March/April 2010

Women in Mining

Championing the changing face of mining: Tara Christie leads the way in sustainable practices

By B. O'Hara

Tara Christie, meeting with former Governor Sarah Palin in Haines, Alaska in March 2009 

Tara Christie is part of the new face of mining in Canada. At the age of 36, her early career has coincided with a time of commercial, social and political change in the industry. President of family-owned Dawson City, Yukon-based Gimlex Gold Mines, Christie is a successful entrepreneur whose family has embraced change as passionate industrial advocates.

Beyond Gimlex, she juggles several board commitments with her work as a geological, environmental and alluvial mining consultant. On any given day, you are as likely to find her working at mining or exploration sites in the Yukon, Alaska, Northern Ontario or Africa as with mining and government executives in Whitehorse, Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa.

Christie is proud of her firm hand on the bottom line, which she says comes from years of learning how to balance the financial requirements of her family-owned placer gold operation. The challenge of managing fuel costs, recruiting the right labour mix and locating cost-effective heavy equipment have honed her skills as a savvy financial director. Christie, her father Jim, her mother Dagmar and her brother Sheamus are all equal owners in the business, located just outside Dawson City, Yukon. Today, they are outspoken defenders of family-based placer mines in the Yukon and dedicated promoters of the sustainable mining practices that the Yukon exports to the world.

It all started back in 1985 when the Christies started a venture, with four other partners, into placer gold mining on Scroggie and Mariposa creeks. They mined those sites until 1992. Meanwhile, the family explored other sites and started its own mine in 1992 on Dominion Creek, outside Dawson City. Gimlex went on to win the Robert E. Leckie Reclamation Award in 2004 for its work on Dominion Creek. The same year, the company started a new mine site on Indian River that continues to be in production.

Christie studied at the University of British Columbia, completing an undergraduate degree in applied science in geological engineering and a master’s degree in geological engineering, graduating at the top of her class. She won the Dr. Aaro E. Aho Gold Medal and the APEGBC award for demonstrating great promise. She is registered as a Professional Engineer in BC and the Yukon.

In 2003, Christie was named Miner of the Year by the Klondike Placer Miners Association (KPMA) in recognition of her work as the association's president from 2001-2002. During her tenure, she was called upon to address serious threats to placer mining in the Yukon as a result of a decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to withdraw the collective environmental permit under which all Yukon placer mining families had been operating. Christie negotiated the troubled political waters among Yukon miners, environmentalists, politicians in the North and in Ottawa, and First Nations interests to the ultimate satisfaction of all stakeholders. In awarding her the Miner of the Year award, the KPMA said, “Tara Christie has done the impossible: she has put the Klondike on the map in Ottawa.”

Sustainability pioneer

Christie is a leader in promoting sustainable development within the mining industry in Canada. She was one of the original board members of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB), helping during its formative years to establish the board’s rules governing its environmental assessment process. She is especially proud of her nearly six years of work with the board and the role she has played in its recognition as an effective regulatory process that has now handled over 900 projects.

She is an advocate of the benefits to be realized by industry partnering with First Nations communities to work toward mutually beneficial results. As a director of Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. — with projects in Haines, Alaska, and Northern Ontario — she has been involved in working with the Wahgoshig First Nation of Ontario to secure an exploration agreement. Early in the partnership, the positive working relationship resulted in a successful and cost-effective drill assistant training program as part of a small $200,000 drill program. It is often difficult for small companies to invest in training, Christie notes, and this was a good example of how even a small program, with good communication, can be a success. 

Christie also acts as director of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canda (PDAC), currently as chair of the Finance and Taxation Committee, and most recently has agreed to join the Newmont team to assist with the Hope Bay Gold Project in Nunavut.

Get involved

If Christie has advice for her younger colleagues, it is to “pick an association and an issue that is important to you and get involved.” 

“As a former director of AMEBC, YCM, KPMA and now PDAC, I have learned and made connections with others in the industry, in politics, in First Nations communities and in civil society,” she says. “The industry needs to have more people engaged in our industry’s issues — and more people representing the changing face of our industry. The contacts they make with other professionals and the broader understanding of the industry and the world in which we operate are invaluable.”

Today, mining’s new leaders — like Tara Christie — believe that the industry can lead in sustainable practices that create opportunities for all segments of society and leave the land in better shape than it was found.

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