Allison Rippin Armstrong had always dreamed of going to Canada’s North — the mysticism of it called to her. One fateful day, while she was an undergraduate student in biology and environmental science at Trent University, opportunity knocked. A professor, who was an ornithologist, was organizing a work term in the North for that coming summer. Armstrong quickly studied the birds of interest and managed to convince the professor to bring her to Churchill, Manitoba, kicking off what was to become a rewarding career in the mining industry.
“That trip was my introduction to the North, and it’s been a love affair ever since,” Armstrong recalls. “It’s a magical place.”
As soon as Armstrong and her husband graduated from university, theymoved to Yellowknife. There she held a variety of jobs, including working for the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Dene Nation and for EKATI Diamond Mine, where she was a compliance specialist. At EKATI, she worked with the fisheries authority on water life monitoring, land use and inspections — all facets of the environmental department.
“I literally went from sitting on the technical advisory committee drafting Diavik’s water license to going to EKATI and being sent out by snow machine on a water sampling mission,” she says. “I helped develop terms and conditions and then had to implement similar conditions. I learned that those writing the terms and conditions need to really understand the practicality of it.”
Since moving to Alberta in 2004, Armstrong has been working as an independent environmental consultant. Most of her clients are junior exploration companies that hire her to guide them through the permitting process. Although some of her contracts focus on the Yukon, Saskatchewan and Alberta, the majority of her work centres on Nunavut.
For many, the process of starting up a company is fraught with challenges and sacrifices. Luckily for Armstrong, building a successful consulting business came quite easily to her. “In October 2004, when I’d just moved to Alberta, I was contracted by Pam Strand of Shear Minerals to assist on the application process for land use permits and water licenses for the Churchill Diamond Project,” she recalls. “By the time the Geoscience Forum in Yellowknife occurred that November, all sorts of companies were asking for help to navigate the regulatory process.”
Armstrong speaks fondly of her former home and says Nunavut is a very friendly place to work. “If you pick up the phone, people are incredibly helpful,” she adds. “It’s all about networking and open communications.”
Let passion be your guide
Even as an independent consultant, Armstrong’s passion and convictions dictate the work she does and the clients she takes on. She admits to being extremely particular about whom she will work with. “If I’m going to work with a company, it must be committed to reducing its environmental impact and working within the regulatory requirements — it can’t just be lip service,” she adds. “The things I’m passionate about, the companies I do business with are as well. It’s nice to know those companies are out there.”
Over the years, Armstrong has been fortunate to be involved in some projects with real potential, working alongside very innovative teams. One such example is a contract she has with Starfield Resources on their Ferguson Lake Project. Even though Starfield is an exploration company, every member on the team had previously participated in building a mine — it was an experience she truly cherishes. “The project is located near caribou calving grounds, so we needed to be innovative — you can’t just look at putting in traditional haul roads and so on,” she recalls. “The team came up with the concept of using a slurry pipeline instead.”
Armstrong happily insists the people she works with are innovative, forward-thinking and concerned about the environment. On the flip side, she says the regulatory climate is open, helpful and communicative. “I believe in the projects and teams, and the government believes good projects will mean economic benefit for the community,” she explains.
When not working with exploration companies, Armstrong works with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the Nunavut Water Board. “I see myself as a bridge — given my experience with Aboriginal organizations as well as my work at a mine and with regulatory bodies,” she explains. “So I see all perspectives, and try to encompass the needs and concerns of each party.”
Although much of her work is done remotely from her home office, field work is what she enjoys the most. “Going into the communities and spending time on consultations is the prize of the job,” Armstrong asserts. “Working at exploration camps and doing environmental baseline work is the icing on the cake for me.”