Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

Attention Bancroft Blackflies! Incoming Rockhounds!

Since we are up to our necks in snow and the chance to get out mineral collecting is as fleeting as the sunshine today, I thought I’d revisit a piece I wrote a few years ago for Mindat. It’s a journal entry about a trip we made in May, 2010.

We had a good long May two-four weekend, blackflies notwithstanding (one doesn’t get to use “notwithstanding” all that often, does one?).

Learned a few lessons:

  1. The best digging is spitting distance from where you parked the car (though SOME would claim that spitting is unlady-like!)
  2.  Landscapes change in 40 years (ask Reiner – who went on ahead while I waited patiently …[ok, I lie])
  3. Even though your GPS suggests that this route might be the most direct, GPS doesn’t know about terrain and windy, hilly roads that are primarily used by logging trucks. Fortunately for us, loggers were on holiday, too, but not so the half dozen outfitters hauling multiple canoes toward us – always timed as we turned blind corners or crested a hill.
Key word: Dig!

Bear Lake Diggings.
The key word: dig!

First day, we found some radio-active something-or-other at the Bear Lake diggings – once home Reiner determined that it was thorite. What was really remarkable about this stop is that we had the place to ourselves! Blackflies, I assume, kept others indoors. The Diggings are great for entry level collectors and for kids. It’s a well-known locality that has easy access. People have been coming here for decades and I’m sure will continue to visit for years to come. The photo here was taken by a friend and very active world-wide mineral collector David Joyce.

Kataphorite a variety of hornblende

Kataphorite: a variety of hornblende
from the Bear Lake Diggings

The MacDonald Mine was fun. We found a half dozen hunks of uranopyrochlore using our scintillometers (radiation detectors). But, man! What a tourist trap! I kid you not! Some folks had camped overnight, several groups of hikers came and went. At one point I heard what sounded like a locomotive. Turned out to be a dozen or more ATV’s.

Reiner prospecting for "hot" rocks. The scintillometer caused quite a stir among the lookers on.

Reiner prospecting for “hot” rocks. The scintillometer caused quite a stir among the lookers-on.

Everyone was curious about what we were doing and why, and why, and why. It was fun talking with them, but the crowd was bit overwhelming. I flashed my best smile and we made our departure while they went to check out the mines.

Update 2012: The MacDonald Mine has since been “reclaimed”. That is, they have filled the “stopes” or caverns with the material from the mine dumps. Given the number of people that visit the site, insurance policies deemed it necessary. I’m glad I had the chance to see it before the reclamation.

On to Quadeville – it’s off the “must visit” list. The owners suggested that in a week or two they were turning over the dump. Good news for the future folk, not so good for us. Didn’t find much of anything that we didn’t already have at home. We had planned on taking the scintillometers with us, but left them behind when we saw the crowd ahead of us. Had had enough “what are you doing?” queries at the MacDonald mine for one day.

Next we made a side trip to the Spain Mine, on Hwy 41 north east of Griffith ( Griffith lies at the end of the aforementioned logging road). This time we were looking for ferro-molybdenite. We found a couple nice moly crystals but by this time the bugs and the late hour cut into our enthusiasm.

Spain Mine Molybdenite

Spain Mine Molybdenite

Pyrite from the roadcut

Pyrite from the roadcut

So, we called it a day… until Reiner spotted recent road improvements. As you all know by now, a newly built roadcut is what we rockhounds call a bonanza! We found quite a few minerals, including some chabazite and stilbite, though the chabazite didn’t survive the extraction. We also retrieved some pyrite with sharp, shiny crystals, though somewhat marred by pitting and fractures.

I had to giggle. On the drive back to our B&B, Reiner asked, did I still want to go to the East Gibson’s as planned the next morning? I was game, and said so, then saw the look in his face. No? NO!? Who are you and what have you done with Reiner?

I think I’ve finally managed to pace myself – good thing, too!

You might find this fun – it’s a National Film Board animation by Christopher Hinton, called Blackfly. 


The video is also available on the NFB site here .

For more information about mineral collecting tourism in Ontario, visit

Categories: Mineral Collecting

Tags: , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Believe it or not, this brought back some great memories of “rock collecting” as a child through the hills of Monterey. We’d escape through a school chain-link fence, and run (by which I mean climb slowly) up the gully (washout?) meandering through the brown/green (depending on the time of year) hills rolling for miles toward the sea. Many happy hours were spent scouring the creek bed for pretty mineral stones. (Granite, anyone?)

    Only later we learned the area was actually the back side of the local military training facility.




  2. Glad that my story triggered your memory. You’ve described the setting beautifully – makes me want to go there. Except the part about the military training. I don’t dodge bullets all that well. Assuming it was that kind of training facility.
    Hope you are winning the battle and feeling better?


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