Red Lake’s Mine Operations Manager, Don Burke, remembers clearly the day he was accepted into one of Canada’s most prestigious leadership programs.

It started off like any other another cold, December day in northern Ontario when Burke reached into his mail slot at the Red Lake office and pulled out an unfamiliar-looking letter with a stylized maple-leaf logo. It was from organizers of the 8th Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference (GGCLC), and arrived two weeks after he was interviewed as a potential candidate for the exclusive event. Burke tore open the envelope and quickly read the letter inside, his smile grower wider with each word.

With that letter, the 42-year-old, long-time Red Lake resident became one of only 230 Canadians chosen to participate in the 2012 conference, which takes place once every four years.

“The first thing I did was call my wife. I was so proud,” recalls Burke with a smile. The father of two was born and raised in Cape Breton and moved to Red Lake 17 years ago.

Burke has just returned from the conference, which took place across Canada from June 1 to 15, under the theme “leadership and sustainable communities.” For Burke, it was a perfect fit with Goldcorp’s values.

“Sustainability and leadership. That is Goldcorp as far as I am concerned,” he says.

Burke, along with 13 other people, chose to participate in the group that travelled across the Northwest Territories. He was the only mining industry professional in the group, which included people from a cross-section of careers including retail, the military, banking, broadcasting and union representatives.

Above Ground asked Burke to describe his experience at the GGCLC. His answers are below:

Above Ground (AB): How did you learn about the GGCLC?

Don Burke (DB):  Goldcorp is generally very supportive of professional and personal development and different types of leadership programs. It’s part of our culture. Steve Reid, Goldcorp’s Chief Operating Officer, was at the Red Lake site late last year and called me in for a meeting. He asked me if I would be interested in applying to this program. With his support, and the support of other executives at Goldcorp and Red Lake in particular, I went ahead and applied, not really sure if I’d even be considered amongst this elite group of candidates. Then, the more I thought about the program, the more excited I became

AB: Where did you travel as part of the Northwest Territories Group?

DB: We travelled from Halifax to Edmonton to Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk to Norman Wells to Hay River to Yellowknife then to Ottawa.  We visited many inspiring business and community leaders.

AG: What parts of the trip stood out for you?

DB: There were many great experiences, but there were three things that struck me the most during the conference, each for a different reason. First, the trip to Tuktoyaktuk, in the Inuvik Region of the Northwest Territories, proved to me the importance of connecting with families and communities. We saw sustainable living at its core. Secondly, a Twin Otter trip we took over the Mackenzie Valley reminded me of how fortunate we are to live in such a vast country with so much natural beauty. Last, but not least, the group I was in taught me more about the dynamics of a team, how it forms and the relationships that build through the process. It demonstrated the value of connecting, listening, and understanding other peoples’ points of view.

AG: How did the experience relate to your work at Red Lake/Goldcorp?

DB: Goldcorp is an industry leader in a lot of these areas around community and sustainability. When leaders in some of these communities talked about their partnerships I thought to myself “We do that.” It made me feel proud of the work we do at Goldcorp.

AG: What did you learn about sustainability and leadership from the people you met during the conference?

DB: We learned that the traditional definition of sustainability – social, economy and environment must be shored up by an examination of all the complexities of relationships between people, systems and land. And each of us learned that to be effective leader we have to approach the whole picture by listening – building relationships – learning from both the information and the perspectives provided, and then building an action plan for growth. We agreed, really that the way to lead is not by breaking others down, but by building others up, and by using each person’s skillset.  Really, it was about coming together as a group and working better. Together

AB: You learned from others in the group and from the places you went. What do you think they learned from you?

DB: I became an advocate for the good work that gets done in the mining today. I believe I helped dispel myths of mining as a “dirty” industry. I was able to talk about the advanced technologies we now have in the industry, and how we do take care and pay close attention to the communities and the environment in the regions where we operate. In that role, as an advocate, I was very proud to work for Goldcorp.  Goldcorp is an industry leader in many of the issues and best practices that we and many other leaders discussed.  

AG: How will you apply what you learned to the operations at Red Lake/Goldcorp?

DB: I don’t have an immediate answer to that. What I can say is that it made me realize how big the equation of sustainability and leadership is. I have experienced how it works in other communities and will use what I saw and learned to better shape future decisions I help make at Goldcorp and Red Lake going forward.


For more information on the GGCLC please visit:

For blog entries from Don Burke’s NWT group please visit:


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