There’s something to be said for being first. And Matt Manson, The Northern Miner’s choice as Mining Person of the Year for 2016, bears the distinction of guiding Stornoway Diamond through a daunting, decade-long journey to open Quebec’s first diamond mine — Renard — in the province’s remote Otish Mountains.
Along the way, through two industry downturns and without a major mining company as partner, Manson capably managed virtually every aspect of the mining game: property acquisition and company consolidation; grassroots exploration; feasibility studies and mine permitting; project financing; mine and infrastructure construction; community relations; building and leading a workforce; production ramp-up; and product marketing.
Manson, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, earned a B.Sc. degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1987, and came to Canada to pursue graduate studies and complete a PhD at the University of Toronto in 1996.
Some of his earliest exposure to diamonds was with Bill Fisher’s Caledonia Mining and Ambrex Mining during school and soon after graduation. Manson then consulted for various companies, including Aber Diamond, where in 1999 he began working full-time as vice-president of marketing and then vice-president of technical services, as Aber saw its 40%-owned Diavik diamond mine in the Northwest Territories start production in 2003.
In 2005 Manson headed up Agnico Eagle Mines’ Eastern Canada-focused subsidiary Contact Diamond. That’s when he first looked at Renard, which was discovered in 2001 and still owned at the time by Ashton Mining and Quebec government-owned Soquem.
This led to Contact, Stornoway and Ashton merging in early 2007, and Manson becoming Stornoway president in March 2007, and adding CEO to his title in January 2009. (Stornoway eventually bought out Soquem’s 50% stake in Renard in April 2011 to make the asset wholly owned.)
The year 2009 was pivotal, as deep drilling at Renard — quite a gamble during the global economic downturn — ended up tripling Renard’s size and transforming it from a geological curiosity to a robust series of deposits, capable of sustaining a long, profitable mine life.
Mine construction started in July 2014, paid for by Stornoway’s feat of closing a complex financing worth nearly $1 billion, while the company sported a market capitalization of just $120 million.
One component to the mine’s success was the construction of an all-weather road to the mine site — which dovetailed nicely with the provincial government’s Plan Nord infrastructure program, designed to encourage resource development in Quebec’s North. Another component has been the good relations with local communities, including the Cree community of Mistissini.
Now in full production after a $771-million capital spend (99% of budget), Renard is expected to produce an average of 1.6 million carats per year over an initial 14-year mine life, or 2% of global supply. First ore was delivered to the plant in July 2016, the official opening ceremony was held on Oct. 19, and commercial production was declared on Jan. 1, 2017.
The first diamond sale was held in November in Antwerp, with 38,913 carats sold for US$7.6 million, or US$195 per carat, despite the softness in diamond markets. Stornoway’s net income for the fourth quarter was $52 million.
Renard is off to a strong start as Quebec’s first diamond mine, and Matt Manson has played a central role in its success.