2012 Winners

Thunder Bay | Entrepreneur of the Year

Barb Courte

Carly Verville

When Barb Courte first met her husband more than two decades ago, she admits she was in the dark about his profession.

"I said, 'What do you do?'" she recalls. "He said, 'I'm a diamond driller.' I said, 'You drill for diamonds? Right on!'"

Courte belts out a hearty laugh recalling her naiveté. And the irony of the situation isn't lost on her.

After her husband died in 2007, the feisty and determined Courte relocated their family—three kids, two dogs, two cats and two drill rigs—to Thunder Bay to start a new life. Today, she is the president and CEO of a pair of drilling companies, Northstar Drilling Ltd. and Cobra Diamond Drilling Ltd., which together are blazing trails across northwestern Ontario.

Her big break came when one of her drill rigs struck high-grade gold in the Beardmore-Geraldton gold belt, and her services have been in demand since.

With six drill rigs and more than 60 employees working for her, Courte is known as a tough, but fair, boss, who operates a closely knit workforce.

"In turn, I demand respect from them," she says. "I want them safe, I care about them and they're part of my family, and I want them to know that we're together in this as a family."

Courte is a fierce advocate of First Nations training and development and, with a zero-tolerance approach to substance abuse, has helped with social programming in the communities in which she works. Her companies hire and train locally, and Courte has sponsored the helper common core courses at Confederation College, even donating a drill for their training, and often hiring graduates.

A desire to educate the public about the important role mining plays in Canadian society, and the jobs and economic spinoffs that come with it, often leads Courte to speak at mining shows and conferences. She is eager for others to understand the driller profession and the hard work it entails.

Donating to local charities, consulting with municipal government and forming Women in Mining in Northwestern Ontario are amongst the successes she's achieved.

At the heart of Courte's motivation is the desire to make a change for the better. Inspired as a girl by Terry Fox, who altered the way Canadians view cancer, research and treatment, Courte said her goal is to leave a footprint on the world.

"If you can make a difference in somebody's life, more power to you," she says. "You've only got one life."

Though Courte's business is stable and successful now, it hasn't been easy. As one of a few women in a male-dominated field, Courte endured years of taunts, rumours and harassment, with other industry types often turning their backs on her at meetings. Perseverance and the will to find something positive in every day has helped Courte overcome those obstacles.

There are still those in the industry who dismiss her simply for being a woman, but the adversity she's faced has only strengthened her resolve. She has one word to describe being named one of the North's influential women: "wow."

"When I see that I got recognition for it, I'm proud that I did do something," Courte says. "I broke through. I think I've done a lot of good in this industry and hopefully made a change for the better."

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