Canada's Gemstone Capital: Mining Amethyst in Thunder Bay
The sky was blue, the leaves were turning red and gold, but we had purple on our minds, so on a sunny fall weekend we headed out to visit some of Thunder Bay’s amethyst mines. The area between Thunder Bay and Nipigon is home to Canada’s most productive amethyst sites and there at least three mines open to the public from mid-May to mid-October, where you can pick your own sparkly purple stones and get a look at the no-frills open pit mining operations. Amethyst has a lot going for it—it’s the birthstone for February, the official gemstone of Ontario and in ancient times it was thought to ward off drunkenness, improve intelligence and lead to beautiful dreams. What’s not to like?
We loaded our picnic cooler into the car (our lunch destination was the spectacular Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park) and drove along the TransCanada Highway, about 58 km east of the city to the tiny community of Pearl. After a left onto Hwy 5 North, we bumped across the railroad tracks and took a hard left when we saw the “pick your own amethyst” signs.
A coin flip decided our visit: Blue Points. (We’ll have to check out Diamond Willow, also on Hwy 5 North, and Amethyst Mine Panorama in Shuniah on another trip. And if you can’t make it to the mines, you can still buy amethyst at a variety of places in Thunder Bay.)
Blue Points Amethyst Mine which has been operating since 1963, has been owned by the affable Lyndon Swanson since 2002.
Blue Points has free admission and has amethyst for sale on display as well as a pick-your-own site. Lyndon showed us how he scrubs each specimen clean with a toothbrush and vegetable brush, then finishes the job with one of several kinds of acid.
My five-year-old daughter loves all things purple and shiny (of course) and this time she was intent on finding her own pieces. So, we grabbed a one-gallon bucket (At the time of our visit it was $10 to fill it, $5 if you half-fill it, and $20 for a two-gallon bucket) and walked the short distance up the hill to the pit, which is quite large and ringed with a fence.
Regular visitors aren’t allowed into the mine for safety reasons, but a couple from Wawa with mining safety training was hard at work filling buckets with pieces that had been blasted and pried loose, and they kindly let us take our pick. After much five-year-old deliberation, we filled the gallon bucket.
The haul: three larger chunks that are now glittering in our garden, and a handful of smaller pieces tumbled in a large wooden bowl on the dining room table. What a cool souvenir of our Sunset Country adventure.