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Few events in mining history have generated as much excitement or public attention as the Lac de Gras diamond discoveries in Canada’s North during the early 1990s. Stewart (Stu) Blusson was an intellectual catalyst for this transformative event, which led to development of Ekati, Canada’s first diamond mine, and other significant discoveries. Along with fellow CMHF inductees Charles Fipke and Hugo Dummett, Blusson advanced the science of diamond exploration and laid the foundation for Canada to become the world’s third largest producer (by value) of high quality diamonds. Blusson also contributed to science and society as one of the most generous and farsighted philanthropists in Canadian history.
Born in Vancouver, Blusson earned a B.Sc. degree from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 1960, and a doctorate in geology at the University of California, Berkley, in 1964. He spent the next 16 years with the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), leading regional mapping and research programs in the Yukon and Northwest Territories (NWT). In 1981, he left the GSC to explore for diamonds, ignoring conventional wisdom that such efforts would likely come to naught.
Financing the quest became a challenge after Falconbridge and Superior Oil withdrew initial funding. Blusson found innovative cost-effective ways to continue the search in the NWT, including flying fixed-wing planes or helicopters for sampling programs. He also studied high-altitude aerial photos with a mindset of sampling areas of glacial movement. To further streamline his strategy in the stream deficient Slave craton, Blusson focused on eskers (mounds of sand and gravel caused by sub-glacial rivers) and reconstructed sample sites where esker stream tributaries came together or especially where modern beaches provided easy access for small float planes and concentrated heavy minerals in melt water sands a second time. He reasoned that if diamond indicator minerals were not found in a sizable esker catchment area, crews could proceed to a similar target many miles away. By using these methods, Blusson and Fipke intermittently sampled 850 kilometers from the Mackenzie Valley eastward to Lac de Gras.
In 1985, Fipke sampled one of Blusson’s designated targets, but the contents weren’t processed until 1988 because of a lack of funds. The key sample yielded more than 10,000 diamond indicator grains with large quantities of G-10 garnets and
two diamonds. The partners took their exciting results to Dummett, a BHP Minerals executive and former manager of the Falconbridge/Superior Oil diamond hunt.
BHP developed the Ekati mine, which officially opened in 1998. In 2013, Dominion Diamond Corp. acquired BHP’s 88.9% interest in Ekati and 65.3% interest in the Buffer zone surrounding the mine. Blusson holds an 11.1% stake in Ekati, while his public company Archon Minerals holds 34.7% of the Buffer zone.
As a philanthropist, Blusson has made generous donations, which combined with matching grants from governments, total $468.5 million. The beneficiaries include UBC ($250 million), Simon Fraser University ($60 million), and Quest University Canada ($100 million), Canada’s first private, secular not-for-profit university.
Blusson was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2004. He was also awarded the Logan Medal, the Geological Association of Canada’s highest honour, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.