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Donald McLeod, 88.

Miner. Mentor. Husband. Father. Born Oct. 21, 1928, in Stewart, B.C.; died May 27, 2017, in Vancouver; of complications from a fall; aged 88.

Don McLeod's story is the stuff of British Columbia mining legend: A tramp miner who, through gritty determination, unflagging optimism and a good helping of luck, fulfilled every prospector's dream when he struck it big and brought three rich gold mines to production.

Don grew up in Stewart, B.C., a frontier mining community in the province's farthest northwest corner. When Don's mother, Catherine, arrived there from Scotland in 1926, she thought it was the end of the world. But for a young boy, it was paradise to grow up in a close-knit town in the middle of the wilderness; where else could you have a grizzly bear for a pet or play with blasting caps (even if he almost blew himself up)?

Mining was the town's life blood and Don caught the prospecting bug as a teenager, working with a succession of local miners who taught him exploration and hand-mining skills. In the 1950s and early 60s, Don moved from mining camp to mining camp across northern Canada, plying his trade as a hard-rock miner.

He met Christa in 1958, when he was a patient in the hospital she was nursing at. She became his biggest supporter, moving eight times in eight years as he worked in mines across Northern and Western Canada.

Don's first big break came in 1961, when he was put in charge of the Premier Mine, one of the richest gold mines in Canada. The mid-1960s found Don in the Northwest Territories claim staking, exploring and drilling for Pyramid Mining. It made a fortune for investors – but not for Don. The experience taught him that running his own show was the way to go.

He started Northair Mines in 1967. It was a struggle until 1972, when promising drilling results from a copper-gold property near Kamloops sent the company's stock wild.

"We went from broke to $600,000 in 10 minutes!" Don quips in his memoir, The McLeod Luck. (The title refers to Don's uncanny ability to cheat death. He was caught in a mine collapse, trapped in a car in 30 feet of icy water, buried in an avalanche, survived a plunge down a shear drop on a runaway tramline, nearly died from a badly infected leg wound – and that was all before he was 30.)

With money in the kitty, Don took a promising property near Squamish from grassroots to full production in three years. During its seven-year life, the Brandywine Mine produced more than $70-million worth of gold, silver, lead and zinc. Other mines followed as Don built his Northair Group of companies into one of Vancouver's leading juniors.

Don and Christa welcomed a daughter, Catherine, in 1960 and son, Bruce, in 1963. Our dad travelled a lot, but instead of the absences, my brother and I remember more the big bear hugs we got when he came home from the field.

Don always had time for his young protégés, dispensing pithy advice with a sideways grin and an inevitable story. Likewise for his children, too. He mentored my brother and me as we followed Dad's footsteps into the mining business; he was always ready to lend a helping hand. Don's word was his bond and his no-nonsense ethical approach to business gave us a tremendous foundation as we began our careers.

A few months before his death, Don was honoured with an induction into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame. At the time, he was the oldest living inductee. He was thrilled at the honour, quipping, "At my age you don't take that for granted!"

Catherine McLeod-Seltzer is Don's daughter.

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