Introductory notes on rock and mineral collecting
The Geological Survey of Canada receives many enquiries for information on collecting, including information on the equipment required, the locations of rock and mineral occurrences, books on minerals, rocks, fossils and gems, lapidary materials, etc. In response to these enquiries, and to assist those interested in getting started in the hobby of rock and mineral collecting, the Survey has prepared these introductory notes and appendices.
Becoming acquainted with minerals
Courses on prospecting, elementary mineralogy, general geology, etc. are offered in various centres by provincial government agencies, by universities, colleges, and other interested groups. For additional reading, amateur mineralogists and lapidaries may choose from a number of books written specially for them. A partial list of such publications forms Appendix A.
A necessary supplement to reading is the practical knowledge gained by observing and handling actual specimens, and by studying rocks and minerals in their natural surroundings, in mines, quarries, and outcrops. An ideal way to get started is with a set of common minerals and rocks; these sets may be obtained from some of the mineral dealers listed in Appendix H. Another way of becoming acquainted with minerals is by studying them at museums and other places featuring mineral displays. A list of mineral and fossil exhibits is given in Appendix I. Also, collectors may view mineral specimens, as well as buy or exchange them, at mineral/gem shows organized by mineral clubs or other organizations. These shows are listed in Appendix K.
Because many collectors enjoy the association of others having similar interests, they form organized groups or clubs to study and to collect rocks and minerals and to cut and polish gem materials. One advantage of joining such a group is that it has members who are acquainted with minerals, mineral and rock occurrences, and with the lapidary arts. Mineral clubs are listed in Appendix G.
Where to look
Quarries, mine workings (pits, trenches, etc.), and mine dumps are usually good places to search for minerals. Other good places are road and railway cuts; rock exposures along cliffs and along the shores of sea, lakes, and streams; landslide areas in the mountains; and beaches and stream beds. Shafts and tunnels in old abandoned mines are often unsafe and should only be visited with extreme caution. Guidebooks describing mineral localities in various parts of Canada are listed in Appendices A, B, and C. Geological reports and maps may be ordered from the various government agencies listed in Appendix E.
Permission should be sought before entering a mine, quarry, or other private property; in active mining areas arrangements for the visit should be made with the operators well in advance. A fee is charged for collecting in some localities; these are listed in Appendix J.
Tools and general equipment
Outdoor clothing that is worn for hiking and hunting is suitable for mineral excursions. Shoes or boots should have steel toe caps and be of a type to furnish a good secure grip on rocks; they should be sufficiently comfortable for long hikes. You may require heavier clothing or an extra sweater when visiting some mines where the temperature remains fairly low even on a warm day.
Safety goggles and a hard hat should be worn for personal safety. Sturdy gloves provide protection from sharp-edged rocks. Insect repellent is needed for collecting in some areas, and a first-aid kit is essential on all field trips.
The essential tool for removing specimens is the geological hammer. A chisel-edged hammer is useful for trimming and shaping specimens; the pointed pick type is useful for prying loose rock and for removing moss and overburden, though for this purpose some may prefer a prospector's grub-hoe or a shovel. A two-pound hammer is suitable for most purposes. Where delicate crystals are to be preserved in a specimen, fewer blows with a heavier hammer and a chisel may lessen the possibility of shattering. A rock chisel is necessary for separating specimens from larger rock masses. To pry apart large slabs of rock, a wrecking bar should be used. Other equipment might include a gold-pan, an ultraviolet lamp, a metal detector, a Geiger counter, and a knapsack.
Most collectors bring a few aids to assist in identification of minerals in the field. The most important are a small hand lens with magnification of about 10X and some means for testing for hardness, such as a pocket knife. Other items which are often useful are a magnet, a streak plate, and a vial containing dilute hydrochloric acid. If you wish to make a record of the occurrence, include a notebook and pencil, and a camera.
Many of the mineral and lapidary dealers listed in Appendix H carry the equipment and accessories needed by collectors.
Care of specimens
Trim your specimens to a reasonable size as you collect them, wrap them individually in newspaper or tissue, and take them home in durable bags (such as plastic milk bags). Careful packing will prevent disappointments; egg cartons are ideal for small crystal specimens and fragile minerals that require special care because they are easily ruined in transit. It is a good idea to put field labels giving locality information with each collection as it is wrapped. Details are easily forgotten on a busy collecing trip. Wash the specimens with detergent and water when you get home; do not use stiff brushes on soft minerals. A few minerals dissolve in water and should be washed with alcohol. Label the specimens before final storage; if you use open cardboard trays, labels can go with the specimens. Some collectors paint a small area of white enamel on the specimen and write an index number on it with black ink. This number can be recorded in a book or card file with the name, locality and any other information you may wish to keep.
As your collection grows, you may want to arrange it in a systematic manner. Many collections are organized according to Dana's system of mineralogy (see Appendix A). Simpler arrangements could be made based on locality, chemistry, crystal structure, or any other method you might care to devise.
Collecting in Canada
There are few restrictions on rock and mineral collecting by Canadians or visitors in Canada. The rights of mine and property owners should be observed at all times. There are restrictions concerning the removal of minerals, rocks and fossils from national and provincial parks, conservation areas, ecological reserves, or other protected areas. For further information, contact the park or area concerned.
Canada's gemstones are exploited both as commercial enterprises and as hobby-oriented activities. Probably the country's largest commercial operations are for nephrite jade in British Columbia and Yukon Territory; most of the production is exported to cutting centres in East Asia. Important commercial operations are conducted for amethyst in the Thunder Bay, Ontario area, where a number of mines are open to visitors (see Appendix J). Other gemstones produced on a commercial basis are sodalite and rose quartz in the Bancroft, Ontario area, rhodonite in British Columbia and Yukon Territory, amazonite in Ontario and Quebec, labradorite in Labrador, and ammonite fossil gem in southern Alberta. Much of the production is exported; a portion is distributed to the domestic market which supplies jewellery designers and custom lapidaries or hobbyists. Canada's first diamond mine, the Ekati mine (Lac de Gras, Northwest Territories) began production in October 1998.
Some gemstones such as hessonite garnet (Asbestos, Quebec) and iolite (Manitouwadge, Ontario) are rescued by miners during mining operations for other commodities. Collectors and hobbyists recover a variety of gem materials including jasper, agate, petrified wood, the feldspar minerals, and ornamental rocks from localities in various parts of Canada for use in the lapidary arts.
Producers of rough gem materials are listed among the mineral and lapidary dealers in Appendix H. Some of these mineral dealers carry jewellery and sculptures fashioned from Canadian gem materials, as well as cut Canadian gems ready for mounting in jewellery (see Appendix H).To assist those lapidairies and collectors who are interested in expanding their knowledge and understanding of gems and gemmology, a list of institutions offering courses leading to diplomas in gemmology is given in Appendix F.