COVID-19 stalls plans to ramp up operations at Nunavut's Hope Bay gold mine

·3 min read
The Kitikmeot Inuit Association is hopeful the Hope Bay gold mine will gear up again and its former Inuit employees will be able to get back to work. Roughly 70 Inuit in western Nunavut were employed at the mine before the pandemic.  (CBC - image credit)
The Kitikmeot Inuit Association is hopeful the Hope Bay gold mine will gear up again and its former Inuit employees will be able to get back to work. Roughly 70 Inuit in western Nunavut were employed at the mine before the pandemic. (CBC - image credit)

Kitikmeot Inuit Association president Stanley Anablak says he's hopeful the Hope Bay gold mine in western Nunavut will soon gear up again and that its former Inuit employees will be able to go back to work there.

Anablak said Agnico Eagle Mining Ltd., which owns the mine that's about 125 km southwest of Cambridge Bay, told him it plans to ramp up operations.

"We have no concerns [Agnico Eagle] is trying to move forward with getting the project reopened, but unfortunately COVID[-19] again has hit the site so everything is postponed," Anablak said.

In March 2020, all Nunavut-based employees at the mine were laid off and sent home as a precaution to protect them and their home communities against COVID-19. Since then, there have been two COVID-19 outbreaks at the site, the most recent one in September.

Many former Inuit mine workers are eager to get back to work, Anablak said.

"They're all tired of waiting, and wanting to go back to work, but COVID-19 has put a big burden on that," he added.

CBC
CBC

Until the risk of exposure to COVID-19 diminishes, only 20 to 40 essential workers will remain on site, according to Alex Buchan, the manager of external and community relations for Hope Bay, who is based in Cambridge Bay.

"We have only essential staff on site and all other regular mine workers have been sent home. We are fumigating and sterilizing work and living areas at Hope Bay," he said.

The plan is to get the approval to bring southern workers back and then ensure all the measures are in place to prevent more COVID-19 cases, he said.

When Agnico Eagle has more confidence in that, then "we will probably be in a position to return workers to the site," Buchan said.

But, he added, much depends on how the COVID-19 situation develops in Alberta, the staging point for the mine's southern-based workers.

Inuit employment

Before the start of the pandemic, there were 689 employees on site. About 75 of them were Inuit, mostly from the Kitikmeot region.

By the end of 2020, there were 322 employees at the mine, none of them Inuit living in Nunavut.

Then the recent COVID-19 outbreak saw the mine's operations scale down to a crew of 20 to 40 essential workers.

But the plan is still to get Kitikmeot-area Inuit back at the mine.

Buchan said a reintegration plan for these local employees is in the works.

He said the company had approached the first group of former workers slated to return before the second outbreak of COVID-19 at the mine.

"The vast majority" wanted to work again at Hope Bay.

"Even though they may have obtained temporary employment in their community, they preferred to work at Hope Bay and we are eager to give them that opportunity again," Buchan said.fd

When they do, they will all have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Agnico Eagle, which acquired the Hope Bay gold mine in February 2021, has undertaken a review of Hope Bay's three gold-rich deposits — Doris, Madrid and Boston — to look at their overall economics.

Until the review is completed in 2022, it's uncertain how many would be employed on the mine site.

The goal for Inuit employment at the mine is 35 per cent, according to a report tabled at the recent KIA annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay.

That is a much higher percentage than from 2018 to 2020 when Inuit employment at Hope Bay ranged from four to 11 per cent.

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