David Wolfin
President & CEO
Avino Silver & Gold Mines Ltd.
Expert Contributor

How Family & Mining in Mexico Has Played Out Across Generations

By David Wolfin | Thu, 06/10/2021 - 09:13

When you think about mining, does the word family come to mind? Probably not, but in my career and experience, you can’t have one without the other. The fundamentals that are important to family, such as stability, commitment, flexibility, and long-term outlook, are also of key importance to mining.

I was fortunate to be raised by a father who understood what it meant to work hard, was not afraid to try, and recognized what it took to be successful. As a teenager, his own father passed away, and this was the catalyst that would prompt him at a young age to become a provider, a doer, an entrepreneur, and a success.

He went on to have a long and storied career in the mining industry.

He was originally from Winnipeg and moved to Toronto as a teenager to find work. He did all kinds of jobs, and then eventually found his way into a brokerage house. He worked his way to the trading desk, followed by being responsible for the wire service where he used morse code to send orders to regional offices, and that is when he discovered arbitrage. When my dad told me this story years later, he said it was like shooting fish in a barrel. His enthusiasm and keen attitude saw him transferred to Vancouver to run a brokerage house in the ‘50s.  

His first big deal was financing the Pyramid Mines, Pine Point Discovery, a molybdenum deposit, which essentially helped launched the VSE (Vancouver Stock Exchange) as a mining exchange.

From that point on, people would come to my father with all kinds of projects to move forward.  In the late ‘60s, my dad was hosting a cocktail party in Beverly Hills, and it was there that he met Fernando Ysita, a Mexican entrepreneur who then introduced the Avino Mine to my dad. Ysita had amassed a large geological library and had a great interest in Avino. The mine was non-operational at the time but had been mined by the Spaniards in the mid 1500s and off and on from 1555 to the 1900s. My dad sent financial help and technical expertise to assess the project.  All information pointed to great potential, and as there was no NAFTA at the time, a new Mexican company was formed with Avino Canada owning 49 percent and the Ysita’s company owning 51 percent. By the spring of 1974, Avino was back in production.

My first experience at the Avino mine, was when I was approximately 10 years old. It was then, I first discovered what a cactus was. As a kid from Vancouver, I had never seen a cactus before and found out the hard way just how sharp their needles really are. That was my very first introduction to Avino.

I went back to Durango and the mine site many times over the years. Fernando Ysita was so generous to my siblings and I, and always welcomed us with nice gifts, some made from silver. He treated us like family. A strong bond was created between the Ysitas and the Wolfins that still exists to this day.

In the early ‘80s, my dad summoned me to his office and said, “You are going to the mine site to teach English to the workers at the mine,” and I said to him, “I don’t speak a word of Spanish.” His reply was, “Get out of my office, here is your plane ticket, see you in a few months.”

I went to Durango, where I was housed in the infirmary at the mine site, which was hot and muggy during the day, and very noisy at night when it rained on the tin roof. I spent my days in the assay lab, watching how the mix of chemicals was formulated, and how samples are prepared; and my evenings learning about the culture of the people of Durango and the towns close by.

I couldn’t believe my luck to be invited by the mine manager’s daughter out on a Friday night to cruise the strip with other young locals. We drove up and down the strip, honking and partying – such a festive atmosphere. I was also introduced to Miss Mexico, who was very beautiful. I had a great conversation with her; however, she was dating the governor’s son, unfortunately for me! I had such a great time with the kids. They treated me like family and welcomed me into their circle without hesitation. This connection and friendship endured throughout all my visits to the mine site as a teenager and taught me that unconditional love is not limited to blood relatives.  

My father called when he hadn’t heard from me for a few weeks, and then I knew my summer was over, and back to boarding school I went, with fond memories that have stayed with me since.

It is said that Mexican family culture holds very strong family ties and is deeply rooted in tradition, honor, and loyalty. Mexicans hold onto the belief that “unity is strength,” and family comes first.

To understand the meaning of family is to understand what it means to trust and be trusted, to support and be supported. We have this in the Avino family spanning Durango to Vancouver, with longevity in leadership that started with my father and continues with me and the team that support myself and each other. 

There are workers at the mine who have been there for dozens of years, whose fathers worked in the mine. The love of the work is passed on through the generations, and there is great loyalty to Avino.

We are a mining family. The two words synonymous with each other.

Our stability comes from longevity of leadership. Our commitment is demonstrated through the wish for both family and business to grow and understand the industry. Our flexibility is shown in the ways we all take on many roles, the same as in any family. Our long-term outlook is shown through our brand pillars of Resilience, Initiative and Enterprise, which are underpinned by our core values of growth, quality, and relationships.

While your experience in the mining industry may not conjure up the feeling of family, with me, as I said at the beginning, when I think of family, not only do I envisage my biological family, but I also see the Avino family, which has spanned the generations.  

My dad once said to me, “With great chemistry we can achieve great things.” With that I would like to add that, in my opinion, family is: Who you think about on a daily basis, who you care for, who you love, who you trust, who you depend on, who you support, who you sometimes get mad at, but can forgive, who you spend your days with, who you strategize with, who you laugh with, who you learn with, and who you are loyal to, whether you are related by blood or not.

We are a mining family that has stood the test of time through generations and will continue to do so for years to come.

Photo by:   David Wolfin