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The pick of Ontario. A story of amethyst and adventure

This week, Back Roads Bill stops at an amethyst mine on the way to the most westerly point in Ontario

It's road trip time, again, and this time we are headed west, not to the oil patch, but to stand on the most western, surveyed boundary of Ontario. The outcome of this trip and the subsequent story remains to be told.

Along the way will gather more day trip information from provincial parks and nearby communities for another travelogue.

On the way, though, there will be a stop for a cool souvenir from a Northwestern Ontario back roads repeated destination. So many times a story was warranted but this is the time one was written.

A piece of the purple gemstone will brighten any day. It is called the ‘Sobriety Stone’ and the ‘Master Healing Crystal' and it is Ontario’s gemstone. Purple is traditionally the colour of royalty, because of its uniqueness and rarity. The Pope wears an amethyst ring.


Amethyst is found in only nine countries and it is what brings 'rock hound' tourists to the north shore of Lake Superior as known by collectors around the world.

One of the most beautiful and distinctive characteristics of many Thunder Bay amethysts is the inclusion of red hematite microscopic disks/spherules within the quartz.

Amethyst has the property of transmitting two colours which is called dichroism. The colours are bluish-violet and reddish-violet. This has created a classic and sought-after look.

Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz that was once used by the ancient Greeks to decrease the chances of alcohol intoxication and to improve one’s intelligence.

There is also an association with calming physical passions which led some early Christians to associate the amethyst with Christ. The gem’s purple colours represented purity of spirit and the suffering of Christ. Its purplish and reddish hues represented the chastening and purifying effects of suffering. Thus, amethysts were used to aid the healing of wounds.

It is said the gemstone helps the mind flow freely in both mental and metaphysical dimensions. Proponents of this alternative healing technique continue to believe that certain stones and crystals act as conduits for healing by allowing positive energies to flow from the stone to the body, while the body releases negative energy into the stones.

Many psychics keep amethyst with their tarot cards or other oracular instruments.

Closer to home is the First Peoples’ story of how amethyst was formed, from the tears of a little indigenous girl who became lost while gathering blueberries.

It is thought to be a good spirit stone and is carried in a pouch as a charm or lookout against evil. Although these heritage stories may not be accurate today amethyst is still widely used in jewellery, and landscaping and the northwest mines of Ontario have become an extremely popular attraction.

It was adopted as Ontario's official mineral in 1975 to represent the mineral wealth of the province.

One of the Mines

The area between Thunder Bay and Nipigon is home to Canada’s most productive amethyst sites and there are at least three mines open to the public from mid-May to mid-October, where you can pick your own sparkly, semiprecious purple stones.

Tim and Lori Lukninuk are second-generation owners of Amethyst Mine Panorama. It is an actual working amethyst mine with mine owners, mine equipment with visible amethyst crystals and specimens there to see and find.

Since the 1960s, thousands of tourists have flocked to the 80-acre site to pick their own semi-precious gemstones from a large digging area or buy stones and souvenirs from the on-site gift shop.

The mine was discovered in 1949 when an Ontario Department of Lands And Forests crew carved out a bush road to bring supplies to a fire tower and cabin. This mine is the largest deposit in Canada. 

“Our company is a pioneer in the commercial production of gemstones. We control the mining, grading, cutting, polishing and setting of our gemstones,” Tim said. “The site provides for self-guided interpretive displays, a boardwalk along the quarry, an observation platform, and geological and mining displays,” 

Entering and exiting the welcome centre you are bedazzled by a multitude of amethyst jewellery. This is where your amethyst adventure truly begins and from here a pathway brings you outside to the picking and digging sections of the mine. The amethysts come in four colours at this mine, namely purple, lavender, red, and black.

“People love to dig, find and collect, it is a make and explore experience! Whether this is travel or hobbies or crafts or whatever, people like to get their hands dirty and so they do and find something that has possibly never been seen before," he said. "All ages appreciate the unstructured nature of the digging area, they are free to roam, go where they want, dig or use the water. Uncovering something you dug up or found is the best. The ‘find-your-own’ nature of the amethyst search is hard to beat.”

There are a variety of amethysts in the digging area, which is replenished on a regular basis so that there are always stones to discover.

“The digging area is for those looking to get their hands dirty. Here is where you will sort through dirt, rock, and rubble, to unearth your very own pieces of purple amethyst," Tim said. "Visitors with young children love digging for gems as the experience is like a treasure hunt that the entire family enjoys.”

Once you find your treasures the mine has a cleaning station where you can wash and scrub away any dirt and sediment in order to make your rock shine. The picking section also consists of large tables with multiple pieces of amethyst that have been previously unearthed by other visitors the discards may be good enough. It is like fall potato picking in your garden.

Tim said there are various motivations to come and pick.

“Some are collecting to make their own jewellery, some give amethyst as gifts, some put pieces in their homes and gardens, some buy jewellery and some just appreciate rocks.”

The Experience

It is one of those places where you won’t leave until you have a piece of amethyst, small or large. For me, it is time for Christmas shopping. As a rock collector amethyst is magnetic.

Each colour even has its own special nickname, and you can search for Precious Purple, Thunder Bay Lavender, Phantom Rove (red) and Black Gem. As an outside or inside gift, this gemstone brightens the decor of any room and is a conversation piece.

Amethyst is prized in private and public mineral collections around the world. Amethyst is also used in beautiful jewellery both as faceted and free-form tumbled gems. Slabs and blocks can be cut for pen stands, clocks and bookends. Larger blocks of amethyst are used for landscaping accents and for interior design, it is a significant part of the business.

“What we also know most are looking for an authentic and local experience that ties their vacation (travel) to a specific place and time,” Tim said. “I know when we travel we love to find a local item made of local products, by locals and that is iconic to the local we are visiting versus a T-shirt.”

“Rocks and minerals have attracted people from the earliest times. Rocks were first used as tools (Stone Age) and then as building materials and soon after as jewellery and decoration," he said. "Rock collecting is something youngsters often do and that inherent human trait to collect beautiful and natural items is hard-wired into us all. The trait continues. Many are dazzled by the colour and crystal shape and lustre! Some have February birthdates. They appreciate our knowledge. They appreciate our passion.”

From past trips, visitors have stories to tell about the amethyst they found and the miner they spoke with (Tim or Lori).

  • "I found this piece of amethyst at a real working amethyst mine," wrote one visitor. “When I found it, it was covered by mud, half-buried, at the far end of the field - just sitting there…I can’t believe it." 
  • "Look how wonderful and interesting it is." 
  • "We visited an amethyst mine, near Thunder Bay, while travelling the Lake Superior Circle Tour." 
  • "Crossing- Canada with grandma and grandpa." 
  • "While on the way to a new job in BC." 
  • "When Johnny was six, Joe insisted we stop.”
  • "We had no idea what to expect."

The mine's sister Amethyst Gift Centre is in downtown Thunder Bay. It is a year-round retail and workshop space for amethyst mined at Panorama.

It is here Tim cuts, polishes and tumbles the amethyst crafting the amethyst into jewellery, clocks, Inuksuk’s, pen sets, gift items, beads and gemstones.

Now headed for the mine and then on to the western extremity of the province; the best part of this story will be another visit and the time spent digging through the muck for your very own sparkling rocks, treasure found only on the back roads.

Dig it! 

For more Panorama details visit this website.

Bill Steer

About the Author: Bill Steer

Back Roads Bill Steer is an avid outdoorsman and is founder of the Canadian Ecology Centre
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