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.
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.
Craigmont is about as distant from the reach of the modern world as you are likely to get in the “near north”. Indeed it appears on the map as a substantial settlement but as you cruise up Boulter road you become aware of how far you really are, both geographically and culturally from the bustle of Southern Ontario.
Coasting over hills that stretch off greenish-blue into the summer haze it seems as though you are crossing into a time warp. Meadows are saturated with intense colour and high pastoral fields line the road, strewn with orange and yellow flowers. Beyond this lies the valley of the “Little Mississippi River”. Spike-topped conifers wander unbroken to the horizon and in hillside fields lazy cows watch disinterestedly at the crumbling demise of old log barns.
As a collecting locale, Craigmont is remarkable. Not only is the beauty unsurpassed but its minerals are spectacular. Corundum here is found in large euhedral (perfectly formed) specimens; lapidaries have been known to cut them into cabochons. In their book, “Rocks and Minerals of Ontario” the Ontario Department of Mines say that there are unusual curved mica crystals. Garnets, molybdenite, allanite, uranite, euxenite, magnetite, pyrite and hornblende also appear from time to time.
Blink and you just might glide past Craigmont. The inhabited part is now a private town. It exists as a cluster of houses, barns and sheds and around it the vegetables flourish in earthy rows.
Robillard Mountain is situated within sight of the present habitation; an impressive upheaval of rugged red rock. Some twenty separate excavations scar its slopes.
As a general rule most corundum is found in pegmatites and structures associated with nepheline syenites. In this area north of Bancroft the most abundant deposits (corundum) are said to be sandwiched between scapolite, nepheline andesine and a band of alkaline syenite.
I took a hike beneath the mountain to see the syenite from below.
My purpose for visiting the Croft Mine had been was to photograph the fabled head frame – Ralph Schroetter, my guide at Coe Hill had said that it was one of the last such relics in the area. I soon came to realize that finding the abandoned structure would be no easy task. The forest was so thick that I could barely see twenty feet ahead.
I attempted to piece together the most likely location for a mining structure from the location of the dumps, adit, and the many overgrown tracks. Along one old bramble covered path I found a shelf system that had held the drill cores, along another track I found a collection of rusty old barrels. I spent some brief amount of time on the dumps looking for traces of the garnet bearing pegmatite. Mysterious, moss-covered beams were strewn everywhere. Might one of these heaps be the head frame that Ralph had spoken of?
Climbing the hill above the adit, I hoped to sight my goal, but I soon realized that I was out of luck. A yellow carpet stretched off bewilderingly in every direction. Breaking through the canopy was impossible. It was like I was drowning in an endless rain of sticky wet leaves. If it were not for the contour of the hillside, a factor that helped maintain my orientation, I doubt that I would have found my way back to the access track.
The water in the adit was knee-deep and crystal clear. I could see corrugations in the sand from big knobby tires. It seemed that somebody had driven an ATV into tunnel. Touching the wall I got an immediate whiff of the earth – it was that mouldering fungus smell you get when you dig in rotting leaves. Unlike the Richardson adit, there is no air movement here; it is absolutely still – like a mausoleum. Knowing the dangers of such an exploration I only stood in the entrance and though I had to fight my curiosity, I turned back for the fresher air of the forest outside.
Check out this rare earth mine near Bancroft – the shaft drops down to a depth of over 400 feet …. Here We found it in the bush by following the surface clues – a mine dump and old beams and tin.
Between 1953 and 1955 Croft Uranium Mines worked the area for radioactive minerals. They found betafite, uranite, uranothorite, allanite and pyrochlore. Their appearance is flagged in the pegmatite by a dark red color and quartz that has darkened to a grayish-black. There are also said to be small pink garnets in the gneiss and larger specimens in the pegmatite – some reaching up to 3 centimeters in diameter.
A couple of hundred meters along the mine road I got Maggie to pull over in a little clearing and I continued on foot, leaving her there with the understanding that I would be back as soon as I had found the mine and explored the dumps. She had Shaka with her for company and I had my whistle that I tooted on intermittently so as not to walk unexpectedly into a hunter’s ambush. The whistle also served the dual purpose of letting bears know of my presence as the bush was thick and close to the path and I had no wish to meet the “mother of all bears” in a circumstance of mutual surprise.
The road dropped steeply down into a valley and I soon realized that leaving the car above was a wise move. There was nowhere to turn around, the ruts got deeper, and the track was soon entirely underwater. Beavers had built a stick and mud palisade that held back a stinking organic tidal wave that would one day inundate the swamp below. As for the road, forget it. I climbed across on logs and waded knee-deep in mud, thinking what it might be like during bug season (What looks like a stream in front of the beaver dam is actually the mine road).
On the other side of the beaver dam the track began a slow and steady climb upward. I noticed the appearance of crushed granite where I walked and of course the telltale patches of eastern hemlock. These trees tend to grow in clusters wherever the natural forest has been disturbed. They tell you where to look for hidden human habitation.
I soon discovered the mine dumps on my left and in a marshy gully I unexpectedly found the adit.
See another abandoned uranium mine in Ontario … here or my trip to the Sarnac Zircon Mines … here (where we were again terrorized by the possibility of being eaten by bears
At first glance the Essonville Road Cut looked much like many others in the area – gnawed upon by rockhounds and strewn with shards of calcite and sand. Most immediately obvious were the huge black crystals that protruded from the calcite – a dyke that is theorized to run off into a southerly direction onto private property. A sign on the fence behind the cutting advertises “Rockhound Eco-tours”. A rockhound eco-tour? It almost seemed contradictory.
“You’re a rockhound?” I asked the fellow crossing the road from the pickup he had parked on the opposite shoulder – “You might say that”, I was told with a grin. “I am more a prospector and I operate the eco-tours – like to show the minerals on my property but we prefer not to set pick or hammer to them. We like to think of ourselves more as stewards”. “Stewards?” “Yeah, caring for the land. I know it sounds hokey, but I think we were meant to have our property – to look after it. Collecting can be destructive”.
I kind of edge my rock hammer around behind me. “Is there a problem with us collecting here I ask? Nah, its public land. Place is already trashed with all the blasting”.
In reverent terms Mark explained, what had formed in the cutting was Fluor-richterite. You will notice that some of the crystals have a metallic sheen – kind of stained by an iridescence, Its only a skin of goethite, beneath it is still fluor-richterite, one of the few minerals that can really be called “totally Canadian”. It was only distinguished from hornblende and recognized as a separate species in 1976”.
“So, in truth, you would have a hard time distinguishing between the two?” “Not really” my eco-teacher told me. “They are both amphiboles and they form a solid solution series, but fluor-richterite has a scaly white surface and it forms in prisms that are longer and thinner than those of hornblende”.
“Do you sell any specimens?” I ask hopefully. “How can you put a dollar value on them?” I am chastised.
As fortune would have it, I found myself in the company of Lee Clark later that afternoon. Having seen the township’s blasting Lee had asked for the debris to be dumped beside his barn; he had scooped the lion’s share – enormous boulders with fluor-richterite spines and as Lee pointed out hexagonally appearing prisms that cleave away in flakes. “phlogopite mica; they used it for windows in the old wood stoves.
Having weathered out of the calcite there were doubly terminated prisms lying amongst shards and unusually shaped prisms that appeared fully formed on the one edge and flattened on the other. I was in the process of trying to decide what unusual growth condition had so stunted the crystals when Lee apparently read my thoughts “The prisms frequently cleave down their center,” he slipped me a smaller perfectly formed specimen that he had been carrying in his pocket. “It’s my worry stone” he explained, “You take it; folks down south have greater use for that than I”.
Following the release some time ago of my book "Rockwatching; Adventures above and below Ontario", I am pleased to announce the release of my new book "Tamarindo; Crooked Times in Costa Rica". It is a story of opportunity. Edgehill Press is the publisher. (www.edgehillpress.com)