The treasure huntress from Bavaria: Birgit Rameseder, first Montreal, then Yellowknife and Toronto

Text: Bernadette Calonego
Photos: Courtesy of Birgit Rameseder

Birgit Rameseder Enlarge image (© Birgit Rameseder) Some people have a skeleton in their closet. Birgit does too, but in her case, it's a real skeleton. At 17, she was involved in an archeological dig in Bavaria. It was a summer job and she saw how a skeleton was unearthed. She found those ancient bones – and archeology in general – very exciting.

Now you wonder – just like me – how a girl who devoured books like The Valley of Kings about the tombs of Pharaohs in Egypt, later became a Chief Geologist for De Beers, the world's leading diamond mining and exploration company.

Birgit in the camp shed inspecting core samples that tell a lot to her but are totally enigmatic to us. Enlarge image Birgit in the camp shed inspecting core samples that tell a lot to her but are totally enigmatic to us. (© Photo courtesy De Beers) Already as a child, Birgit had been fascinated by history lessons at school at the “Gymnasium” in Untergriesbach, a village close to Passau in Bavaria. Her parents' house was in Wegscheid, right on the border, so that Birgit could see both Austria and the Czech Republic from her kitchen window.

At the age of only 18, Birgit even traveled as far as Jordan where she worked as a volunteer at the Institute for Archeology in Amman during the summer. “I liked the whole mystery and treasure hunting aspect”, she says.

This picture is proof of Birgit's fascination with treasure hunting – I  really wonder what is in that full bag!! Can you open it for us, Birgit? Enlarge image This picture is proof of Birgit's fascination with treasure hunting – I really wonder what is in that full bag!! Can you open it for us, Birgit? (© Birgit Rameseder) It was in Jordan that she realised it would be very hard to participate in archeological digs if she became an archeologist. But there were also geologists working at digs. “So I decided to go for geology”, Birgit says.

She definitely does not mind getting her hands dirty. And Canada, rich in natural resources, needs people like that. But before Canada, Birgit went to France to finish her fourth year of university. There she befriended French students in Quebec/Canada who lured her to Montreal where Birgit did her Masters in Earth Sciences – in French!

While supervising core drilling during an exploration program at Victor Mine in April 2007 in temperatures that dipped below -40C, Birgit provided an overview to the executive management team of De Beers who were visiting Canada. Enlarge image While supervising core drilling during an exploration program at Victor Mine in April 2007 in temperatures that dipped below -40C, Birgit provided an overview to the executive management team of De Beers who were visiting Canada. (© Photo Courtesy De Beers) She ended up with a summer contract to collect samples for De Beers, and has stayed with the company ever since. First as a geologist in exploration camps, then project manager at larger exploration projects, and then as mine geologist at the Victor Mine in northern Ontario where she stayed for six years, moving up the career ladder to Victor Mine Chief Geologist.


We suspect that this might be the only Canadian MBA graduate from Wegscheid, Bavaria in Canada. Enlarge image We suspect that this might be the only Canadian MBA graduate from Wegscheid, Bavaria in Canada. (© Birgit Remeseder) She has also worked in the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan (where she looked after a mining camp with 120 workers) and Nunavut (where they had to move camp every ten days because the exploration area was so huge). Often during her career, Birgit would spend six to nine months a year in remote exploration and mining camps. In 2007, she started working at mining sites.

“I like to do different things”, Birgit says. No kidding: She has even learnt how to evaluate and grade diamonds. “I am one of the very few geologists who can do that”, she says. And if that was not enough studying, she embarked and completed successfully an executive MBA program at the University of Western Ontario.

We want to know more about Birgit, diamonds and the exciting life in camps and ask her some


Curious and Crucial Questions
(CCQ): 

Birgit, are diamonds really a girl's best friend?

I think so! I actually own diamonds that come from a mine I worked at, from the Victor mine in northern Ontario. I bought the diamonds, and a jeweller in Toronto designed three pendants for my two sisters and me (sadly, my mother has since passed away). Now we all have the same diamond-studded pendants.


Two women geologists braving the cold  in Canada's subarctic temperatures – and still smiling! This is what diamonds do to you... Enlarge image Two women geologists braving the cold in Canada's subarctic temperatures – and still smiling! This is what diamonds do to you... (© Birgit Rameseder) As a geologist, have you succumbed to the lure of diamonds, too?

It certainly is something special. As a geologist, I find diamond mining very clean mining, all crushing and washing with water, nothing chemical to get them out of the rock.

But it was the helicopter rides that initially attracted me to working in my job.


How so?
 

I had a summer contract with De Beers to collect samples in the tundra, approximately 300 kilometers north of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. We were that far north, we were actually north of the tree line. In the morning, the helicopter dropped us off and picked us up in the evening. I really liked these rides, it was fun. So I went back in the winter.


Was working in the winter fun, too?

Birgit, we have quickly transferred you to the warmer climate of Toronto's summer, so that you can warm up a little bit from the freezing temperatures in the tundra! Enlarge image Birgit, we have quickly transferred you to the warmer climate of Toronto's summer, so that you can warm up a little bit from the freezing temperatures in the tundra! (© Birgit Rameseder) The drilling in winter was different, for sure. We drove back to the camp with snowmobiles. One day, when I returned, there was a wolverine running between the tents. They can be dangerous when they are cornered.


Is the Canadian wilderness scary for a woman from
Bavaria?

At the beginning, it was nerve-wrecking because of possible encounters with grizzly bears, wolverines and wolves. We carried bear spray but not fire-arms. On Lake Ekati, a grizzly bear sneaked up on us. Luckily, there was a lonely boat on the lake and we could jump in it. The bear was really close.


What did your parents say about your dangerous job?

My mother sent me some wool underwear because I worked in the Arctic!


I wish I could say that these are men in a mining camp. But far from it: It is the fundraising event “Weekend to End Cancer” in Toronto; Birgit participated as part of the “Women in Mining Team” for a few years as she also does charity work. And the men are two firefighters who swept her off the feet. Enlarge image I wish I could say that these are men in a mining camp. But far from it: It is the fundraising event “Weekend to End Cancer” in Toronto; Birgit participated as part of the “Women in Mining Team” for a few years as she also does charity work. And the men are two firefighters who swept her off the feet. (© Birgit Rameseder) What about all these men in mining camps?

It helps if you show them respect and pitch in with tasks and that you are not afraid of getting your hands dirty. But as a woman, I feel you always have to prove yourself a little bit more. A self-confident guy is seen as assertive, but a woman in the same situation can be seen to be pushy or nagging. As a woman, you are not part of the boys club.


What do you prefer, camp life in the wilderness or work at a mining site?

I prefer the mining site because one has more opportunities to go into other fields. Also the schedule is shorter, with two weeks on and two weeks off. Exploration camps are very basic. It is fun and adventurous for a while. You get into remote areas where nobody else gets to. But sooner or later, one starts to appreciate a private bathroom inside and not to have to go outside to the outhouse at minus 40 degrees Celsius.


After facing bears and wolverines in Canada's north, Birgit has nothing to fear from a cheetah in South Africa (especially when it is on a leash!) ... Enlarge image After facing bears and wolverines in Canada's north, Birgit has nothing to fear from a cheetah in South Africa (especially when it is on a leash!) ... (© Birgit Rameseder) De Beers has also sent you for a short-term assignment to their technical head office in South Africa as a Senior Mineral Resource Management (MRM) Specialist, where you work more in the office. Do you miss the digging in the dirt?

To be totally honest, not really! I enjoy life in the city, just a normal life style. But I still travel a lot, also for fun, right now within southern Africa. For instance, I have visited Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique, but I have also traveled to Singapore, Honduras and other countries, including home to Germany, of course. I have always had a travel bug.


One last question: Can you remember what you did on the day when the Berlin Wall was demolished (November 9, 1989)?

Birgit enjoying the city life in Canada – nothing beats an iced latte with friends! Enlarge image Birgit enjoying the city life in Canada – nothing beats an iced latte with friends! (© Birgit Rameseder) Yes, actually I do. I was in my early teens and we, the entire family, were all watching the events on TV in our living room – we even have a photo of us sitting on the couch. The arrival of the trains from Prague had quite an impact for us as some of the first camps were set up in our county (Landkreis).

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See also the website

www.canada.debeersgroup.com

Birgit Rameseder

Visa stamp by Immigration Canada

Bernadette Calonego, author of immigrant portraits

Bernadette Calonego

Most of our immigrant portraits are written by Bernadette Calonego, a freelance Canada correspondent for European German-language newspapers. Writing about German immigrants in Canada made me realise to what extent they helped to shape this country – and still do," she says.