All in the family: Mining roots run deep in these seven families

By Mining Markets staff / June 03, 2010 / / Article Link

When Rob McEwen's father Don couldn't get into the Royal Canadian Air Force to fight in World War Two because he was too young, he and a friend travelled to England, where they lied about their age, and got into the officer training program in the Royal Air Force.

The R.A.F. ultimately shipped them back to Canada, where they learned to fly and got their wings, but by the time the pair returned to England to serve as pilots, they were told the only slots available were as navigators.

That wouldn't do for Don McEwen, who had no desire to sit at the back of the plane, so he and his friend joined the Queen's Own Regiment and went off to fight in the infantry in India.

Over the following two years, McEwen contracted polio three times and was eventually sent back to Canada in an iron lung and treated at the veteran's wing of Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.

"He was a quadriplegic then and they told him: You're never going to get of bed, you're going to be a vegetable for the rest of your life, and we're going to cut both of your legs off because you're going to get gangrene,'" recounts McEwen's son Rob, president and chief executive of US Gold (UXG-T, UXG-X).

Fortunately for Don, his father happened to be a surgeon, and told the doctors that he didn't think it was a good idea to cut off his son's legs. But he also told Don that his dreams of becoming a physician were no longer attainable.

"So my father said: Well, if this is the way I'm going to be, I'm not staying in bed and I'm going to get out of the hospital,'" Rob continues.

Don went on to have a profoundly successful career but among his greatest triumphs was marrying Rob's mother, the head of the physiotherapy department at Sunnybrook.

"My mother said she met a person that would never stop," Rob recalls. "His hands would be bleeding, the sinews would be showing, as he worked out to try and regain his muscle strength."

Don regained upper body strength but spent the rest of his life on crutches. His determination had a profound impact on his son.

"Whenever I had a problem I'd always go back to him in my mind and say, whatever my problem is, it can't compare to the one that he had," Rob says. "To him, obstacles were in front of him and it was just a matter of time before he got around them. That would be the biggest legacy that he gave me: just his indomitable will."

Rob's father influenced him in many other ways, too. In the mid-sixties Don took a keen interest in gold and travelled around the world visiting mines in South Africa and meeting people in London, Switzerland and Hong Kong. He came away from those trips with the view that because the monetary system was fragile, all of his clients should be in gold, and South African gold in particular.

From that worldview on commodities and currencies stemmed Rob's own views on gold. "I realized that the role of gold in the monetary system was something that couldn't be fabricated with a printing press and the supply expanded very slowly and that was one of the reasons for its value," he explains. "It didn't decay. It didn't oxidize. It was very portable and represented a lot of value."

Like the McEwen family, there are many families that can count more than one member employed directly or indirectly in the mining business. There are mining dynasties that often span two or three generations. Some families are better known than others and their interests can manifest themselves in many different vocations within the industry - in prospecting, geology, mining, and mine engineering, or the intoxicating world of mine financing.

In the McEwens' case, Don built a career in the brokerage business and had his son turning stocks as a preteen. Rob made his first investment, an insurance stock, when he was just 12 years old, and made nine times his money in 18 months.

"I thought well, maybe that's just how the world works, you put your money in the market and it goes up and you come away feeling much better," Rob jokes. "It probably took me another thirty years to do that again."

Early on, McEwen got a summer job working at Inco in Sudbury, Ont. But it was many more years before McEwen ever worked in mining again. After graduating from the University of Western Ontario with an undergraduate degree in social sciences, the younger McEwen spent 18 years in the investment industry, the first three of which he spent working with his father.

He then went back to school to complete an MBA at York University and after obtaining his degree, was hired at Merrill Lynch. He eventually left Merrill and bought a controlling share in his father's brokerage firm McEwen Easson in the early 1980s and achieved success first with Goldcorp (G-T, GG-N), the company his father had set up as a holding company for gold shares and gold bullion (and which the younger McEwen built into a powerhouse), and later U.S. Gold.

Never give up': The Friedlands

Like McEwen, Eric Friedland, president and chief executive of Peregrine Diamonds (PGD-T), believes he and his brother Robert Friedland, chairman of Ivanhoe Mines (IVN-T, IVN-X) and his sister Susan, a medical doctor in southern California, were profoundly influenced by their parents, who survived the Holocaust.

Their father spent nearly three years in the Auschwitz concentration camp while their mother and her sisters worked as forced labourers at a Siemens factory. The teenaged sisters survived on a few potatoes a week that they received from farmers who lived near the factory. "My parents witnessed first-hand the absolute worst in humanity and never gave up," Eric says. "They were tough, yet they never gave up their appreciation for life."

Eric's parents met after the war while working for the United Nations in Berlin and decided to move to America to start a new life. His father was studying architecture and was sponsored by Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably America's finest architect. His mother followed soon afterwards - appearing in a large photograph on the cover of the New York Times as her boat docked near Ellis Island.

"I think tenacity, courage, whatever you want to call it, is inherited, is genetic," Friedland says. "We got that from our parents and it certainly has helped Robert and I in careers in an industry where you have to be an eternal optimist. The one thing that stands out about Robert and I is that we never give up."

Eric points to the long years his older brother Robert spent working with the Mongolian government to complete the final investment agreement for the massive Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold project, and his own persistence getting Peregrine Diamonds off the ground.

After completing the bulk sampling and initial study on the DO-27 kimberlite pipe, for instance, which indicated that a standalone mine would be marginal given the economics of the time, (the news decimated Peregrine's share price), Friedland persisted with diamond exploration programs elsewhere. That doggedness led to the kimberlite discoveries at Chidliak on Baffin Island.

Unlike many families in the mining industry, however, the Friedland brothers didn't grow up discussing rocks or stocks around the dinner table. "Dinner conversation hardly included mining though my brother's exploits were the topic of lively discourse from time to time," Eric jokes.

Eric became interested in mining in the late 1970s, when Robert invited him to spend a summer with him on his tree farm in Oregon. There was an abandoned underground narrow-vein gold mine on the property and the siblings ventured underground. They found a quartz vein and took some samples and in the sunlight realized that they contained visible gold. From that moment on, Eric says, he was "hooked."

After attending Milton Academy in Massachustts, a private college-prep high school on the East Coast where 90% of the graduates went on to higher education at Ivy League universities, Eric was the only one to apply to the Colorado School of Mines. "I remember people saying: What? You're applying to the Colorado School of Minds?'" Eric says. "No,' I would reply, mines not minds!'"

At CSM, Eric focused on geophysical engineering because he liked math and physics and got a minor in geology. The finance side came from just doing it when he was out in the real world.

Curiosity about the relationship the two brothers have runs high and Eric finds himself fielding questions about it from journalists all the time. His typical answer is that having Robert in the business is an obvious advantage. Not only was he a good teacher in disciplines such as finance and corporate structuring, but as Eric points out, his brother's philosophy of hiring the best people in their respective disciplines when creating and expanding a company was equally important. The Friedland last name hasn't hurt either.

"My last name has opened doors to people who might otherwise not have listened, and this is especially true when the Ivanhoe Group of Companies is doing well," he says. The added publicity is not a bad thing. As P.T. Barnum once said: Any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right.'"

When the two brothers talk, it's almost always about mining. "In a way it's like a little friendly competition," Eric says. "However all three of us (Eric's nephew Govind, Robert's son, is president and chief executive of GoviEx Gold) take pride in each other's work and we're shareholders in each other's companies."

Eric explains that all three have a collective appreciation that as a family, the Friedlands have created some of the best copper development (Ivanhoe Mines), coal production (SouthGobi Energy Resources [SGQ-V]), diamond exploration (Peregrine Diamonds), copper exploration (Ivanhoe nickel and platinum, and Peregrine Metals) and uranium development (GoviEx) companies in the world. Says Eric: "We're proud of that and believe me, it has not been easy and not without herculean amounts of work and dedication."

I had to prove myself': The Pollitts

Of course having relatives in the business can cut both ways. Donovan Pollitt, chief executive of Wesdome Gold Mines (WDO-T), knows that all too well, growing up in the shadow of his father, Murray, a successful broker and one of the founders of Western Quebec Mines, now Wesdome.

After graduating in mechanical engineering from the University of Toronto in 1963, Murray became the first gold mining analyst at Dominion Securities, now RBC Capital Markets. "I became intoxicated with gold," Murray remembers, and started buying a few claims, (which ultimately led to Western Quebec Mines).

Western Quebec Mines opened the Joubi mine in 1987, a small producer in Val d'Or, Que., just east of Agnico-Eagle Mines (AEM-T, AEM-N) Goldex mine. The mine produced about 8,000 oz. gold per year until 1999. But it was only the first of five mines that the Western Quebec group would open. The group went on to acquire the Eagle River mine near Wawa, Ont., in 1994, and the Kiena mine in Val d'Or in 2003, which are the two producing mining assets in Wesdome today.

Later in his career, Murray became famous for the parties he threw during the annual Prospectors and Developers Association convention in Toronto.

"We used to call them Val D'Or Night and we'd invite a mixture of people," he recalls. "Donovan saw that - it rubs off - it was an addicting kind of thing. . . he's sharp. He's like blotting paper."

Donovan spent his summers in high school working as a geological assistant at the Eagle River mine and leveraged that to get a job as a field assistant with Falconbridge Exploration while studying mining engineering at the University of Toronto. He spent his final summer during university with Anglo Platinum (AMS-L) in South Africa and the knowledge he gained there of underground rail haulage systems became the basis of his graduating year's mining thesis.

Donovan enjoyed the work in South Africa, partly because of the anonymity he experienced there. "No one knew me, it was nice," he says. "It was a great experience and the scale of Anglo Platinum's Rustenburg operations was eye-opening."

While having a father in the business gave him exposure to the industry and within the industry, he says, it was both an advantage and a disadvantage.

"Many of the people in mining I respect the most had family in the industry," he explains. "My father advised me to spend time up north as much as possible and to work towards becoming a professional engineer. Most kids you talk to at university fairs don't even know mining is an option within engineering. Exposure was a good thing and was definitely a net advantage."

But he admits that he sometimes found it difficult growing up as a Pollitt and didn't particularly like it when during job interviews, people would ask if he was Murray's son.

"I spent a lot of summers in the field to get through university and felt the family association sometimes discounted what I had done," he says. "I felt I had to go out of my way to overcome that and prove myself."

Not an easy life': The Downies

Some fathers and sons work well together. Ewan Downie, president and chief executive of Premier Gold Mines (PG-T), and his father Iain, a geologist, ended up as co-recipients of the PDAC's Prospector of the Year Award in 2003 for their exploration work at Wolfden Resources and their discovery in August of that year of the West Zone massive sulphide deposit at High Lake in Nunavut. The Downies, along with Ian Neill, found the deposit, one of the highest-grade undeveloped polymetallic deposits in Canada, about 45 km south of the Arctic Ocean.

After emigrating from Scotland and studying at the University of Toronto, Iain worked for a number of mining companies, including Teck, Falconbridge, BP Selco and Rio Algom. Ewan spent a lot of his youth at mining camps.

"I moved around a lot like a lot of mining families do," Ewan Downie remembers, explaining that he was born in Timmins and spent time both in Quebec and in Bathurst, N.B.

"When I first started working as a teenager, it was usually for my father at some sort of mining camp. I'd be staking claims, cutting lines, anything and everything that needed to be done."

But because of the cyclical nature of the industry and the long periods of time away from home, Iain cautioned Ewan against going into the business full-time.

"Frankly, I didn't want my kids to get into the business at all," Iain says. "It's not an easy life. My wife and I figured out on our fortieth wedding anniversary that I'd probably spent almost half of it away from home."

With two little boys born 14 months apart, Iain adds, it was hard on his wife. "To a large extent, she raised the kids herself a hell of a lot of the time and I would come home and apply discipline whenever it was needed."

Says Ewan: "He convinced me it wasn't the best long-term industry to go into even though I enjoyed the bush life. So I took up commercial diving instead."

But that didn't last long. After a stint studying commercial diving at Toronto's Seneca College, Ewan abandoned the notion of diving as a career (among the many reasons, the pay was terrible) and returned to Thunder Bay to start a business administration degree at Lakehead University.

In the summer of 1989, however, Downie applied for a government loan available to students who wanted to set up their own business. (The loans were forgiven if the companies were successful.) After his second year of university, Ewan set up a contracting company called Vytyl Exploration Services offering a full suite of services ranging from line cutting, staking, and grid cutting to prospecting and geophysics work. Over time, his clients included heavyweights such as Placer Dome and Noranda.

After the first five years, Ewan was doing over $1 million worth of business a year, Iain says proudly, and had locked up about two-thirds of all the business in northwestern Ontario. But the work was gruelling and Ewan spent long days and nights on the road supplying his work crews in the bush with food and other necessities.

"He was very successful but he worked his ass off," Iain says. "He can be quite vague about things but when he does have a direction he's like a weasel after a rabbit."

Ten years after startup, Ewan sold Vytyl to his foreman and decided to set up a junior mining company.

"I told him it was tough and that he would have to work very hard, just as hard as he had to work at Vytyl," Iain recalls. "He didn't believe me, but he found out that I was right. I (also) told him early on that there were a lot of juniors that weren't on the up and up, especially when flow-through is involved, so if he crossed the line I would kill him myself. He stayed on the right side of the fence."

Ewan used the seed money from Vytyl to set up Wolfden Resources.

"When the idea came up about starting a public company I jumped in with both feet," Ewan recalls. "My dad thought I was crazy to do it. He told me that if I wanted to be a geologist I should go back to school. But I think he was really of the opinion that a lot of junior companies fail and this was a big risk to be taking and I knew nothing of running public companies. . . But I'm pretty stubborn and decided that I had to find out for myself."

Not only did Ewan start a mining company, but he convinced his father to get involved too - he owned about 75% of the company and his father 25%. Indeed, Iain introduced Ewan to one of his contacts at Kennecott regarding the potential for Wolfden to acquire the High Lake property, which eventually became Wolfden's primary project.In March 2007, Wolfden and its various Arctic deposits were sold to Australia's Zinifex (now OZ Minerals [OZL-A] for $361 million when zinc prices were near historic highs.

Since then, Ewan has gone on to set up Premier Gold Mines focused on northern Ontario. "He's done an amazing job finding properties," Iain says. "He picked up the six oldest claims in the Red Lake mining camp. How he found out about them coming open I have no idea. Premier had an agreement to retain a 40 per cent outright interest with Placer Dome on those six claims at no cost to Premier - these claims were leveraged to form what is now a major joint venture with Goldcorp. It's astonishing."

Today, father and son are teaming up again in a new incarnation of Wolfden - a private company that holds a nickel-copper property, among others, near Minnesota. The two are hoping to take the company public within the next year.

"He has learned a hell of a lot about business and has learned a fair bit about geology too," Iain says. "He has been very successful at dealing with the people who supply money and you have to be able to do that and then keep them happy after you've raised it. I could never do it."

Downie credits some of that success with growing up in a family where hard work and persistence were highly valued. "My parents encouraged us - my dad kind of drove us - to be good at what we did. He used to say: If you're not going to do it right, don't do it.' I think that to do well, you have to be willing to take risks and be all in. They are lessons I took to running my own companies."

Some things went horribly wrong': The Felderhofs

John Felderhof and his brother Will Felderhof, sons of a Dutch physician and the fifth and youngest, respectively of 11 children, got a different start in the mining business.

Their father left Holland in search of better opportunities and settled in New Glasgow, N.S. John was 12 at the time he landed in Canada and didn't speak a word of English.

At first, the young Felderhof thought he would follow in his father's footsteps and become a physician. But he later came to change his mind. "Looking at sick people all day seemed so depressing."

In the meantime, a British geologist who volunteered to teach students geology after school, piqued his interest. Felderhof was one of only five kids to sign up for the extra classes and was so taken with the subject he went on to study geology at Dalhousie University. Why geology? "I liked open spaces," he explains. "I didn't like being closeted within four walls."

After graduating in 1962 with a degree in structural and economic geology, Felderhof got a job as an assistant open-pit mine engineer for the Iron Ore Co. of Canada in northern Labrador. But after "freezing my butt off," he says, he started looking for work in warmer climates, taking jobs in Rhodesia (now Zambia), Australia and Papua New Guinea.

On trips back to Nova Scotia, he would regale his family with stories of his adventures and played a big part in encouraging his younger brother Will, founder of Acadian Mining (ACD-T), to try his hand in the business.

"I'd come home to visit my mother and told wild stories and these fascinated him," John recalls. "Will did some contract geological work for me in South Africa for a few years but we were mostly in different parts of the world. We would tell each other stories about what we'd experienced."

"No question that's what inspired me to go into geology," Will says. "He'd come home and have lots of photographs of where he was working, and that was definitely fascinating."

After graduating in 1972, Will worked as an exploration geologist for about a year or so in Australia, followed by a stint working for the Nova Scotia Department of Mines. He then worked for Denison Mines (DML-T) in 1976 and moved from there to contracting on his own in the late 1970s. He also spent about a year in Johannesburg consulting for mining companies before returning to Canada to start his own companies like Acadian, which owns the Scotia zinc-lead mine outside Halifax.

John went on to co-discover with Doug Fishburn for Kenneccott Copper the massive OK Tedi deposit, a copper and gold porphyry deposit in Papua New Guinea, in July 1968. He also played a key role in the discovery of Mount Muro in Central Kalimantan, in 1984 and found Ampalit, an alluvial gold deposit, and Mirak, an epithermal gold deposit, both in Central Kalimantan, the same year.

The geologist's career came to an abrupt end, however, when as the senior vice-president of Bre-X Minerals, core samples from the company's Busang gold project in Indonesia were found to have been salted in what turned out to be one of the biggest gold mining frauds in history.

After more than 10 years of litigation, Felderhof was acquitted in July 2007 of all eight charges of insider trading against him under the Ontario Securities Act, but by that point the scandal had shattered his career.

When asked if his brother's experience at Bre-X affected his own career in the industry, Will says it's a difficult question to answer. "It's hard to quantify if it did or not," he responds. "I just kept going forward. I was successful raising capital for Acadian. The investors and backers clearly looked at the projects and my track record and people in the mining industry and financial community are pretty objective at looking at projects and who you are and your track record."

Today, Will's son Dave is also in the business and working on a deal with his father. A niece, Sonia, works for a mining company in Australia.

When discussing John's career and his discoveries, Will says he has a lot of admiration for his older brother, who was a "dedicated geologist and a dedicated professional.

"Obviously, some things went horribly wrong for him with Bre-X,' he says. "But there's no question in my mind that he was unfairly pilloried and was innocent of any wrongdoing. He was always very honest, with a high level of integrity, and he was the type of person who put a high level of trust in the people who worked around him. That may well have been part of the problem. Once he trusts someone, he's very loyal to them. It's his character. But what was a strong point turned out to be a problem."

Despite the Bre-X disaster, John, a father of three, says he loved his choice of profession and the exciting life he led. "The kids could see that I loved what I did," he says. "I went all over the world - saw deserts, jungles, different cultures. It was like going treasure hunting every day. I would do it all over again."

Even so, Felderhof says, he wouldn't encourage his children to go into the business. "Exploration work can be very hard on families," he says. "You can be away for long periods of time and wives are left with all the responsibilities; you're just there as a visitor."

The thrill of finding something big': The Keats-Stares family

Others in the industry say they almost expect that their children will carry on the family tradition. Kevin Keats, president and chief executive of Golden Dory Resources (GDR-V) is one of them. Prospecting goes back more than a century for the Keats family. His father Allan, Uncle Fred and Grandfather Theodore all worked for Noranda and his great, great-grandfather, Soulis Joe of the Mikmaq band, found silver along his trap-lines.

Today, Keats's son Stephen, who is graduating from high school, will be spending time in the field and his 11-year-old son Zach wants to be a prospector when he gets older. "That's all he talks about," Kevin says happily. "My eldest boy wants to be a pharmacist but I'll believe it when I see it."

Keats's father used to take him out prospecting everywhere he went and he knew the names of all the metals by the age of five or six. "There were times when he'd take me in his backpack when I was three or four years old," he remembers. "I wanted to be a rock hound like my dad."

And when it came to the often tiring and frustrating task of tramping through tough terrain while prospecting, Kevin's father always had this to say: "Don't get upset, tomorrow is another day, the terrain is hard,'" Keats recalls. "None of us have a degree and some people look down on that," he says. "But we had great teachers. We let other people spend money going to university and then teach us."

Even Kevin's wife is involved in the business, running A.S.K Prospecting with Kevin's father Allan. "She is so supportive," he adds. "If I called her right now and said I have to go off to Bolivia, she'd say, OK, have fun.'"

Two or three times a year, Kevin gets together with his three cousins - Stephen, Mick and Sandy Stares - all of whom are in the business and run publicly listed mining companies. The brothers set up Stares Contracting after they all got laid off in 1993.

Stephen is president and chief executive of Benton Resources (BTC-V), Michael (Mick), is president and chief executive of Rare Earth Metals (REM-V) and Alexander (Sandy), is president and chief executive of Metals Creek Resources (MEK-V).

Stephen was the first of the three brothers to create a public company. Of his youth he remembers he and his brothers pretending to be prospectors. As a pre-teen and later teenager he spent many hours in the bush looking at rocks. At 17, he started splitting core as a summer job. "I found one of the veins that they're thinking of making at Eagle River mine south of Wawa, it was one of my first high-grade finds."

At the age of 13, Stephen's brother Mick found a quartz boulder with a bit of copper and gold in it. His uncle Fred, who worked for Shell at the time, showed it to some people at the company. "I knew what it was because my Uncle Allan taught me so well," Mick says.

In 1997, Mick and his brothers found felsic volcanics in boulders near Thunder Bay. "We phoned every major company we knew and we started a bidding war," Steve remembers. "Noranda bid the highest at $65,000 and then Cumberland came in at a quarter of a million."

Sandy of Metals Creek Resources, who spent years in the military before switching to mining, says it was the only thing he ever wanted to do. "There's always the thrill of finding something big. The trick is to find out what the next big commodity is going to be and get on it."

The family tradition is likely to carry on through the fourth generation and into the fifth, the brothers say. Sandy's son Shane, who started in the industry at the age of 12, spending his summers working for Rubicon Minerals (RMX-V), became a full-time prospector after graduating from high school.

An eighteen-hour day was nothing': The McLeods

In the McLeod family, mining spans three generations and could spill into a fourth. Don McLeod, founder of the Northair Group of Companies and a legend in Vancouver's mining circles, grew up in the frontier mining town of Stewart, B.C. His father John had settled there after leaving Scotland, and worked as a miner underground for 10 years before quitting the business and buying a half-interest in the King Edward Hotel in 1923.

Don left school at 15 and got his entree into mining by horse-packing supplies to mining camps and tending to the horses. Fascinated by prospectors, he would pester them to take him along on their trips into the mountains around Stewart. Later on, he made himself indispensable in camp by learning how to cook, and gradually worked his way through various jobs, including mucker, underground driller and mine manager. In his twenties and early thirties most of his work was in contract mining.

Don was integral in the discovery and development of four producing mines in British Columbia: Premier, Northair, Scottie Gold and the SB Deposit.

Among his most notable deposits: Pyramid; Scottie Gold; Northair; and the Snowfields deposit, discovered by his Newhawk Mines, which he later merged with Silver Standard Resources (SSO-T) and is now one of the largest undeveloped gold resources in the world.

Of course it wasn't easy. "I was totally wrapped up in the exploration, development and production business and I lived and breathed it, and at times, I was probably a poor father because I focused so much on my work and business," Don says. "But I think that (my children) saw my work ethic. An eighteen-hour day to me was nothing."

When he did take time off, Don would often take his family on holidays during which they'd visit all the old mining towns in B.C.

Daughter Catherine McLeod-Seltzer, a co-founder of Stornoway Diamond (SWY-T) and Bear Creek Mining (BCM-V), and currently chairman of that company and of Pacific Rim Mining (PMU-T), remembers dinner conversations about mining and finance.

"We'd talk rocks and stocks when I was as young as six and I had my first brokerage account when I was six or eight," she says, noting that one of the stocks her father encouraged her to buy ended up putting her through university.

Things haven't changed all that much since then, and dinner conversation when the family gets together is much the same as it always has been. "The discussions are all similar to what they always were," Don says. "Mining stocks, mining people, what's going on, where to go, where not to go, what the next thing is going to be."

As a teenager, Catherine worked in her father's office doing administrative work, errands, and colouring geological maps by hand. She wanted to work out in the bush like her brother Bruce, soil sampling, but her father wouldn't hear of it. "That just wasn't done back in those days," she says. "He said, No daughter of mine is going to work out there.' So I got a business degree instead."

Catherine ended up at Yorkton Securities under mining legend Frank Giustra, who urged her to work in the firm's Santiago office in 1992. It was there that she met David Lowell, and together they founded Arequipa Resources in 1993. Two years later, they found the 10-million-oz. Pierina gold deposit. The partners sold the gold exploration company a year later to Barrick Gold (ABX-T, ABX-N) for US$1.1 billion.

Catherine has raised more than $450 million in working capital for mining exploration in the past 25 years, and been directly involved in more than $4 billion in corporate transactions in the mining industry. She also sits on the boards of a number of other mining companies, including Kinross Gold (K-T, KGC-T) and Troon Ventures (TVN-V).

Despite her experience, however, she still finds herself asking her dad for advice from time to time. "In every career, you hit bumps and he's the first guy I'd pick up the phone and ask," she says. "He's seen it all."

Catherine and her brother Bruce, a mining engineer and co-founder of Stornoway Diamond, work together frequently on projects, including Troon Ventures, where Bruce is president and chief executive, and talk on the phone at least two or three times a day. They also have started a private investment company together. "We share a passion for the industry," Catherine says. "I wouldn't say we're competitive at all. In our childhood, we were definitely competitive but not in our adulthood."

Adds Bruce: "We're business partners, extremely close friends and both of our spouses probably think we talk to each other too often. . . One thing about family is that you can trust them emphatically. The advice you hear from them is not always what you want to hear, but it's always good."

After graduating from high school, Bruce took a full-time job at the Carolin mine in Hope, B.C., making about $100,000 a year. A university education was not on his radar screen. But he later changed his mind, getting a degree in mining engineering at the Montana School of Mines in Butte, Mont. After graduating, he worked briefly at a gold mine in South Africa before rejoining his dad at Northair.

This year, Bruce won the E.A. Scholz award for excellence in mine development for his role in the construction of the high-grade Minto copper-gold deposit in the Yukon. It's the same award his father won in 1988 for his role in the development of his four mines in B.C.

Bruce is now focused on developing Creston Molys (CMS-V) high-grade El Creston molybdenum deposit in Mexico as well as acquisitions for Troon Ventures, where the McLeod siblings have teamed up with a group of mining financiers and developers. He also sits on the board of Luna Gold (LGC-V) and Capstone Mining (CS-T) and was previously a director of Palmerejo Silver and Gold, which was sold to Coeur d'Alene Mines (CDM-T, CDE-N) in 2007 for US$1.1 billion and Arianne Gold, which was sold to Cambior in 2003 for $60 million.

Now Don is planting a love for exploration in his grandchildren. "Grandpa is doing his best," Catherine says. "He takes my kids to the beach and buries loonies and toonies in the sand and tells them to look for the gold."

- The author is a senior staff writer with The Northern Miner.

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