This is a great time of year in Bancroft. The woods are full of deep green, the lake is warm enough that it’s no longer only the dog who thinks swimming is a good idea, and… it’s our mineral show season.
The forest on the morning of the Club Show
Every summer, on the last Sunday of July we host the Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club Show, and the following Thursday marks the beginning of the four-day Bancroft Rockhound Gemboree.
Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club Show
Our Club Show is focused – of course everyone is welcome to attend, yet it is a show for minerals and mineral collectors of all levels. You won’t find any gem trees or pewter miners glued to specimens. Local collectors and dealers come together for a great day, and it all goes by too quickly!
End of morning setup at the Club Show.
Well-known Canadian collectors and dealers in this photograph include:
David K. Joyce (right, back to camera), Doug Wilson (in distance, black T-Shirt, as if starring in Monty Python’s How Not to Be Seen), George Thompson (centre, in white, holding a flat full of minerals, as he pretty much always is), Robert Beckett (to George’s left, on a critical early-morning mineral phone call), and Mark Stanley (left of centre, in blue, leaning on the table for support until his coffee kicks in). Somehow Frank and Wendy Melanson escaped a photo here, but as always they were instrumental in organizing, as always.
The Club Show includes exhibits of fine minerals on the show theme, and this year’s theme was “Apatite and Other Phosphates.” George Thompson put together a superb display of Yukon Phosphates from his collection, and since you may have seen a photograph of a similar display by George in my Rochester 2015 post (link below), I thought you might enjoy seeing a few of the specimens up close this time. Many of you will know Canadian mineral photographer Michael Bainbridge. He of course takes excellent mineral photographs, has shot some of George’s collection, and he generously shared copies of the following photos for this post.
Bobdownsite, Rapid Creek, Yukon, Canada – 9.2 cm
George Thompson collection. Michael Bainbridge photo.
Vivianite, Big Fish River, Yukon, Canada – 7 cm
George Thompson collection. Michael Bainbridge photo.
Augelite, Rapid Creek, Yukon, Canada – 8.3 cm
George Thompson collection. Michael Bainbridge photo.
Collinsite, Rapid Creek, Yukon, Canada – 4 cm
George Thompson collection. Michael Bainbridge photo.
Gormanite, Rapid Creek, Yukon, Canada – 4 cm
George Thompson collection. Michael Bainbridge photo.
As life would have it, I put together a display of fluorapatite from my own collection – here’s a portion of that display case:
Fluorapatite, R. McDougall Collection. For sense of scale, the purple crystal from the Golconda is 2 cm.
The grand finale of the Club Show each year is the live auction. Long-time collector and Club member Mark Stanley is also a professional auctioneer, and when he’s at full auction speed, it is something to behold. He always delivers good laughs along the way.
The Club Show is only possible thanks to the dedication of the club members who volunteer to put it all together. We’re a small club and we’re all grateful for all efforts that have made this such a fine event. All proceeds from the show go to the Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club Mineral Museum (if you’d like to read more about the museum, there’s a link to a post on it, below). Next year will be our 20th already (!).
Bancroft Rockhound Gemboree
The Gemboree has been a mainstay in Bancroft for over 50 years. This is truly an old-school mineral show, with field trips to local mineral localities and everything from grab bags and minerals for kids, to typical commercial fare and also fine minerals. The indoor venues, the hockey arena and curling rink, might reinforce the notion that Canadians don’t like to spend time away from these facilities at any time of year.
Frank Melanson with Canadian collector Gil Benoit.
Possibly explaining how he gets his mineral show T-Shirts to last more than a decade.
However, the outdoor venue is where you’ll find many of us. We spend a lot of time indoors when it’s cold and love being outdoors at the height of summer! The outdoor gig is a four-day tailgating affair.
Bancroft Gemboree, under the watch of the town water tower.
Among others, David K. Joyce, George Thompson and Rod Tyson are all at the outdoor venue. Of course the outdoor venue brings some challenges… hot sun, winds and even dust devils, and spread has to be fairly basic, since the set-up and tear-down is a daily routine (even more than once daily when it rains…) All a small price to pay for being out in the summertime with the sun and a good breeze!
It doesn’t matter where you are – indoors, outdoors, or Bancroft, Ste Marie, Springfield, New York or Tucson – one universal constant remains. Minerals are so cool that people want to touch them. Of course that’s good and I even actively encourage it, because I love it when people are blown away by the coolness of minerals! It’s so great to see when someone has that same moment that we, as collectors, have all had when we are struck by how amazing it is that these gorgeous crystal specimens are completely natural. And yet obviously I’m happier when people are reasonable and the handling is not of the most fragile things – naturally, that’s not so good! (careful serious collectors excepted, of course – except they’re the ones who know better and don’t stampede in to paw things in the first place!).
Really, it’s amazing, the total lack of self-awareness one observes. It’s the Plague of our era. So many people have no idea what they are doing, reaching for fragile mineral specimens they have no business handling.
Despite this sign, many people grabbed clumsily for these pieces!
Zoe suggested some new wording for this sign…
… but it could have said “Your Doom is Near!” (I might try that one next time) or really anything else, and few would have noticed. The unscientific lesson: signs are of minimal assistance, when faced with the Plague. Physical protective steps (like glass cases) are truly necessary to ensure specimens will be safe. I sometimes enjoy fantasizing about Wyle E. Coyote contraptions for the deserving – during the Gemboree, a large ACME anvil did spring to mind more than once.
My next-door neighbour at these shows is my good friend and collecting partner, David K. Joyce, and he always has his guitar along. Usually during show hours he plays instrumentals, sometimes instrumental versions of our favourite mineral songs. Helps soothe the soul while I imagine anvils.
Dave is a great guitarist and banjo player too – the banjo is usually out at some point during Gemboree. He has a good sense of humour about banjos and the fact that they are not universally popular, so he has a banjo joke or two on hand, when he’s playing.
“If you drop a banjo and a set of bagpipes out of a plane, which one falls to the ground fastest?”
(Answer: “who cares?”)
“A guy goes into a restaurant for dinner and leaves his banjo locked in the car while he’s inside. When he returns after his meal, as he’s approaching the car he can see the window has been smashed in. He’s heartbroken that his prized banjo has been stolen. Arriving at the car, he looks inside to see a second banjo has been put on the seat with his.”
The outdoor area is where we typically see most local minerals. These days, not so many new fine Canadian mineral specimens are being found, but there are some, always fine Canadian minerals, including older specimens.
This year, George Thompson had some interesting titanite contact twins from near Tory Hill, collected in the early 1990s, and Rod Tyson had some excellent Yukon phosphate minerals. The titanite finds of Moncerf, Quebec, have produced some more very fine titanites. As always, since titanite is so brittle and crystal edges are thin, it is extremely hard to obtain undamaged specimens, and in this locality there is also a lot of contacting, which leaves many specimens with an incomplete look. The sharp, complete ones are nice.
Titanite with minor diopside, Zec Bras-Coupé-Désert, Moncerf-Lytton, Outaouais, Quebec, Canada – 7 cm
Titanite with minor diopside, Zec Bras-Coupé-Désert, Moncerf-Lytton, Outaouais, Quebec, Canada – 5.7 cm
We typically see a few specimens from the old silver mining camps of the Cobalt and Gowganda areas, and this year I was fortunate to find a super crystallized silver from Gowganda. Classic!
Silver, Castle Mine, Haultain Township, Gowganda area, Timiskaming District, Ontario, Canada – 9.2 cm
Every year at the Gemboree we see amethyst from Thunder Bay. Usually we see mostly lower-grade bulk material, and once in a while some finer specimens. Truly fine specimens remain hard to come by. I didn’t see any great ones on display with others this year, but Dave and I had some of the David and Ian Nicklin ones out, including a few remarkable large specimens.
To see the Nicklin amethysts from the Diamond Willow Mine, Thunder Bay District, click here. (And if you missed the article on Thunder Bay Amethyst this past May, and would like to take a look, it’s here.)
It’s thunderstorm season here and we had interesting afternoons on Saturday and Sunday. Each day, when the storms moved in, it was time to pack down.
Every once in a while, timing works out perfectly – on Sunday, five minutes after the last of flats were packed into the car, we drove home through a deluge.
Until next year… back to the world of minerals online, where no anvils are necessary.
David K. Joyce mineral songs: (if you don’t have a copy yet, they’re here)
This article is jointly authored by Raymond McDougall, David K. Joyce and Ian Nicklin. Except as otherwise credited, all photographs are R. McDougall photos.
Quartz var. amethyst with hematite inclusions from the Diamond Willow Mine, McTavish Twp., Thunder Bay District, Ontario
Field of view 8.0 cm
THUNDER BAY AMETHYST
Just north of Lake Superior, the Thunder Bay District of Ontario is world famous for its distinctive, ancient amethyst crystals. Thunder Bay amethyst has been known since the 19th century, and is remarkable for its variety – it occurs in all shades of purple from pale to deep, from warm to cool hues, it is often further coloured by inclusions (most often red, due to included hematite) and once in a while phantoms are also found. It is a long journey to the amethyst mines of the Thunder Bay District, and hopefully this article will bring this beautiful region, its history, geology, mines and collecting experience a bit closer!
The Thunder Bay District is located along the northern shore of Lake Superior. The Thunder Bay District is a formal subdivision of the Province of Ontario comprising over 103,000 square km. The amethyst-producing region, within the Thunder Bay District, is located in an area approximately 60 km northeast of the city of Thunder Bay. Just to give you a sense of how long a drive it is to reach the amethyst area from major international centres, it is over 1200 km from Toronto and over 1000 km from Chicago. (Closer large cities are still a surprisingly long way from Thunder Bay: Milwaukee over 900 km, Winnipeg over 700 km and Minneapolis-St.Paul approx. 550 km). Flights from Toronto are frequent, but commercial air travel is not the most convenient when transporting major collecting gear or any decent amount of specimen material.
North of Superior
The land north of Lake Superior is rugged – it is stunning, wild country. It is one of the most beautiful regions in Canada, but because it is relatively remote from major population centres, it is not as well-known or as frequented as some of our more famous scenic locations. It is a land of the Canadian Shield, with exposed Precambrian rock, lakes and evergreen forests.
The distant hills are often quite rounded thanks to the glaciers, and in many places, the shoreline rock has been shaped into smooth forms, first by the glaciers, and since the end of the last Ice Age, by the unrelenting waves, ice rafts and deep frost.
Inland from the shoreline, signs of the last glaciation are still readily apparent, with rock faces worn smooth, and interesting features like the deep, dark, round pools known as kettles, created by powerful glacial runoff, carrying rocks as abrasive agents. The most recent glaciers receded from the area approximately 10,000 years ago.
Even beyond the glaciers and away from the shoreline of Lake Superior, this region is constantly being visibly reshaped – by heavy storms, and often just by water as it makes its way from higher land down to Lake Superior.
Small waterfall, north of Lake Superior, Ontario
Speaking of storms, Thunder Bay is named for the sound of the thunderstorms as they roll through. Severe thunderstorms are common throughout Ontario in the summer months, but they are just awesome in Thunder Bay, where the thunder booms around the bay and echoes off the surrounding landforms. (It is an amazing experience. Ideally not experienced in a tent.)
The Thunder Bay District is home to lots of wildlife, including large mammals such as moose, timberwolves and black bears.
From Early People to Modern Times
After the glaciers retreated, the first people moved in to inhabit the lands along the north shore of Lake Superior, approximately 10,000 years ago. Several peoples have lived in this region since that time, the Plano, the Shield Archaic, the Laurel and the Terminal Woodland peoples, and the Anishinaabe (including the Ojibwe, or Chippewa). They have hunted, fished, gathered berries and even mined native copper – and they have been active traders. Early inhabitants used canoes for water transportation – first, canoes were carved out of large tree trunks, and later canoes were made using lighter wooden frames covered by birch bark and assembled using a glue made largely from tree resins (combined with animal fat and soot).
Today, there are few tangible signs of most of these early peoples. In some places, small stone pits and piles of stone are evident, and artifacts have assisted researchers to better understand the past of the area. Painted red ochre pictographs are seen on the Lake Superior shoreline cliffs – these are comparatively recent, estimated to be 200-400 years old.
With the arrival of the first French explorers in the mid-17th century and the opening up of trade by the British and the Hudson’s Bay Company, life around Lake Superior began to change. Through trade, the French and the British engaged with the Ojibwe people. As the British continued to explore and develop these interior regions during the nineteenth century, prospecting and mining followed.
Teepees, dwellings of the Ojibwe people (constructed as they were in the early 19th century)
In the beginning, what is now the city of Thunder Bay was comprised of two separate settlements/towns (it was not until 1970 that they amalgamated as Thunder Bay). The first was Fort William, which was established in 1803 by the North West Company as a trading post for furs and other goods. After the merger of North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821, the importance of Fort William as a trading post diminished, although the settlement continued on and became a town.
In the latter half of the 19th-century, a second settlement, initially named Prince Arthur’s Landing, was founded nearby in connection with the Government of Canada’s post-confederation efforts to extend the railway from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Soon renamed Port Arthur, it was was initially supported by local silver mining. As the silver mining declined, the era of railway development was on the rise, and both Port Arthur and Fort William were to become important Canadian railway towns. Port Arthur was the key rail terminal for Western Canadian wheat, which was then loaded onto ships and transported through the Great Lakes.
Once the first railway across the north of Lake Superior was completed in 1885, trains were the major means of land transportation across the region for the next 75 years.
These same Northern Ontario railways are still fundamental Canadian transportation corridors today, linking Central and Western Canada. The echo of trains in the distance day and night is an evocative sound of this part of the country.
Because the land is so rugged, with steep hills and river gorges, the last section of the Trans-Canada Highway linking Thunder Bay with Sault Ste. Marie (at the eastern end of Lake Superior) took decades to complete and was only finally opened in 1960. Today the Trans-Canada Highway in this region runs like a ribbon through hundreds of kilometers of rocky forest, sometimes relatively close to the lakeshore, and sometimes much further north, where construction was more feasible.
The land north of Lake Superior is part of the Canadian Shield, and includes ancient rock types dating back to 2.7 billion years old. The landforms and rocks evidence mountains and volcanoes that have come and gone, and massive geological events including regional structural metamorphism, folding and major faulting.
The amethyst deposits of the Thunder Bay District are associated with the rocks of the Osler Group, formed during a late Precambrian stage of volcanism and faulting, from 1.2 to 0.9 billion years ago. In general, the amethyst deposits are in or near the granitic rocks, in proximity to the contacts between the rocks of the Osler and Sibley Groups. The faulting and related fracturing of these rocks during the late precambrian allowed for the intrusion of the fluids which ultimately led to the deposition of the amethyst crystals. These fluids precipitated the amethyst (and also silver, lead and zinc-bearing minerals at the localities where they occur) onto the walls of the fractures, creating crystal-lined veins and cavities. The faulting and fracturing – and therefore the nature and occurrence of ameythst-bearing veins – differs somewhat from locality to locality within the Thunder Bay District. Some brecciated zones are characterized by large numbers of relatively parallel small veinlets, while in other places much larger fractures are hosted by much more competent rock. The size of individual amethyst crystal-bearing vugs and cavities can vary significantly – they can be as small as 2 cm and a cavity 15 x 3 x 2.4 metres has been excavated. The vugs and cavities within a vein or berated zone are often interconnected with one another.
History of Thunder Bay District Amethyst Discoveries
Silver was discovered in the Thunder Bay District in the mid-19th century and soon silver mines were operating. Amethyst was found in these mines, and was described by W.E. Logan (founder of the Geological Survey of Canada, and namesake of weloganite) in a report in 1846. By 1887, G.F. Kunz was reporting a thriving trade and exports of amethyst from the Thunder Bay District for tourists and for building materials. However, by the early 20th century, two factors led to the decline of the Thunder Bay District amethyst trade: the silver mines began to close and large amounts of high-grade Brazilian amethyst began to appear on the market.
For mineral collectors, the most important amethyst discoveries were yet to come. In 1955, amethyst crystals were discovered northeast of Port Arthur in McTavish Township, but it was the discovery by Rudy Hartviksen in 1967 at Loon Lake (also in McTavish Twp.) that began the modern era of fine amethyst production from the Thunder Bay District. The deposit found in 1967 was to become the Thunder Bay Amethyst Mine, the largest commercial amethyst mine in the region. It has operated continuously since that time and is now named the Amethyst Mine Panorama. Many other localities in the Thunder Bay District have been operated since 1967, and perhaps the most prolific for producing fine, top-quality collector specimens has been the Diamond Willow Mine.
The Diamond Willow Mine
The Diamond Willow Mine is on a vein in McTavish Township, in the Thunder Bay District, located on a claim block at the northern end of Pearl Lake. It was named by its owner, Gunnard Noyes, after the type of willow tree that grows at the site of the mine and is highly prized by wood carvers. From the late 1970s and for over 30 years, sections of the vein were leased and worked in the summers by the father-son team of David and Ian Nicklin. They collected with great care and produced some of the finest quality amethyst to have ever come from the Thunder Bay District.
During this period, portions of the Diamond Willow vein were also worked by Gunnard Noyes, his sons Doug and Clark, and later his daughter Francis.
To give a small insight into what really lies behind the excellent amethysts mined during that period at the Diamond Willow Mine, the following account is written by Ian, together with a few photographs from mining in those days.
Amethyst Mining at the Diamond Willow Mine
My father, Dave Nicklin, and I first met Gunnard on the suggestion of the Ontario Geological Survey regional geologist in Thunder Bay 42 years ago, while on a summer rock collecting trip. Gunnard had worked in the mines at Sudbury for many years and had retired to the small railway stop town of Pearl, approximately 60 km northeast of Thunder Bay. He was a great source of stories and a remarkably generous man. Knowing of the amethyst riches in the region, he staked his several claims just north of the hamlet of Pearl but when we first met him they were not developed to any extent. The claims were only accessible by a narrow twisting trail or by canoe, up Pearl Lake.
On our first visit, my father and I canoed Gunnard’s ancient but still functional Atlas Copco Cobra plugger drill up the length of the lake and met him at the trailhead. I was 16 at the time. Although I was quite strong for my age, I clearly recall complaining about the weight of the drill as I struggled through the bush with it. Gunnard, a man well into 60s at this point, laughed at my complaints, grabbed the drill from me and hoisted it onto his shoulder with no fuss. (Anyone with any familiarity with Cobras knows what that takes and just how uncomfortable it is.) I think he was enjoying showing up the young pup.
We eventually reached a small clearing on an outcrop where there was evident signs of blasting and some amethystine rubble. This was the beginning of the Diamond Willow Mine. Gunnard drilled some holes with the plugger and prepared to put off some shots. He had stuffed some sticks of Forcite 40 into his pockets before heading up the trail. This was the first time we had seen blasting up close and as with most things associated with Gunnard it was memorable. He had some pre-cut fuse and a few blasting caps which had to be crimped onto the fuse with special plyers. In later years, we would use electric caps but these were still early days. He set the charges, lit the fuse (it would burn for about 30 seconds) and told us to find cover … which we did.
As we walked away – never run from an impending blast – to find shelter (with Gunnard yelling “Fire!”, the signal for anyone who might be nearby that an explosion was imminent) I became aware just how long 30 seconds can be. The anticipation of the bang made the seconds interminable. But off they went and I can still see the smoke slowly wafting through the trees and the smell of cordite in the air as we made our way back. And there lay our first amethyst specimens, which I still have to this day. We collected about 100 pounds or so of specimens and packed them into the canoe for the trip back. This was the beginning of a 42-year-long relationship, first with Gunnard and later with his sons.
My father was a teacher and so he had the summers off. While I was in school, we would return to the Diamond Willow every year, collecting for several weeks. Later my father and mother bought a trailer in a nearby camp and spent the summers there – I would join them as time allowed.
We learned how to quarry, drill and blast. Although we used feather-and-wedge method of rock removal as much as possible (to minimize chances of damage), blasting was normally mandatory.
We typically used Forcite 40, which we found to be a good general purpose explosive and usually loaded the holes lightly so as to crack the rock but not throw it to minimize damage to the pockets. It might take a full day of drilling to lay out a blast and I clearly remember not being able to open my hands fully without pain after a day on the plugger.
The amethyst at the Diamond Willow Mine had a complex history of formation, with the crystals first forming tight to the walls of the pockets and then later, probably due to more geologic activity along the fractured fault systems the plates of crystals collapsed into a jumbled mass. At some later time these pockets became filled with a stiff red clay. This history of formation is something of a mixed blessing. If the pockets had not collapsed the crystalline plates would have to be cut or otherwise chiselled off the walls making recovery much more difficult. But of course, because they are collapsed, the plates suffered nearly ubiquitous damage. (Another “fun” aspect of working in the clay filled pockets is that the clay is typically riddled with tiny, razor-sharp quartz shards… after a few weeks of that, your hands are in rough shape…)
Although we have not been back to the Diamond Willow for many years now, today it is still in production.
- Ian Nicklin
Thunder Bay Amethyst
Crystallized quartz in the Thunder Bay District is found in vugs and cavities of varying sizes, from 2 cm across to a cavity large enough that you can crawl in. Donald Elliott (1982) describes one pocket that was 15 x 3 x 2.4 metres in size (references are listed at the end of this post). Amethyst crystals from the Thunder Bay District are most commonly 1-2 cm in size, but larger crystals are also occasionally found. Rarely, very large crystals have been found – a crystal 61 cm across is reported in Elliott (1982).
Thunder Bay quartz crystals occur in many colours and shades, from colourless to smoky quartz, and the variety amethyst occurs in crystals from delicate pale lilac to a deep purple that can approach black. The lustre of Thunder Bay amethyst ranges significantly from the best of the brilliant, lustrous crystals at the Diamond Willow Mine (some of which look perpetually wet (!)) to crystals that are not bright and can even be fairly dull in lustre.
Quartz var. Amethyst, Diamond Willow Mine, McTavish Twp., Thunder Bay District, Ontario – 8.3 cm
One of the most beautiful and distinctive characteristics of many Thunder Bay amethysts is the inclusion of red hematite (microscopic disks/spherules within the amethyst). The inclusion of red highlights, red zones, and even completely red amethyst crystals are all a classic look for Thunder Bay specimens.
Hematite disks/spherules included in quartz var. amethyst, Diamond Willow Mine, McTavish Twp., Thunder Bay District, Ontario
Field of view 1.7 cm
The crystal morphology of Thunder Bay amethyst is basic, as most crystals exhibit only well-developed pyramidal faces. Prism faces are uncommon, and doubly-terminated crystals are rare.
The glassy lustre on the best Diamond Willow Mine amethyst specimens is superb.
Some specimens are entirely red, and some show distinct zoning – the crystal surfaces are red and amethyst is evident as an earlier phase growth.
Quartz var. Amethyst, Diamond Willow Mine, McTavish Twp., Thunder Bay District, Ontario – 7.0 cm
One of the authors has always thought the completely red ones look like clusters of jasper crystals, if only jasper crystals existed. (Neither Ray nor Ian has ever contemplated the existence of jasper crystals – both agree that’s a great description of the intense tone of red.) Certain of the completely red crystals have been found to be comprised internally of zoned ametrine, underneath the red outer layer.
The best of the amethyst specimens mined by David and Ian Nicklin at the Diamond Willow Mine are remarkable, in part for their brilliant lustre and exceptional condition.
Labelling Thunder Bay Amethyst
The history of the amethyst discoveries and production of the past is helpful in understanding locality information, particularly for older specimens. it is also instructive for all specimens where the labelling has been vague. It is so common to see mineral specimen labels with “Thunder Bay, Ontario”, and no further information. Although “Thunder Bay amethyst” has actually occasionally been found right inside the city limits, the city of Thunder Bay is not the source of the Thunder Bay amethyst specimens on the contemporary mineral market. Similarly, it would be a feat today to obtain an amethyst specimen excavated in the silver mines of the area before the early 20th century. Unless a specimen is actually known to date to the early 20th century or earlier, specimens labelled “Thunder Bay, Ontario” (or, one sometimes sees “Port Arthur, Ontario” on pre-1970 specimens) are most likely from any of a handful of producing mines and properties – or possibly even any of a rather large number of prospects and additional known deposits – most of which are in McTavish Township, in an area beginning about 50 km northeast of the city of Thunder Bay. Absent specific locality information, the use of only “Thunder Bay” on a label should be considered to refer to the Thunder Bay District.
Thunder Bay Amethyst – Today and Future
Thunder Bay amethyst is among North America’s finest and is known by collectors around the world. These amethysts are contemporary classics for mineral collectors. Because the amethyst-lined vugs of any size naturally have collapsed during their history before anyone has found or collected their contents, excellent quality specimens will always be uncommon, hard to obtain and highly prized.
Amethyst has been found at many localities over a considerable area within the Thunder Bay District (localities up to 200 km apart) and mining continues today at a few properties. As Frank Melanson (2012) points out, thanks to our winters it is a short mining season, and thanks to the rugged terrain, access and access cost is always an issue, so it is difficult to mine Ontario amethyst profitably. And yet, the lure of the amethyst continues to inspire ongoing efforts, despite the economic hardships (and not to mention the black flies!). In Frank’s words, “for many, keeping the mines open was a labour of love.”
It is possible to personally collect amethyst in the Thunder Bay District, primarily on a fee-collecting basis, and also at other prospects and exposures. All of the authors have collected amethyst crystals in the Thunder Bay District. Most individual collecting is typically on the dumps, notably at the Amethyst Mine Panorama, but it is difficult to find collector-quality fine mineral specimens on the dumps. Other collecting is just a bit more involved, as Ian’s description conveys!
When amethyst was first encountered in the early silver mines of the nineteenth century, no-one would have foreseen the story of Thunder Bay amethyst as it has unfolded. Thanks to the later vision and pioneering efforts of Gunnar Noyes, Rudy Hartviksen and others, those first finds of amethyst would lead to the discovery of significant amethyst deposits and the preservation of spectacular amethyst specimens that now reside in museums and collections all over the world. It is unclear how many Thunder Bay amethyst mining ventures will be able to continue in the future, but it is likely that fine specimens will continue to be found, in very small numbers, relative to the amount mined. It is also likely that the best amethysts mined by David and Ian Nicklin will, for a very long time, be considered among the finest quality amethysts ever collected in the Thunder Bay District.
Thank you to the Noyes family for their kindness and generosity, and for enabling the development of their deposit such that Diamond Willow Mine amethyst crystals will be enjoyed in collections worldwide for generations to come.
Thanks also to Tory Tronrud and the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society for kind assistance and permission to share the Fort William mountain train photograph in this article.
Elliott, D.G. (1982) “Amethyst from the Thunder Bay region, Ontario” The Mineralogical Record. March-April 1982, vol. 13, no. 2.
Melanson, F. (2012) “Purple Rain: Thunder Bay Amethyst” No. 16: Amethyst, Uncommon Vintage. Gilg, H.A., Liebetrau, S., Staebler, G.A. and Wilson, T., eds. Lithographie, Ltd.
Vos, M.A. (1976) Amethyst Deposits of Ontario Ontario Division of Mines – Ministry of Natural Resources, Geological Guidebook No. 5.
If you’ve ever wondered about mineral shows as they used to be, the smaller-town affairs meant for all sorts of people – serious collectors, beginners and families alike – the Bancroft Shows offer a glimpse, going back to the first show, over 50 years ago. Even the name of our original show, the Bancroft Rockhound Gemboree (at first, named the Gem-Boree), harks to an earlier era in the evolution of mineral collecting. In an older incarnation, the Bancroft Gemboree was held a few kilometres north of town at the old Bird’s Creek fairgrounds…
Gemboree, August 1964 (Archives of Ontario, RG 65-35-1, 8-H-1964)
Now the show is in Bancroft, with mineral-related activities to make up for the fact that there is no longer a ferris wheel.
There is a lot to be said for these kinds of mineral shows, based in smaller towns – the Bancroft Area has beautiful scenery, wildlife and, of course, rocks!
Common Loon on nest (Bay Lake, just outside of Bancroft)
The Bancroft Shows
Although Bancroft on a snowy day in early December or late March is a very quiet little town, at many other times of year Bancroft is an outdoor destination, and the height of it all is the week of the Bancroft Shows!
Bridge Street, Bancroft, during Gemboree weekend
When I say the “Bancroft Shows”, we have two separate annual gem and mineral shows, within one week. The large Rockhound Gemboree, in its 51st year, is held for four days, Thursday-Sunday, every year on the first weekend of August. The Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club also hosts a smaller show, on the last July Sunday that falls one week prior to the Gemboree – next year will already be our 20th year for the show.
It’s hard to come up with three more truly Canadian venues: the Bancroft Shows are hosted inside the Canadian Legion (the Club Show), the hockey arena and the curling rink (the Gemboree).
Starting the week off each year, the Club Show is a small non-commercial show, organized and run buy the members of the Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club. All proceeds go to funding the Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club Mineral Museum. Usual Suspects Wendy and Frank Melanson are key organizers of this fine local show.
It isn’t too hard to see what’s wrong in this photograph. (Not staged – he really was walking around like that for a couple of hours.)
The exhibitors at the Club Show are mostly local Ontario dealers and collectors, with some from further afield as well. As a result, this show often offers a “sneak peak” availability of what’s new and interesting in Canadian minerals. Over the years, lots of interesting things have shown up here!
Club Show, before morning opening
Club members contribute to very fine mineral displays – this year featuring quartz.
George Thompson contirbuted an excellent display of Canadian Quartz, all the more impressive since several of George’s Canadian quartz specimens are already on display in his separate Minerals of Ontario display across the river in the Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club Museum! (For more about our new museum, click here.) His show display, anchored by the giant Diamond Willow Mine amethyst (near Thunder Bay, Ontario), showcased fine quartz specimens from localities across the country, including Bathurst, New Brunswick, Boylston, Nova Scotia, Black Lake, Quebec, Kamloops, British Columbia and Emerald Lake, Yukon, among others.
Canadian quartz specimens from the collection of George Thompson.
Wendy Melanson put together a case of quartz from all over the world, with a central riser of beautiful amethyst specimens. The large one at back centre is from the Anahi Mine, La Giaba Distsrict, Sandoval Province, Santa Cruz Dept., Bolivia.
Quartz specimens from the collection of Wendy Melanson.
The Club show ends in the late afternoon with an event that is not to be missed if you can help it – Club member and professional auctioneer Mark Stanley conducts a mineral auction to benefit the Museum, and he is awesome! Always a lot of laughs, it is a good time.
A few days later, the town is host to the Rockhound Gemboree. The Gemboree is Canada’s largest commercial gem and mineral show, with displays of minerals, jewellery, and other mineral-related items (books, tools, historical mining artifacts). Of course, the Gemboree has a large indoor setup featuring many dealers at both venues (a very short walk apart from one another).
For those of you who appreciate details, in the photo above, you’ll see the fine netting to stop hockey pucks from hitting spectators, and also the row of colourful hockey victory banners hanging from the rafters. The boards around the perimeter of the ice surface are all hidden by the nice curtains (all in, you don’t feel like you should be wearing skates).
A great part of the Gemboree experience is that it also has the old-style, outdoor tailgating section for dealers. That’s where you’ll find a few familiar faces, including George Thompson, David K. Joyce and me.
A quiet moment after two drops of rain had chased everyone inside for a few minutes
Yes, we’re at the mercy of the weather (which was fantastic this year!) but it’s worth the risk – what could be better than summer sun, fine minerals, friends, mineral talk and of course mineral music?
One morning while innocently talking with people looking at my table, a woman stopped and asked me if I had any “Mystery Mineral”. A smart aleck might have replied “you tell me”.
But I could see that it was an earnest request and I explained that “Mystery Mineral” is not a mineral name, but rather a marketing name of some kind, so I was not sure what mineral she was looking for.
Mystery Mineral Woman: “No, that IS the mineral name: Mystery Mineral.”
MMW: “Aren’t you based in Bancroft?”
MMW (now with edge of annoyance): “Well you SHOULD know all about it. It’s a new find, from very near Bancroft itself. If anyone should know, it’s YOU.”
R: “I promise you it is not a mineral name. Can you tell me what it looks like? Is it white or colourless and clear?”
MMW: “Oh so you DO know of it!”
R: “Does it form slender, pointed six-sided crystals?”
R: “And can you tell me where you saw them?”
MMW: “At a store… [Ed. Note: the name of which suggested something to do with spiritual odysseys]”
I don’t think she believed my diagnosis. People really do give common quartz all sorts of names in order to sell it.
I didn’t tell her “Mystery Mineral” might be my favourite to date.
It’s been a quiet run in Canadian minerals lately, but it is always possible to find interesting things at the Bancroft Shows.
From Nova Scotia, beautiful zeolites and associated minerals are still found from time to time.
Stilbite on Chabazite, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland County, Nova Scotia – 4.5 cm
Natrolite ball (2 cm) on Analcime, Wasson’s Bluff, Cumberland County, Nova Scotia
Classics from Quebec are becoming increasingly hard to obtain, but there are usually a small number of good ones at these shows.
Vesuvianite with Diopside, Jeffrey Quarry, Asbestos, Quebec – 7.5 cm
Prehnite crystals (to 1.2 cm), Jeffrey Quarry, Asbestos, Quebec
Rutile crystals to 1.2 cm, McGregor Lake, Outaouais, Quebec
Rhodochrosite and Elpidite, Mont Saint-Hilaire, Quebec – 6.5 cm
Titanite with diopside, Zec Bras-Coupé-Désert, Moncerf-Lytton, Outaouais, Québec – 5.5 cm
Stay tuned for Canadian mineral updates over the coming weeks.
Well, the Bancroft Shows are over until next year, but they usher in our late summer and early fall – the time of year that often affords some of the Bancroft Area’s best field collecting weather. Hope to see you in the trenches!
When you arrive in the town of Bancroft, Ontario, it’s easy to find Tim Horton’s and McDonalds, but the area’s world-famous mineral riches are not so obvious.
In fact, in recent years it has been hard to find local minerals on display. The good news is that we have a great new display. The new Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club Mineral Museum (the Bancroft Mineral Museum) is open. When you come to Bancroft and want to see and learn about local minerals, this is where to start!
Historic Bancroft Train Station
Historically, during settlement days, the Bancroft region was primarily logging country (as it still is, in part, to this day) and it was served by the Central Ontario Railway. The land is rugged and the good direct highways did not come until much later! At the heart of Bancroft, the old train station sits above the banks of the York River. Constructed in 1899, the first train arrived in November 1900.
Arriving at Bancroft Station, 1914 (R. Plumley Collection)
Leaving Bancroft Station (undated, North Hastings Heritage Museum Collection)
As is common among many of Ontario’s smaller communities, the railway ceased to operate, and the tracks are long gone, but the train station building remains. By the 1990s, the town’s railway station hosted the Bancroft and District Chamber of Commerce, a small addition/room dedicated to displaying the mineral collection of the Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club collection, and a fine local art gallery.
Bancroft Station, 1970s (Drawing by R. Perkins, 1978)
Sadly, the train station building fell into disrepair and was condemned. As a result, all were compelled to vacate the premises and there was serious doubt as to whether it would be saved. Saving the train station would be too expensive for the Town of Bancroft to fund. For a few years, the train station stood empty and on the verge of demolition.
This story does have a happy ending. Through community fundraising and hundreds of hours of volunteer work, the Bancroft Train Station has been saved and restored.
It was no small effort, saving the Train Station! Among other difficulties, the Train Station needed an entirely new foundation, as dry-rot affected the base of the structure. Needless to say, it’s a lot easier to put in a new foundation when you don’t have a building there already, in the way…
Bancroft Train Station, September 2011
Where would I rather sit at a desk, than under a 19th century train station suspended in the air? (Photo: F. Melanson)
The completed Train Station is beautiful!
Bancroft Station, July 2014
The New Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club Mineral Museum
Members of the Bancroft Gem and Mineral Club were instrumental in the Train Station project and the museum project, and part of the construction involved an addition at the southern end of the building, to house the Club’s new museum. The collection on display is the Club’s collection, built through the efforts, fundraising and ongoing contribution of the Club’s members. We’re a small club, but our members are active and contribute their time and efforts generously. If you are a member of the international mineral collecting community and reading this, you may very well know Frank and Wendy Melanson – they were fundamental to the Train Station project and the museum project – this could not have happened without them. Wendy Melanson is the curator of the Club’s collection.
The Mineral Displays
The museum’s regular displays, comprised mainly of the Club’s collection and some individually loaned specimens, features the minerals of the greater “Bancroft Area” (in this case, 150km radius of Bancroft). For mineral collectors, the term “Bancroft Area” has been used informally and inconsistently over the years to refer to a broad region that extends in a radius of perhaps 50-150km from the town of Bancroft itself. The “Bancroft Area” has variously been considered to include parts of the Haliburton Highlands, Algonquin Highlands and Madawaska Highlands. The mineral cabinets are organized by localities and districts within the Bancroft Area, to feature the mineral specimens in a way that is easy to see where they were found.
Inside the main entry, the central display case provides an overview, with a large map of the larger “Bancroft Area” featuring specimens from 90 Bancroft Area localities, all numbered so that it’s easy to see which specimens were found where.
The museum includes cases each dedicated to areas around the Bancroft Area, and some dedicated cases for major individual localities.
The Faraday/Madawaska Mine was Bancroft’s most famous locality – in its day, it produced fine specimens of many minerals – some huge ones here too.
Speaking of the Faraday Mine, of all the displays in the museum, one of my favourites is in the next photo. In the days before 3-D computer modelling of underground deposits and mines, one way of modelling deposits was the use of a wooden box frame, with plates of glass with hand-drawn graphics representing the workings and mineralization on each level. This is the original such model from the Faraday Mine offices.
I am not going to spoil what is waiting for you here when you come to visit Bancroft. But here is a quick teaser from the multitude of specimens you can see in person when you come to the Museum. The collection contains some remarkable specimens, including some true Canadian classics from the Bancroft Area – if you want to see the fluorapatites, titanites and others, come!
Zircon is one of the coolest minerals found in excellent specimens in the Bancroft Area. Here are two – the first is about as classic as a Canadian locality gets, and the other is an entirely obscure old mine from which specimens are rare.
Zircon, Miller Property, Lake Clear, Sebastopol Township, Renfrew Co., Ontario – 11.2 cm, crystal is 6.0cm. Collected by Mike Irwin.
Zircon, White Elephant Mine, near Wilberforce, Cardiff Township, Haliburton Co., Ontario – dark wine-coloured crystal, 2.0 cm.
The Silver Crater Mine has long been known as one of the world’s premier localities for good crystals of betafite. The betafite crystals occur in calcite, and owing to their nature, the calcite is usually very weak around them – good matrix specimens are very scarce.
Betafite in Calcite, Silver Crater Mine, Faraday Township, Hastings Co., Ontario – 6.2 cm, with crystals to 2.0 cm.
The Faraday Mine produced excellent specimens of many minerals. Although it is perhaps best known for the large complex calcite twins and also for radiating sprays of bright yellow uranophane crystals, other minerals of note include sharp clear datolite crystals and beautiful vivid green fluorite crystals.
Fluorite, Faraday (Madawaksa) Mine, Faraday Township, Hastings Co., Ontario – 2.6 cm. On loan from the collection of Wendy Melanson.
A bit further afield, to the south of Bancroft are the historic fluorite mines in the vicinity of the town of Madoc. These produced spectacular fluorite crystals and occasionally beautiful specimens of barite. If this piece looks familiar, it is photographed in the Ontario issue of the Mineralogical Record (Vol 13, No. 2 (1982), p. 89.
Barite on Pyrite-coated Fluorite, believed to be from the Bailey Mine, Madoc Township, Hastings Co., Ontario – 3.2 cm. On loan from the collection of Frank and Wendy Melanson.
Guest Exhibit Cases
The museum includes display cases for special guest exhibits, which will change over time. Right now we have two superb cases from Club members. We have Minerals of Ontario, from the collection of George Thompson, of Stirling, Ontario. George is a dedicated and talented field collector and many of the specimens were personally collected by him. This is an excellent display!
Sperrylite, Broken Hammer Deposit, Wisner Township, Sudbury District, Ontari0 – 4.0 cm, crystal 0.9 cm. George Thompson collection.
Calcite with Fluorite, Amherstburg Quarry, Malden Township, Essex Co., Ontario – 7.0 cm. George Thompson collection.
The second guest exhibit is Canadian Gemstones from the collection of Robert and Brenda Beckett, of Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ontario. Spectacular cut stones of minerals one does not normally see – amazing collection.
Fluorapatite from localities in the Bancroft Area, Robert and Brenda Beckett Collection
Cool Displays for All Ages
The Museum has a life-sized underground mining scene and a brand-new display of fluorescent minerals – these are neat for everyone (even those who just want to see if their clothes glow under ultraviolet lighting…)
And for those who love mining and history, there are great artifacts from Bancroft Area mines.
The Museum hours are Monday through Saturday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, Sunday 9:00 am – 2:00 pm.
The Museum welcomes visits by university groups, public school groups, clubs and other groups. If you would like to make arrangements, you can contact Wendy at 1-888-443-9999 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
The Club’s collection is growing and developing, and the special exhibits will change periodically, so you never know what will be new, next time you visit!