Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend but Amethyst sets this girl’s heart a flutter. It is purple after all. Lol. I had never been to an Amethyst mine. To see where it all begins was something I was looking forward to. I was not disappointed. Come on along, this is not just an attraction. This is a travel destination.
Just east of Thunder Bay off Hwy 17 at 500 Bass Lake Rd in the township of Shuniah is Panorama Amethyst Mine. As you enter the parking area it does not look like a mine. Not any kind of mine I have ever seen.
A walkway leads to a beautiful gift shop and the entrance to the mine. I was greeted by a lovely girl by the name of Isabelle. She told me a little about the mine and asked if I would like a guided tour. Oh yes, please. At this point, I am thinking I am going down into a hole in the ground. I am not fond of deep dark holes but for amethyst and all of you guys, I would do it. I was pleasantly surprised that is not how it is done. There was a tour group of about 8 people. We were introduced to Tim who was the owner of the mine. This begins our journey into the history and operation of Panorama Amethyst Mine.
In 1949 Ontario’s Lands and Forests department was building a roadway to supply the building of the McTavish Fire Tower when they discovered that the rocks were filled with Amethyst. Prospectors came to dig the beautiful violet gem from their nests and by the 1960s the Thunder Bay Amethyst Mine, as it was known back then, had changed hands a few times. A man by the name of Rudy Hartviksen bought the interests in the mining claims.
Rudy Hartviksen would not be just harvesting the gem but would build a place at the mine to create and sell jewelry, gifts, and even bookends, made of amethyst. The bulk of the crystal would be loaded into what is known as “The Million Dollar Truck” to be shipped all over the world. The “Million Dollar Truck” got its name from the miners and their dreams of riches as truckload after truckload of precious cargo was taken to train stations and shipyards. News spread of the Amethyst mine and soon tourists were arriving. “Dig your own Amethyst” was born. The “Million Dollar Truck” is still there and acts as an observation deck to view the large mine or quarry, as it is sometimes called, where Amethyst grows.
I was curious about how a person comes to own a mine. When I asked Tim after the tour he told me the story of how in 1980 his Dad, Steve Lukinuk was a local entrepreneur. The mine had come up for sale and his Dad, being the entrepreneur he was, decided it would be a good investment. He went home and told Steve’s Mom, Lorna of what he had done and she was none too happy. Lol! Sounds a little like something my Dad would have done. Lorna would also grow to love the mine and worked alongside her husband to make it the success it is today.
Past down a generation Tim and his wife Lori now own the mine and from what I felt when they talked about it, are just as passionate about it as their predecessors. Warm, welcoming hosts I could not wait to explore the world of Amethyst.
The Legend of Panorama Amethyst Mine
You have to love when a great place has a great legend. A story of mystical beasts and magic to add to the enchantment of the crystal.
The story goes that millions of years ago, there was a God of Wine by the name of Bacchus. He was angered at the humans and set his man-eating tiger to eat the first human it saw. A beautiful princess names Amethyst was unfortunate enough to be the first to come across its path as she travelled to worship the God Diana. She heard the tigers roar and ran, hoping to escape the tigers’ wrath. She ran into a crystal cave, and upon hearing her screams, God Diana sealed the cave to keep the tiger out. Bacchus hearing her screams, felt remorseful for what he had done and poured wine onto the cave to release the young princess turning the crystals violet with the wine. It was a happy ending! Yea!
Amethyst Fun Facts
As you start the tour there are plaques telling you about facts relating to Amethyst and the mining procedure. Here are a few fun facts about Amethyst that I enjoyed.
- Amethyst is the birthstone if February
- The name Amethyst is derived from the Greek meaning “not drunk”
- Amethyst was used in Egyptian amulets in 2000 BC
- In the middle ages soldiers used to wear amethyst to protect them them in battle
- Amethyst has been used to symbolize deep love, happiness, humility, sincerity and wealth
How Amethyst Came To Be
A crystal is a strange thing. It grows, but it is not alive. It does not grow just anywhere. There has to be certain occurances and the right mixture of atoms and light to come together to create the colours of the gemstones. It actually attracts the minerals it needs to grow, collects them and shapes them into geological forms. Amazing!!
Panorama Amethyst Mine is on a fault line. One Billion years ago, this line shifted, breaking millions of rocks into pieces, forming large crevices in the landscape. It is interesting to note that this tetonic event also created Lake Superior. When this happened, it created spaces in the rocks that allowed the crystal to grow. The spaces where the Amethyst grows is called a Vug. A Vug may be as small as your fist or, like at the Panorama Mine, may be as big as 30 feet long. The bigger the Vug, the bigger the crystal. Ok I giggled too, when he called it a vug. Lol.
It is incredible to me that something that does not breathe, or think and that is not technically alive can gather the components it needs to grow, combine them and shape them into a six-sided geological form. How does it do that???
How Does Amethyst Get Its Colour
Amethyst has such vibrant colour at each end of the spectrum of purple. The colour can range from a reddish violet to a deep blue-violet colour, depending on the light and the richness of the iron in the rock. The natural stream of water that trickles through the rocks displaces those iron atoms, and the rock drinks in parts of the light spectrum and colour grows. It gathers the ultraviolet lights of blues and reds and mixes them to create the purple. That is just fascinating.
How Amethyst is Mined
When you think of mining, you think of deep tunnels underground, large machinery, and tracks for the large carts pulling the rock out. Amethyst is mined with water, brushes and small chisels. It is a delicate gem, like the petals of a flower, breaking easily. Using the natural occurring fractures that have occurred with plate shift, it is carefully removed from its Vugs using water to wash the dirt and earth away, exposing the crystal. It is then carefully removed with gentle applications of the chisel and guided from its location. The crystals can be sharp on the edges and can cut you, so you have to be careful.
The Mining Experience
When I read the information on the website for Panorama Amethyst Mine, it said I could dig for my own amethyst. Oh, how cool! Remember, I was thinking hard hats, coveralls and pick axes in a deep dark hole with the only light from my headlamp. I was so very relieved that was not what I would have to do. After the tour, Tim pointed to a field of what looked like rocks. We were offered a pail to collect our crystals, a small pry tool which I never needed, and a wash station to clean the dirt from the gems I found.
With my pail and tool, off I went. I am not sure what I was expecting, but what I found was an Amethyst lover’s dream come true. There was Amethyst everywhere you looked. All different colours, shapes and sizes.
The different sizes, shapes, and colours of the rocks were incredible. From small crystals that exude deep violet to large rocks that certainly were not going to fit in my bucket. This was one of my favourites. It would make a beautiful landscape rock. It expresses all the different colours that Amethyst can be.
As I picked through and chose my favourite ones, it was hard to choose. I put quite a few in my bucket and went to wash them off. The price said $4.99 a pound, so I was not sure what my treasures would cost. Maybe $20. I got back to the gift shop to weigh and pay for the crystals that I mined (well picked), and it was $6.00. With the $10.00 admission fee, it was a fun-filled afternoon for a more than reasonable price. You cannot beat that. It also left some money to buy something at the gift shop.
The Gift Shop
I have a few pieces of Amethyst jewelry and love them. How do they take such a delicate gem and shape it into the beautiful pieces they have on display? Just like everything about this mine, it is a family affair with a few dedicated helpers to create such beautiful designs. When Tim and Lori are not working at the mine, they are at their workshop, which is located in the back of their gift store in Thunder Bay.
For the crystals to become beautiful jewelry and gifts, they need to be tumbled smooth and polished until they have the desired shape and size. Then the crafters work their magic. Hailey, I am told, does most of the crafting working year-round at the Amethyst Gift Center. Absolutely beautiful work.
Isabelle, who welcomed me at the Mines Welcome Center, also creates gifts and jewelry when not working at the mine and not in school. Steve and Lorna are still very much involved in the operation as well. When you visit, you can certainly feel that family atmosphere. From the warm welcome to the thanks for coming, it was a truly enjoyable experience. Thank you to all the Lukinuk family for a wonderful afternoon.
Panorama Amethyst Mine is seasonal from June 1st until October 1st. Open 7 days a week including holidays I encourage everyone, if they are in the area to make this a travel destination on your itinerary. Not in the area at that time but feeling the need for some amethyst? Their Amethyst Gift Center in Thunder Bay is open all year round.
Thanks for coming Amethyst mining with me. See you all on my next Chipmunk Adventure.