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Voisey’s Bay co-discoverer Al Chislett was ‘unshakable optimist’

Al Chislett, who co-discovered the Voisey’s Bay nickel-copper-cobalt deposit in 1993, succumbed to a battle with cancer over the weekend. He was 69.
Al Chislett, who co-discovered the Voisey’s Bay nickel-copper-cobalt deposit in 1993, succumbed to a battle with cancer over the weekend. He was 69. - Submitted

Prospector succumbed to a battle with cancer Sunday

Al Chislett, one of the individuals responsible for the biggest mineral discovery ever in Canada, lost his battle with cancer and died Sunday. He was 69.

It was the fall of 1993 when Chislett and Chris Verbiski, owners of Archean Resources Ltd., were on a diamond exploration trip in Northern Labrador funded by Diamond Fields Ltd.

On the way back to Nain by helicopter one evening, they spotted a reddish stain on a hillside and immediately recognized it as oxidation, which meant the potential for mineral-rich rock rusting as it was exposed to the air. They returned to the spot — an area of bald rock called Discovery Hill between Voisey's Bay and Anaktalik Bay — chipped away some samples for lab testing.

Tests confirmed the potential for a deposit rich in nickel, copper and cobalt and drill core samples pulled the next year showed the area contained one of the biggest deposits of nickel found anywhere in the world.

“His and Chris’s mineral discovery of the massive Voisey’s Bay nickel-copper-cobalt deposit was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams,” Newfoundland and Labrador Prospector Association president Norm Mercer said in a statement.

“It put this province on the mining and mineral exploration map, as a place to come and explore.”

Mercer said Chislett was one of the most successful and accomplished prospectors and entrepreneurs in not only this province, but the country as a whole.

Ed Moriarity, executive director of Mining Industry NL, said even today the industry and people of the province continue to benefit from his success.

“Albert embodied the true spirit of our industry,” Moriarity wrote in a statement to The Telegram. “He was an unshakable optimist and strong advocate for prospecting, and a person who was willing to take the risks and undergo the hard work to secure the rewards. He will be greatly missed.”

In 2005, Chislett and Verbiski sold Archean and its 2.7 per cent royalty to International Royalty Corp. for $180 million.
“It gives us cash flow to carry out a more active exploration program,” Chislett told the Telegram in an interview at the time. "The companies that we have here will be doing lots of exploration.
"We did it now because the markets are so strong. The prices for metals are high and that gives us a better deal.
"Sometimes, you've got to let go to do other things."
 

Political life

In 1997, Chislett turned his attention to the province’s political landscape, starting the Newfoundland and Labrador Party, aimed at representing the interests of the province’s residents.

“Not the interests of multi-national companies, unions or special interest groups. Not the interests of Ontario, Quebec or the federal political agenda,” he said in an interview with The Telegram.

Setting the party apart from others was a constitutional clause that the party’s operating funds could only come from the people of the province and not from corporations, unions or special interest groups. The thinking was it would be a failsafe against corruption.

“Generally, when a large corporation donates money to a political party, they are looking for some favour in return and that's what is wrong with our political system,” he said.

“Both the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives obtain the biggest majority of their financing from corporations and they tend to feel obligated to return the favours, and at the expense of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

In 1998, with the party struggling financially, Chislett had stepped away from the president’s role, but remained a supporter. The party filed decertification papers in 2000.

Personal life

Chislett was born in Islington, Trinity Bay in 1949.

He earned a diploma in business administration at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute and pursued careers in accounting and construction until he decided to change direction and pursue a career in prospecting.

He is described by family members in his obituary as “a strong, self-reliant man and fearless fighter” and someone who was passionate about extracting the most potential from the province’s resources to the benefit of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

He leaves to mourn his partner Sherry Doyle, children Bradley, Emily and Rebecca Chislett, grandchildren Julia and Jacob Chislett, among other family members, friends and business associates.

Chislett is resting at Caul’s Funeral Home in St. John’s with a funeral service Thursday afternoon at the Anglican Cathedral of St. John’s the Baptist. From there, he will be transported to Islington for visitation at the Anglican Church of the Epiphany Church that evening, followed by a funeral service Friday afternoon.

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