De Beers and Mountain Province Diamonds have started producing diamonds at their Gahcho Kue mine in the Northwest Territories.

While the mine isn't expected to reach a commercial level of production until the first quarter of 2017, Gahcho Kue has made the significant move from construction and commissioning to, as De Beers spokesperson Tom Ormsby put it, "actually putting some ore in the plant."

"Everything is now working," said Ormsby, adding that the $1-billion project remains on budget and slightly ahead of its timeline.

Production had long been expected to begin in late 2016.

2nd N.W.T. project for De Beers

Gahcho Kue, located 280 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, is De Beers' second diamond mine in the N.W.T. after Snap Lake, and its third project in Canada. (The company also operates the Victor mine in Northern Ontario.)

the process plant at Gahcho Kue diamond mine

Many process plant workers from De Beers' now-shuttered Snap Lake mine have been moved to the plant at Gahcho Kue, pictured here. (De Beers )

The company shut down production at Snap Lake in December, laying off 434 workers. De Beers is now preparing to flood the mine's underground workings, unless it can find a buyer for that mine.

More than 100 former Snap Lake workers are now working at Gahcho Kue. At Snap Lake, around 75 workers continue to prepare the mine for flooding.

Ormsby was unsure whether more former Snap Lake workers could transition to the new mine.

He said that while Snap Lake was an underground mine, Gahcho Kue's three deposits will be mined in the more traditional (and technically less complicated) open-pit style, which requires a different (and not always transferable) set of skills.

Grand opening coming soon

Gahcho Kue is expected to have a steady workforce of around 500 people, said Ormsby.  

De Beers and Mountain Province — which owns a 49-per-cent stake in Gahcho Kue — plan to hold an official grand opening "in the next couple months," said Ormsby.