface and that diamonds are found 150-200m below surface. Kimberlite pipes act like escalators that bring diamonds closer to the surface. Even if a kimberlite pipe is found, it still has to be determined whether or not it is a feasible source for a diamond mining operation. The risks are high and the costs are exorbitant.

World diamond giant De Beers has a big operation in Attawapiskat, on the west coast of James Bay, where they are ready for a feasibility study. Feasibility studies for a diamond mine can cost as much as start-up expenses for a gold mine -approximately $50 million, while the start up costs for a diamond mine can run up to a billion dollars. There are only 8-12 operating mines in the entire world. .

Should Majescor get lucky and find diamonds early on in their exploration and develop a mine, which I’m informed will take a minimum of three to five years, the environmental side-effects would include a big hole in the ground, roads that would have to be created, and a mill that would have to be built close to the site. The size of the mine is determined by the size of the kimberlite pipe, usually around 500m in width.

“We’re well aware of Majescor being in the region,” says Tony Gull, Wemindji’s E.D.O.

“Majescor have to make the community, especially trappers, aware of the nature of their exploration,” adds Gull.

“We’re there to make the community aware of what’s up. We get press releases and letters. Information is then filtered through the council.”

There are environmental concerns about the ripple effect on trap lines, hunting grounds, and animal habitats in the region. Exploration is minimal right now. There’s been no major impact to this point and no big decisions are yet required by the community . “We are cautiously educating ourselves about mining,” says Gull.

Wemindji has formed its own service company for exploration, Wemex. The aboriginal-owned company is possibly the only one of its kind in Canada. Wemex services mining companies in doing exploration and provides an opportunity for Native people to gain education and experience in the field. They provide information through their web site, There is potential for many employment opportunities in mining exploration since there is speculation that northern Quebec is a hotbed of untapped mineral resources.

“There’s room for our people to get involved,” adds Gull, “we’re focused on education and training in the field (geologists, geo-physicists). At the exploration stage there is only so much to be done. We try to keep up to date and create contacts. When it comes to mining you have to pay attention to what has happened elsewhere and learn from it. We need to balance economic development with environmental concerns. We have to respect our traditional way of life, such as the hunting grounds.”

Jim Macleod, of the Mistissini Geological Resource Center, discussed the issue of environmental concerns. “Before any mining development can take place there are many environmental issues and procedures that have to be addressed. Guaranteed money has to be set aside to clean up the mining site and rehabilitate the land. Even if the company goes broke, adequate funds must be in place to return the land to its former state. This stipulation applies to exploration as well as development.” The resource center has been pro-active in communicating with the Cree Trapper’s Association to keep open channels of information between the trappers and the mining companies.

When asked about the current staking rush, Jim informed me that the laws have recently been changed. “In the past one had to travel into the bush to stake out a claim, but the government now allows map staking, which makes it much easier for companies to have access to mineral rights.” One unfortunate side-effect of this change in the staking policy is that the Crees, who were known as the best stakers, have lost out on a good source of part-time employment and income.

Lac Rocher staking claims alone meant some $300,000 to the Cree who were hired to help companies stake claims. Now all one has to do is get on-line and map stake through their computer. Money for permits now goes directly to the government and the Cree have been cut out as middlemen. The downside is two-fold for the Cree: more land will be staked by outside interests, and less money will be coming into the communities through lucrative part-time employment.

Tom Wadden, Wemindji’s treasurer, is decidedly less keen on the prospect of mining, even if economic benefits were offered to local communities. “Wemex has staked quite a few claims in category one lands, including some of the islands, to protect ourselves,” said Tom. Having been born in a mining area in Cape Breton, Tom has seen the worst side of mining. “It’s not a pretty sight after they close a mine. It takes years and years for the land to recover. Even if diamond mining is not as harmful as other forms, it still leaves a big hole in the ground.”

Due to a wealth of untapped resources, Cree area and Inuit lands are the last places to be explored and developed. Geological surveys suggest that much mineral wealth is to be found in northern Quebec. Tom believes that, “Beavers should be the only ones to build dams and we shouldn’t be digging up Mother Earth either, that’s gopher territory.”

“Majescor has been good about advising us, but little information comes in from most companies. We often find out only after roads have been put through. Communications could be better. It’s a question of respect. Companies should inform the tallymen before doing anything. That is our way.”

Though much recent hype has been generated about the possibility of diamond finds in the James Bay area, it would be hasty at this point to hit the panic button. Though Majescor is excited about its findings, it is also a public company that must concern itself with creating interest to sell shares on the Montreal stock exchange, where it trades under MAJ. While a major find may yet be in the offing, percentages remain low for hitting the big time, and even if they should strike it rich, they are several years and a billion dollars away from actually developing a mine. Diamonds may be forever, according to 007, but you have to find them first.