The two-billion-year-old rock that Eric Prosh, director of the Nunavut minerals department, placed on his desk was the size of a cantaloupe but as heavy as a pumpkin -- not surprising, given that rich-black rock is 65 per cent iron, three times the concentration of typical iron ore.
The ore body from which Prosh's sample was taken is so rich, in fact, that it has launched the biggest development in Arctic history -- an open-pit mine at Mary River near the top of Baffin Island, 1,200 kilometres north of Iqaluit (3,500 kilometres north of Winnipeg).
Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. plans to spend $4 billion bringing Mary River into production, an amount that includes the construction of a 150-kilometre railway (the first ever in the Arctic) to move ore to a port yet to be built at Steensby Inlet.
Nine, 320-metre icebreaking freighters will then ferry the ore year-round to Europe for processing.
Mary River is expected to create 5,000 construction jobs, 950 permanent jobs and billions in royalties for Nunavut over the expected 21-year life of the mine.
"It's a whopper, a completely different kettle of fish," Prosh said.
The Baffinland project, along with Agnico-Eagle's two gold mines in Kivalliq region, are expected to boost employment in Nunavut by 10 per cent, Prosh said.
The economic impact of the mines will be so great that mining, which already has eclipsed government as the No. 1 generator of GDP, will push Nunavut forward.
"Overnight these mines will cause a big bump in GDP," Prosh said. "And there's a bunch more in the pipeline."