Terri-Jane Yuzda


The Diamond Hunter

Churchill Project is Something Special,
Shear Minerals Ltd. President Believes


Freelance Columnist

On one of those rare February days when the market news is upbeat, shares of Shear Minerals Ltd. ride an upward power glide. Pamela Strand, P.Geol., the company's president, clearly enjoys the action.

Between repeated glances at her computer screen, Ms. Strand explains that Northern Empire Minerals Ltd. of Vancouver has announced a significant kimberlite find in Nunavut. Since Shear Minerals (SRM on the TSX Venture Exchange) is partnered with Northern Empire in an unrelated play near Rankin Inlet, on this day its shares bask in a reflected glow.

"Our play has a lot of merit as well, and in some ways is more advanced," says Ms. Strand, founding chief executive of Shear, an Edmonton-based diamond exploration junior.

In a game with an overabundance of motor-mouthed promoters, she seems refreshingly miscast. Ms. Strand would rather sell her exploration successes with good science than with slapped backs and blown smoke.

Data and Indicators Are Positive
No, she's not the type to hype. Nevertheless, instincts sharpened during a dozen years in the gold and diamond business - not to mention reams of top-drawer geophysical data - have convinced her that Shear's Rankin Inlet play is something special.

"If you had a checklist of everything you wanted on a property for kimberlites, this has it," Ms. Strand says of the property, known as the Churchill Diamond Project. As the operating partner, Shear controls 51 per cent.

"We've got all the indicator minerals. And the chemistry of those indicators is the best our people have seen outside of Lac de Gras, plus we have found pieces of kimberlite at two locations on our claims," she says. Lac de Gras is the region with most of the Northwest Territories' diamond-bearing kimberlites.

Ms. Strand should know by late April whether Churchill is a yes or a no. Crews were to reach Rankin Inlet toward the end of February, with test drilling to follow by mid-to-late March.

The excitement is almost palpable. Modern experts may rely on landsat imaging, hyper-spectral sensing and laptop dataset analysis to seek precious minerals. But the hunt is every bit as intense - and as thrilling - as it was back in the days of Klondike Kate.

Northern Exposure
Ms. Strand caught the bug soon after completing her master of science degree at the University of Western Ontario. She moved to Yellowknife to work for the feds as a district geologist, and shortly after she hit town, she found herself caught up in the biggest staking rush in Canadian history. It was the 1991 diamond frenzy and it lit up the north. "It's just so much fun," she says with a shrug.

"I gained my first diamond knowledge working with the government," continues the Toronto-born scientist. "We interacted with all the exploration companies. I learned a lot and met all the players."

One of them was Chuck Fipke, whose discovery subsequently led to the Etaki Mine, the first of Canada's two producing diamond mines. Like all her counterparts, Ms. Strand would dearly love a success as great as Chuck Fipke's.

Six years ago, a group of private backers gave her the wherewithal to create Shear Minerals, after Ms. Strand and her husband had moved to Edmonton. Since then the company has acquired mineral rights to a number of properties in the territories, as well as a million acres in Alberta - a province in which 47 kimberlites have already been identified.

Drill Tests Begin Soon
It's taken five years to put the company on a solid foundation. And now, Ms. Strand says, Shear will drill test several properties, on which it's make or break time. "This is fruition year. It (diamond ore) is either there or it's not. If not, then we continue our exploration efforts at the next priority property."

Exploration, sampling and geophysical analysis have been completed on eight diamond projects. All are ready to drill. "We'll start with the Churchill Diamond Project because it has the highest potential," Ms. Strand says.

When drill crews go in, they'll be after kimberlites: rare volcanic deposits shaped like a champagne glass and measuring no more than 400 metres across.
"I'm hoping I can make the next big discovery," Ms. Strand says with a smile. "That's the most exciting thing: thinking you have just as good a chance as anybody else."

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