Nunavut Mining: Businessman Patrick Tagoona’s strategy is to diversify

Imagine a Kivalliq region with no gold mining.

Patrick Tagoona, right, and Nunavut SEMI Construction partner Jean-Francois Blais take a tour of the Meadowbank gold complex.
photo courtesy of Patrick Tagoona

When businessman Patrick Tagoona pictures it in his mind, he envisions an entirely different line of work for himself.

“The likelihood of me being an entrepreneur and getting into this would have been essentially non-existent,” says Tagoona, president of Nunavut Investments Ltd., based in Rankin Inlet. “It’s been a game-changer in terms of employment opportunities, training opportunities… (and) increasing the standard of living.”

Tagoona has formed several joint ventures over the years – industrial and civil construction, lubricants and chemicals distribution, engineering and environmental services – and many of them secured a significant portion of business through gold miner Agnico Eagle.

Click here for other stories on Nunavummiut involved in the mining industry: Nunavut Mining 2020.

His most recent collaboration, announced in November, is with Ontario-based MacLean Engineering to form Nunavut MacLean Engineering Inc., which will supply underground mining vehicles.

It took more than a year to hammer out the terms of that deal, according to Tagoona.

“Ultimately we want to make sure our thoughts are aligned,” he says of the negotiations process. “One of the things that I promote is trying to provide opportunities for Inuit in the company.”

He says he was aware MacLean Engineering had already formed a relationship with an Indigenous company in Labrador, which gave him some reassurance.

“We figured, you know what, they’ve got experience working with Northern partners. We went from that to ultimately creating our joint venture,” he says.

Nunavut MacLean’s fleet of underground mining vehicles includes models designed for rock bolting, concrete transporting, material transporting, explosives charging, secondary reduction drilling, shotcrete spraying, mobile rockbreaking and platform maintenance and services installation.

There are two other companies with a foothold in the Kivalliq that also supply mining vehicles.

“There’s definitely competition in our region,” Tagoona acknowledged. “It’s a big pie out there. I’m hopeful to get a piece of that pie. There’s a lot of opportunity but that doesn’t necessarily mean a guarantee of work. Again, it’s a competitive environment… (but) obviously I’ve got a high expectation of work that we’ll get through Nunavut MacLean.”

Dominique Girard, vice-president of Nunavut operations for Agnico Eagle, also welcomed the uptick in local competition. The mining company devoted approximately 57 per cent of its 2019 expenditures in NTI-registered companies and he expects that number will grow with the greater choices within the Kivalliq.

“There is a preference to the local supplier,” he says. “I’m looking forward to having help from Patrick (Tagoona) and (Ryan St. John of Northern Networks Ltd.) to develop more training facilities and more capacity in the North.”

‘Grateful that they’re here’

Patrick Tagoona and his wife Emily visit Agnico Eagle’s Meliadine mine.
photo courtesy of Patrick Tagoona

Tagoona uses a couple of anecdotal yardsticks to illustrate how mining has enriched the lives of some Kivalliq residents. He sees numerous new trucks on the roads and in people’s driveways. He also sees many more parents like himself who take their children to hockey schools in the south, whereas 10 years ago he rarely saw any fellow Nunavummiut at those hockey schools, he says.

“I grew up in Baker Lake. I’ve seen a lot of positive change that Meadowbank led to Baker Lake,” he says. “It really provided the middle class with an opportunity outside of perhaps the few jobs working for the Government of Nunavut.”

He adds that more and more women are being hired at the mines, including roles as heavy equipment operators.

Tagoona, president of the Kivalliq Chamber of Commerce and former president of the Kivalliq Inuit Association’s Sakku Investments Corporation, describes Agnico Eagle as a “very good corporate citizen” who has also invested heavily in the region in terms of improving ground, air and marine transportation.

“We’re grateful that they’re here,” he says.

He was at the Northern Lights trade show in Ottawa in early February, promoting his companies and keeping an open mind to new avenues to explore, as he did a few years ago when he was part of an endeavour that brought modular homes to Rankin Inlet.

“In terms of diversifying, keeping your eyes and ears open for opportunities, it’s essential,” he says.

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