Ontario: The Stange and Interesting. The Search Continues

Northern Ontario

Leaving Thunder Bay with new tires and renewed confidence in my van I started back on my search for the Strange and Interesting in Ontario. Radio on, wind in my hair, tires rolling smoothly down the highway, come on along with me and discover what I have found.

Panorama Amethyst Mine

Panorama Amethyst Mine

I have traveled to Thunder Bay many times but I was usually on a schedule. There was one place I passed by and swore someday I would visit. I love Amethyst. It is purple after all. It is one of my favorite crystals. A chance to mine my own would be cool. Ready to get my hands dirty and turn on a headlamp I turned up Bass Lake Road and headed to the Panorama Amethyst Mine.

Walking in you are welcomed by a beautiful gift shop. The lady behind the counter, who I later learned was Isabelle, asked if I would like a guided tour or I could go out and wander on a self guided tour. Oh a guided tour please, I want to hear about it all. She told me it would be about 20 minutes. As I wandered around the gift shop I marveled at the beautiful amethyst jewelry and scuptures on display. I would later learn that the jewelry and scuptures are all hand crafted at the Amethyst Gift Center in Thunder Bay. Tim Luckinuk and his wife Lori are the owners. Tim tumbles and polishes the stones at their year round gift shop when he is not running the mine with his wife Lori. A lady named Hailey does most of the crafting year round while my wonderful host Isabelle creates these beautiful gifts when the mine is closed as well as when she is not in school.

Amethyst sculptures

Our tour guide, who happened to be the owner of the mine, Tim, arrived and I would be off on a fascinating journey of Amethyst mining.

Before we got to the mining he told us about how amethyst grows. Yes I said grows. Talk about strange and interesting!! The Amethyst crystal is not alive but yet it grows. It will actually attract and collect the components it needs to become the beautiful crystal it is. Once it has the components it needs, it will arrange them into a geological formation. That is amazing!!

Amethyst formation

Amethyst does not grow just anywhere. There have to be certain conditions including a fault line. Here near Thunder Bay, a fault line runs along this path. Millions of years ago this fault line shifted creating crevices and splitting the rock. This created what is called Vugs. Vugs are where the Amethyst crystal will grow and flourish. Water trickling through the broken pieces of rock carry the nutrients into the vug that the crystal needs to form. The bigger the vug, the bigger the crystal.

Amethyst Vug

How does it get those beautiful shades of purple? Now this is a little complicated so hang on. Amethyst is made of silicone and oxygen atoms. When some of the silicon atoms are replaced with iron atoms it changes the color of the crystal. Then the crystal absorbs the ultraviolet rays of the sun mixing blues, reds, greens and yellow and the result is violet. The different shades are different mixtures of those components. The colour can go from a pale reddish violet to a dark vibrant violet. It was interesting that the crystals were not always one shade of violet but could have different shades side by side.

The different shades of violet

Let’s go Mining! Remember how I talked about putting on a headlamp? No headlamp needed, much to my relief. Amethyst is not mined like minerals such as gold or silver. There is no heavy machinery, no deep dark holes, again much to my relief. It is mined from the existing crevice created by the tetonic plate shift. Then water is used to wash away the dirt surrounding the crystal and brushed and lightly chisled away from the rock. When Tim pointed us to the field where we could find Amethyst, it was just that. You take a bucket and a small scraping tool and enter a field of Amethyst. There were crystals of all shapes and sizes. Everywhere you looked, it was a field of gems.

A field of crystals

There is so much more I want to share with you about this amazing place. It really does need its own blog. Look for a feature travel blog soon for a more indepth look at the fascinating world of Amethyst mining and the amazing story of the Panorama Amethyst Mine and the million dollar truck.

St Sylvester’s Mission Church

St. Sylvester’s Mission Church, Nipigon

At the junction of Highway 17 and Highway 11 is the scenic town of Nipigon. Everything about this town has that gentle feel of the north. Nestled at the top of Nipigon Bay, Nipigon is a lovely mixture of the old and the new. The bridge you cross over the Nipigon River is a modern design added to this older northern community, that seems to blend into its surroundings. Driving towards the bridge, it is almost like you are driving towards a tall ship with it’s great masts and it’s sails fully inflated. Very cool!

Nipigon Bridge

Turning left on Highway 11, heading north I came across this little church and graveyard. I love graveyards, the older the better. They have such a wonderful feel to them. I had to stop and check it out. St. Sylvester’s Church was built in 1880 but it really all began in 1852. A Jesuit mission was established and their first gathering began in a barn owned by the Hudson Bay Company. This area was heavy on the fur trading route at a time when the first transcontinental railway was being built. Father Joeseph Hebert built the priests house in 1878 and two years later the parishioners led by Father Duranquet built the church. The graveyard has headstones and crosses from 1800’s into the 2000’s. What a beautiful mix of both old and new.

St. Sylvester’s Graveyard

And then there is the odd! I am not sure what this is representing but it sure made me take a second look. Lol.

Graveyard scarecrow??

Fun fact:

Do you know the difference between a Graveyard and a Cemetery? A Graveyard is attached to a church, a cemetery is not.

The Beardmore Snowman

Beardmore Snowman

Driving back east along Highway 11 you absolutely cannot miss this roadside attraction. Not just because you have to see this but because it is huge and really you cannot miss seeing it. Driving through the town of Beardmore is a 35 foot (10 meters) tall snowman, holding a fishing pole and wearing a top hat and sun glasses. He looks like he is ready for a day of fishing out on the lake. In the winter he changes his look to a scarf and curling club. Made of plywood, steel and gallons of white epoxy paint, this giant attraction was built in 1960 to promote the local ski hill by the combined effort of the Canadian Legion and the town of Beardmore.

Why a snowman? Beardmore is known to get a lot of snowfall. Now it is north, but according to locals they get the most in the area. Where better than Beardmore then to have the largest snowman in the world.

Beardmore Tourist Information

Over the years the snowman’s belly has held an information center, served as a snack and ice cream stand and even a temporary bedroom for some of the locals that may have had a little too much to drink at the local pub. In the late 1990’s unfortunately a fire brought the snowman down. He was rebuilt in 1998 and still stands proud promoting the excellent walleye fishing in the summer and fun snow activities in the winter.

Macleod Provincial Park

Campsite at Macleod Provincial Park

While not strange or particularly interesting Macleod Provincial Park certainly has the beauty to deserve a visit. Located on Highway 11 just east of a little town called Macleod is this northern treasure. I pulled in and was greeted by a very nice young girl at the counter. She gave me a map and circled the campsites available and off on a search of a perfect campsite. Oh what I found. Almost entirely surrounded by trees, with my own private entrance to a beautiful lake.

Lakeside camping

As you know Provincial Parks are my choice if I am going to pay for a campsite. This one did not disappoint. A wonderful shower and a beautiful night listening to the water gently wash onto the shore and the call of the loons. Morning coffee with a pair of ducks that came to wish me a wonderful day. It was hard to leave. Lol

Morning coffee with the ducks

The Dinosaur

Poof there is a dinosaur!

The absolute wonderful thing about roadtrips is coming across something that makes you go..what?? Why??? Driving along Highway 11 enjoying the beautiful scenery in an area called Mattice-Val Côté, looking ahead I see something on the left. Is it a statue of some sort? As I get closer I realize it is a giant T-Rex! Hahaha! What? I am litterly in the middle of nowhere. There are a few houses scattered here and there along the roadway but nothing except what looks like an old camper and an old car and a huge dinosaur. Lol. I have no idea why or what the story is behind the dinosaur statue but for me driving along the highway it gave me a giggle and a What???? I love those!

The Reesor Memorial

Reesor Memorial

Sitting quietly at the side of Highway 11 in Reesor is a memorial to the three men who were killed and eight men who were wounded in a labour dispute in 1963. It was one of the bloodiest confrontations in Canadian Labour History. In January of 1963 1500 unionized workers that cut wood for Spruce Falls Power and Paper Company in Kapuskasing were in a contract dispute over freezing wages and moving working conditions as such the workers would have to work seven days a week to meet quotas. On January 14, 1963 they walked off the job withholding their lumber. Other members of the community also supplied the company lumber. The workers began to sabotage the other suppliers woodpiles. Tensions within community grew to an extreme.

On February 10th 400 union workers arrived to disrupt a shipment of lumber and although police were present, the local woodcutters opened fire and the result was deadly. After this fatal confrontation the Provincial Ministry of Labour sent in an arbitrator and by February 17th everyone was back to work under the old contract until a full arbitration could be done. What a very sad day for all involved.

Moonbeam’s UFO

Moonbeam’s UFO

There are not many places you are guaranteed to see a UFO, but in Northern Ontario, in the little town of Moonbeam you cannot miss it. As you enter town a UFO sits in front of the information center. This is no little UFO. It stands 9 feet high and 18 feet wide. More than enough room for a few aliens. I have been by many times but the information center has never been open. It was this time, finally I could get the story of why Moonbeam has a giant UFO.

The story goes that the early pioneers of the area would see flashes of light on the sky that they would call “moonbeams” falling out of the sky. They describes these images as flat, round disks that flew with great speed and an awful noise. That is the reason they picked a UFO as their town’s symbol. In the late 1990’s this UFO was built to celebrate this beautiful little town. The information center also has a little gift shop. It is worth the stop.

Thanks for coming along on my Chipmunk Adventure. Stay tuned next week to discover what I have found travelling Ontario in my search for the Strange and Interesting.

See you next week


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