Charles (Chuck) Fipke doesn’t like giving interviews, but on this occasion, the multimillionaire geologist has a message to send: Selling his last piece of Canada’s first-ever diamond mine was anything but a retreat.
Rather, it’s his thirst for adventure that spurred him cut financial ties to Ekati, Canada’s first diamond mine and the product of his epic discovery in the Canadian arctic in the 1990s. The chunk of cash he’ll receive – a cool $67-million (U.S.), plus “quite a bit” of adjustments and interest payments – will help him to actively hunt for new sparkling gems.
Dominion Diamond Corp. – formerly known as Harry Winston Diamond Corp. – bought Mr. Fipke’s remaining interest on Wednesday, officially ending his financial involvement with the mine.
“I’m an explorer, not a manager,” Mr. Fipke explained over the phone from his home in Kelowna, B.C., where he studies gravel samples from around the world in his laboratory.
“It was always nice to own part of the [Ekati] mine,” he said, noting that he attended every quarterly meeting since before the mine was born.
“It was fun, but I’m more of a geologist than a mining manager,” he repeated. “This allows me to do more exploration.”
Nicknamed Captain Chaos by his employees, Mr. Fipke is currently scouring jungles in Brazil and Mauritania for diamonds, working on gold projects in the Yukon and Yemen and eyeing uranium in Manitoba. But there is one prospect he seems most excited about: “super, beautiful” diamonds in James Bay, Ont.
There have been few new diamond sites uncovered globally in recent years, and the Ekati mine’s once-robust production has tailed off as it edges toward its expiry in 2019. Meanwhile, demand for diamonds is on the rise, raising the stakes for fresh discoveries. Mr. Fipke sees a “good chance” that the deposits in James Bay will make it through evaluations and eventually establish a mine.
If anyone can revive the Canadian diamond industry, Mr. Fipke is a likely candidate. His life reads like a thriller novel, and indeed, a book has been written about his adventures. He and his partner, geologist Stewart Blusson, famously searched the Arctic tundra for years before proving there were commercial diamonds in the Lac de Gras region of the Northwest Territories. Along the way, Mr. Fipke has fended off lions, a bout of malaria and warrior tribes in exotic locales.
Mr. Fipke is known to be eccentric and absent-minded. He stammers and says “hey” at the end of nearly every sentence, often skipping through different topics as his mind seems to race ahead of his words. But his enthusiasm is unbridled when he talks about diamonds.
Apart from gems and metals, Mr. Fipke also bides his time with philanthropy. He’s donated $6-million to the University of British Columbia to support research for a cure for Alzheimer’s, and the extra cash from selling his Ekati stake will help him fund more, he says. He likens the importance of Alzheimer’s research to great historical figures: “Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, the Premier of Alberta: They all got dementia.”
Mr. Fipke has also dipped his hand in breeding and investing in thoroughbred horses. He calls the horses a “minor” thing that he is “fairly successful” at. But, as with diamonds, his achievements in horse-racing are more than casual: His horses won the Queen’s Plate in 2008 and placed second in the Kentucky derby in 2013.
Mr. Fipke attributes his successes in horse-racing to sheer determination. “I like horses, but it’s not just for fun,” he said. “Of course, you always try to make a profit. You just always try, hey?”