It takes a certain kind of person to leave civilization behind and live in the bush for months as a prospector.
Take it from Walt Humphries, Yellowknife's well-known prospector, artist, and writer. Humphries was recognized for his decades of dedication to the NWT's mining industry on Thursday, receiving a distinguished service award at the Max Awards for excellence in mining and exploration.
Wearing his characteristic prospector's hat – old-time prospectors wore felt fedora versions through which to strain their gas, he said – Walt recalled a time when crews went out on their own and were "lucky if you got a supply plane once a month."
Working with the skilled, knowledgeable, and adventurous people in geology and mineral exploration – "they weren't all saints" – was a memorable part of his work, he told Cabin Radio.
One such memorable time in the bush, Humphries got his foot caught in a crevasse with the toe of his boot wedged down.
"OK, they're either going to find me with my foot stuck in a crevasse, which is kind-of an embarrassing situation, or they'll find a skeleton with a boot on the end of it," he recalled. Eventually taking his hunting knife and cutting the laces of his boot, Humphries was able to free himself. He says that's the kind of problem-solving the job requires.
Humphries was recognized for his decades of work in mineral exploration, as well as passing this knowledge on through more than 50 prospecting courses he has taught throughout the North.
Coming to Yellowknife in 1969, Humphries started WJ Humphries Mineral Exploration to contract and consult in the industry. He remains an independent prospector and works on the TerraX property among others. Walt is a founding member and past president of the Mining Heritage Society, now the Yellowknife Historical Society.
Humphries is a prolific writer, sharing his views on salvaging and many other topics in his newspaper column, Tales from the Dump. An artist with an upcoming exhibit at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, Humphries was humble about his many achievements on Thursday.
"I just plug away at things," he said. "You know, people ask me why I do so many different things. I get bored easily, so when I was out in the bush I'd paint if we got weathered in. And history has always fascinated me."
In an industry facing a downturn, Humphries said settling land claims should be a top priority to avoid companies going where the regulatory process is easier. Acknowledging the differences between large-scale mining operations and smaller junior mining and prospecting companies is also important to stimulating the industry, he said.
Winners of the NWT MAX Mining Awards:
Walt Humphries - Distinguished Service
Det'on Cho Management LP - Economic Leadership
Newmont Goldcorp Corporation - Environmental and Social Responsibility
Shayne Paul - Indigenous Achievement
Hilary Jones - Special Achievement
Bob McLeod - Honourary
Civil engineer and North Slave Métis Alliance member Shayne Paul picked up the night's Indigenous achievement award. Paul switched careers from aircraft maintenance at Air Tindi to civil engineering in 1999. Since then he has worked on Diavik, Gahcho Kué, and with Rio Tinto's Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine in Mongolia. Paul urged young Indigenous people to continue to push for their dreams.
"Try to make yourself happy in your career choices. And if you're not satisfied, maybe look at some additional opportunities. Or if you have those additional opportunities, take them – to further expand where you really want to be in life," he said.
Six days away from retirement, Hilary Jones was recognized with a special achievement award. Part of the Mine Training Society since 2006, presenters said Jones achieved notable successes – including $14 million in funding and $41 million in in-kind support for mine training.
Hilary Jones at the 2019 Max Awards. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
Jones said she was hooked on the industry after one of the first graduates of an underground mining program, Mike, told her the work had helped him find a new life.
"He had served time in the military and couldn't find his place," she recalled. "He graduated, and he came up after his graduation gave me a big hug and said, 'Thank you, now I can have a life.' He's still mining now, that was 11 years ago. And now he's a underground supervisor."
Det'on Cho Management LP, the economic development arm of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, was recognized with an award for economic leadership. Det'on Cho started with a $15,000 grant in 1988 and has now grown to an 800-person operation, 600 of whom are local, presenters said. Revenue exceeds $50 million per year.
Bobby Drygeese, chair of the development corporation board, said the Yellowknives Dene have been mining for thousands of years in the area. "Working in the mining industry is not much different for us. We're ready to go and always ready to support everybody that wants to help out," he added.
A company was also recognized that presenters said had not poured a single block of gold from Yellowknife's Con Mine, nor taken any profit from it – but has worked on its remediation. The Newmont Goldcorp Corporation won the Max award for environmental and social responsibility.
A new award was given to two-time NWT premier Bob McLeod for his service.
Speaking on Thursday night, Premier Caroline Cochrane and industry minister Katrina Nokleby pledged their commitment to exploration and mining in the North.
Saying mining is her own history as the daughter of a diamond driller, Cochrane said the 19th Legislative Assembly will prioritize support to the industry and related priorities of investment in infrastructure and reducing the cost of power.
"Good news. We're not starting from scratch," she said. "We have mineral potential rivalling just about anywhere in Canada or around the globe. We're well-positioned to provide metals that the world will need as it continues to advance clean technologies."