Donald McLeod was a revered and iconic figure in Canada’s mining industry and an inspirational role model for young mining entrepreneurs. Born and raised in Stewart, BC, he began his career as a pack-horse operator and miner’s helper in the 1940s, and went on to become a successful mine finder, developer, and founder of the Vancouver-based Northair Group of Companies. He is best known for developing the Brandywine and Summit gold mines in BC, and for making high-grade gold discoveries at the Brucejack project later acquired by Pretivm Resources. He also mentored and encouraged countless people to pursue opportunities in the mining industry, including his daughter Catherine and son Bruce, who both achieved success in their own rights.
McLeod’s life journey was shaped his Scottish roots and the mining heritage of his home town. Starting as a teen-ager, McLeod learned almost every aspect of the business as he rose through the ranks at various mines. After managing the discovery of a rich lead-zinc deposit at Pine Point, NWT, he was inspired to move his young family to Vancouver and start his own mining company. In 1972, as president of Northair Mines, he optioned a grassroots discovery near Whistler, BC, and brought it into production 42 months later.
It was an astounding feat, accomplished in a politically challenging era through stubborn persistence and his famously infectious optimism. Over the next seven years, the Brandywine mine profitably produced more than $70 million worth of gold, silver, lead and zinc. McLeod also developed the Summit gold mine and raised more than $200 million of equity for his Northair Group of Companies before retiring in 2014. In the 1980s, one of his companies, Newhawk Gold Mines, discovered high-grade gold deposits at the Brucejack project in the famous “Golden Triangle” north of Stewart. Brucejack was ultimately acquired by Pretivm Resources, which went on to discover the 6.9-million-ounce Valley of the Kings gold deposit slated for commercial production in 2017.
McLeod exemplified the qualities that have made Canada a leader in the global mining industry. His willingness to take on projects in difficult terrains and climates — often under challenging political or market conditions — was a testament of his tenacity and pioneering “can-do” spirit. He demonstrated integrity and professionalism throughout his 70 years in mining and earned the trust of his peers, employees and shareholders. He was intimately familiar with every aspect of the industry from the bush to the boardroom and these experiences gave him the credibility and the sensitivity to encourage others to follow their dreams in the “equal opportunity” mining industry. He was an inspirational role model and mentor for many young people, including his daughter and son, who went to become successful industry leaders.
McLeod generously supported health and education causes, including the Mining for Miracles campaign, and St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation through the creation of the McLeod Family Professorship in Valvular Heart Disease Intervention. In addition to being named a “Mining Living Legend” by Cambridge House, McLeod was the recipient of AME BC’s E.A. Scholz Award for excellence in mine development, and the CIM’s Proficiency Award.