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Archive for the ‘abandoned mines in Ontario’ Category

Stone Church 1, originally uploaded by Mic2006.

In 1965 E.D. Ongley produced his much sought after caving manuscript, ‘A Study of Caves in Southern Ontario’. In that work Ongley mentions the existence of Stone House Cave, a tunnel that had been blasted by the railways to drain a swamp that was seasonally flooding the nearby railway. In that blasted tunnel Ongley had found an albino crayfish and he speculated that the side of the tunnel, which had been blocked by a human-constructed rock wall, likely led onto a deeper, natural cave.

In the attached video, see – Looking for Stone Church Cave here, I show the caving possibilities at the edge of the Canadian Shield and I explore the small tunnel pictured above. This is not the fabled Stone Church Cave, but it is context for the next post that I will publish, which is the now revealed – Stone Church Cave.

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I am by no means a professional rockhound. My education is as both a gemologist and a geographer, but I believe both rockhounding (collecting minerals) and my other great interest – caving have been in my heart since childhood. And where better to rockhound than Bancroft, but a word of caution, as both rockhounding and caving appear on my site. Both activities are related to rock, but neither should ever meet. Cave mineral deposits must stay in the caves and a caver who shares both interests (and there are many) should never let their inner rockhound loose beneath the surface.

Wearing my rockhound persona this past Saturday afternoon I headed out to the Bancroft Chamber of comerce to get a vibe on the local collecting possibilities. For a place that styles itself as the mineral capital of Canada, they do very little to encourage that reputation. Remembering back to my childhood, rockhounding was everything in Bancroft – now it is just faded memories and hanging onto loose and fragile threads. Fortunately mother nature takes care of basics and continues giving back. I left the Chamber of commerce disillusioned – not by the staff, not their fault, just the general malaise of the people who call the shots. No effort to justify the reputation.

Anyway I picked up an ice Cap from Tim Hortons and headed off on a kind of aimless ramble, and within about half an hour I’d come upon a spectacular crystal vug (cavity) from which I spent the next few hours scooping crystals.

The cavity is shown in my video – Click here for Crystal cavity in Bancroft video

It was a calcite seam within a road cutting that had been opened by someone else and then abandoned as they obviously did not know what they had found and if they had looked within the cavity when they hammered it open it would be they not me who was posting the pictures.

My point is, you just need to know what to look for. Bancroft is famous for its calcite intrusions, a mineral that solidifies last from molten rock and so it acts as a medium for other minerals to grow in. The vug that I extracted crystals from was predominantly filled with amphibole and feldspar crystals and lying loose in the bottom of the part of the cavity that I dug into were a few doubly terminated crystals – having grown in the medium as opposed to being attached to the cavity wall. In retrospect, looking at the video it becomes obvious that the seam runs on an angle and there is likely to be a lot more to be extracted if rockhounds just follow up and down along the incline of the seam. As this rock cut is in a public place I will just leave its exact location for you to figure out, but there is enough in what I have said and shown on the video for you to quickly pin-point the general vicinity of the deposit.

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An unseasonably warm day – early March found JC and I visiting Southern Ontario on a search for abandoned gypsum mines.

Where both the Grand River and the Nith River meet there is the quaint though somewhat aged town of Paris. It has the appearance of having been passed by progress, there are brick and barn board sided buildings in the downtown – somewhat neglected, but full of character. Large mills had once tapped the water power and the mining of plaster of Paris leaves a fascinating terrain of forgotten rail embankments, inexplicable hollows and gullies along the river bank, weirs and beaches where barges once loaded up the chalky material from underground and of course decayed and vine choked foundations.

I was inspired to photograph this backstreet business, ‘The Grand River Experience’ it appears that they offer canoe and kayak rental as well as tours down the river; I believe it was on their website that I had my first glimpse of a riverside gypsum mine – supposedly one of many that are around there. As you might have guessed, there is a connection between ‘plaster of Paris’ and the coincidence of this calcium sulfate material being mined from a conglomerate that underlies the area. It is said that the gypsum comes from Silurian age lenticular deposits on the south east flank of the Algonquin Arch.

Devil’s Cave is one example of a local feature where running water has dissolved away the gypsum and having washed the conglomerate out, there are small cavities lived in by a colony of beavers and decorated by spectacular white speleothems and flowstone.

Having now visited this area several times and followed apparently sure leads, both JC and I are somewhat disillusioned as to the prospects of finding open gypsum adits – though a cave is far preferred. Everything seems blocked up real well (with the exception of a single adit along the river bank downriver from the town). Crossed shovel and pick symbols on a map (available on the internet) generally leads you to a spot where you’ll find an undercut that is pretty much buried in countless tons of soil.

Having long been fascinated by industrial archeology, urban exploration and various forgotten tunnel explorations I’d like to know of where there are old gypsum mines around Paris where an interested person can visit and actually go underground?

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JC and I have had some difficulty in locating these caves in the Elora Gorge, there are plenty of rumors out there, but because of the difficulty in viewing this area, with slippery ice and cliff edges that seem to blend into the drifted snow these caves had gone un-noticed until today.

As many of us live such an urban lifestyle most are hesitant to enjoy the winter – or at least the winter beyond the limits of a local ice rink. A ramble up the Elora Gorge is definitely a cool thing to do if you live in or near Toronto. The ice formations are amazing, especially with the warmer temperatures as of late and the rapid freeze to grow these incredible icicles. There was also an interesting bed of octagonal foam rafts that had floated down the river and gathered in an eddy. I managed to get down to the river and grab one. It was ice with a top of foam that had frozen. by their rubbing against each other the ice rafts had all developed this unusual geometric appearance and at their outer edge the rafts were being jostled out into the river and sucked back into the eddy further down to replenish the back end of this constantly moving carpet. It was like a natural conveyor belt.

Sadly – as much as photographing the ice formations is a cool thing, it looks like we will have to either wait for summer to reach the caves in the above picture, or we will have to wade across the river in less than ideal conditions. As seems to be the pattern, all caves that I’ve seen in the Elora Gorge are simple shelter caves – shallow cavities that have been scooped out by the water. Admittedly the caves present some interesting opportunities, but I’m not sure I’m ready to wade across the river in these temperatures. There also appears to be a possible scramble down the opposite cliff face. I will have to scout that out next weekend if I’m not with JC looking for abandoned gypsum mines – the landscape south of Hamilton is littered with them. JC just e-mailed to say that he visited a buried adit today from which 60 000 tonnes of rock had been removed. The land owner says that he had felt a breeze coming from there in the summer.

So will it be looking for caves or abandoned mines next weekend?

Cave near Kingston

One question – who is looking for a cave near Kingston?  Do you know something that I don’t? Leave a message so I can contact you – your lead and the knowledge of my various contacts might be able to locate the treasure for the both of us.

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Leaded paint rock art circa 1970. Do you suppose the artist was trying to express his inner soul? will this still be here a thousand years from now and what will they surmise of primitive Ontarions?

I found this unique piece of primitive graffiti in an abandoned Mine near Niagara Falls – this at the edge of a pool of water that stretched on into cavernous darkness.  All through the water there are great hand-cut wooden beams and remnants of the previous mining operation and a deflated plastic raft that had once been used to venture deeper in. From past experience this would be the best way to do it as the mud is really treacherous.

Here is another urban exploration in Niagara Falls of a slightly more daring nature.

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As you might guess by my post I did not go to P-Lake today. I woke up At around 03:30 with a terrible headache (I always get one when the clouds are moving in and I hear we are in for a severe rainstorm tonight) and I thought  – “I’m on holiday, why do I want to do this to myself.” It’s a 5 hour drive either way, lots of hacking through the bush and then I’m not even sure of where the cave is. Last time almost killed me. So instead I switched the alarm off and slept in till about 10 and then I went south for 2 hours instead of north for 5 – to the Queenstone Sandstone Mine. It was relatively easy to find and just as big and mazy as I remembered from that trip with Dan about 10 years ago. Only thing that has changes was the path to get there.

See that pillar in the middle of the room – go ahead kick it – I dare you.

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There’s a crevice that cuts under a cliff face. It leads to an underground lake that just goes on and on. Dan and I spent about two hours underground wandering waist deep in water. I am thinking that the mine is somewhere between 100 and 170 years old.

Back in the 1820′s and 30′s there was a serious demand for building stone in Southern Ontario; Whirlpool Sandstone was one of the most valued materials. It was extracted from a  layer just above the Queenstone shale.

Near Belfountain you can see this rock at the base of Church’s Falls. See the chapter on Belfountain on page 69 of my book “Rockwatching; Adventures Above and Below Ontario” The rock that came from there was a maroon color and was used to build Queen’s Park and various buildings at University of Toronto. Down here in the more southerly areas of the escarpment the Whirlpool Sandstone seems a lot higher on the escarpment than it is further to the north. It is also more varied in color and I am told that it is possible to find azurite and malachite in chert pockets in that rock.

Anyway the construction of the Welland Canal generated a great deal of demand for building stone as did the increasing size of the urban structures around the “Golden Horseshoe.” Finally around 1900 the skyscraper came into being. The strength of the modern skyscraper comes not from its rigid outer shell but from its internal steel girder skeleton. This change in design meant that standard construction stones suddenly lost their market and materials such as Italian and Indian marbles started showing up. They formed a thin veneer as did materials like glass, labradorite and granite. they were in no way responsible for the buildings structural integrity. Sandstone had seen its day and the mines closed shortly thereafter.

Some years back year Jeff Mirza and I traveled up to Belfountain to see if we could find our way into one of these underground tunnel systems. Apparently there are several deep passages above the hairpin bend as you wind down from Belfountain into the Credit Valley. Jeff had even seen a picture of a shaft in the forest with a ladder leading down into the mines. After a day of trudging along the hillsides we came to the conclusion that the entrances had all been blasted shut. It was not the case here. The tunnels lie wide open. It was as much a historical exploration as it was a geological one. The rooms were quite low though generally very wide and initially lit by small shafts that cut up to a brambly plateau above. The vegetation was so thick that it was almost impossible to progress on the surface, nevertheless, the shafts of light on the underground lake were really picturesque.

At times high banks of rubble rose out of the water and it was necessary to slither along on our bellies. In places deeper into the mine calcite deposition had made a hard, translucent shell across the top of these banks and we had to be careful so as not to damage the profuse clusters of soda straws that were forming on the roof. The bats seemed quite perturbed by our arrival in their world and somebody was cheeping angrily from up a crack in the roof. On several occasions they fluttered by and I could just catch glimpses of their chaotic flight. I was surprised by the extent of speleothem formation in the mine. I had believed that under good conditions soda straws could grow at about an inch every hundred years though in remembrance of a winter excursion Jeff and I had done up a storm sewer in Hamilton a few years back, that one inch can be quite drastically stretched.

As we waded through the lake there were tunnels that branched off in every direction, the air  seemed dead and the steam that rose from our coveralls clung to us. it made photography quite difficult.

The water was so still and clear in one spot that I was surprised by the ripples when I crawled right into a pool. We continued on along a mound that was just beneath the surface. Dan wandered off to the side into the deeper water and suddenly found himself hip high in really treacherous mud. I had a similar experience moments later and we decided that further exploration would have to be done with an air matress. Up ahead it sounded like a heavy rainstorm and I think that there must have been a spot where the water was pouring in.

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