Words and pictures by Jennifer Merrick
“The Weekend” is what Bancroft locals call the first weekend of August, when the Rockhound Gemboree takes place. Over 6000 folks visit this town located in the Haliburton Highlands, 250 kilometres north of Mississauga for the country’s largest gem and mineral show.
But Bancroft, known as ‘The Mineral Capital of Canada’ is a gem to visit at anytime, especially for those like myself who can’t resist picking up an unusual rock or two or three....
“Its geological history goes back 1.4 billion years,” says geologist Corey Lablans. “And more than 1600 different types of minerals have been identified in the region.”
This means that anyone, rockhound or not, can find some display-worthy minerals to take home. Our family scored rose quartz, amethyst, appetite crystals, mica and the highly-prized sodalite on our visit.
Sodalite holds a special place in the region’s mineral heritage. Other than South Africa, Bancroft is the only other major source of the royal-blue decorative gem. The best place to find it is at the Princess Sodalite Mine, where visitors can unearth the sought-after gem themselves at the site.
For those who’d rather let others do the mining, the rock shop on the premises stocks mineral specimens, gems, collecting supplies and jewelry. The self-named “healy feely” section is filled with metaphysical literature and gems labelled with their transcendental abilities.
For Wendy Melanson, curator of the Bancroft Mineral Museum, gems don’t need any mystical properties to impress.
“They are attractive in their own right,” she says. And the minerals and gems on display at this museum certainly dazzle. Bancroft specimens have been shipped for displays all over the world, including the Smithsonian Institute, so it’s fitting that they should finally have a place to show off their brilliance at home.
The Bear Lake Diggings display features large specimens found at this popular nearby collection site. In fact, anyone willing to dig and get dirty for their riches is welcome to gather rocks here once they have purchased a pass (though you’ll need to bring your own supplies).
The abandoned railway car, where the museum is located, also houses the Bancroft Visitor Centre. Geological tours can be booked here, which take participants to collection sites and geological points of interest. The excursion attracts people of all ages and interests from visiting geologists to families looking for a fun day out.
To plan your adventure, visit ontariotravel.net