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100 Queens Park Circle
Toronto, Ontario

A club for people interested in collecting and learning about the science of minerals. 

Collecting Trips

- Cynthia Peat

Jim and I joined the Walker Club in 1962. In those days, we usually took the family on camping holidays. The Walker Club trips proved to be a wonderful way of seeing many parts of Canada and the United States that were off of the beaten track as well as providing an opportunity to pursue the hobby of mineral collecting. We recall three memorable trips.

Our first trip with the club was to the Cobalt-Timmins area in 1965. This was our initiation to long field trips since previous outings had been of one day’s duration only. We had two great leaders in Dr. Walter Tovell and Prof. Peter Peach. Apart from taking us into several classic localities, the evenings sitting around the campfire listening to Walter and Peter reminiscing were magical.

In 1968, we went with the club on the trip to the Maritimes. Who could forget the sight of that stately gentleman, Ack Williams, strolling along with a dried herring sticking out of his mouth like a cigar while he chewed on the other end?

The leader of the 1968 trip, Eldon George, who lived in Digby, was very knowledgeable about the mineral localities but did not know the tides quite as well (which is a problem in the Bay of Fundy!). Off we went one summer day, dressed as lightly as possible. Collecting was not as good as expected so, fortunately, we were not carrying as much weight as usual on our way back. The tide was coming in fast! Eldon took us back by cliff path because it was quicker (and drier!) and all went well until the path vanished leaving us hugging the cliff face with the sea just below. Above was a vertical cliff of some four feet of fine-grained crumbling schist before it flattened out into a comparatively safe grassy slope. Only a small step for a young mountaineer but one giant leap for middle-aged mineral collectors, burdened with their equipment and whatever specimens they had collected!

What were we to do? How could we scale that schist? Well, Ken Sakamoto went back along the path, found his way up, rushed to the campground and then returned to the cliff above us with ropes. Then, each in turn was hauled unceremoniously up the cliff face to safety. My midriff looked as though it had been mauled by a savage animal.

Another day, we went by a hired boat on a trip across the bay to Blomidon. The boat was just about large enough to carry the party safely with some below decks and the rest above. The sea was rough and most preferred to be in the fresh air. Eldon asked for volunteers to go below to lower the centre of gravity and stabilize the boat. Jim is usually a good sailor so he went below. The combination of fumes from the engine and the motion of the boat drove him back on deck within minutes looking green as grass. The boat returned to the mainland. After a while the sea calmed down a little and the party (less Jim?) reached Blomidon, eventually. We blundered around the slimy rocks in the drizzly rain for about an hour and then returned to the mainland.

Another day, we found large specimens of beautiful pink laumontite crystals in a crumbling rock face on the seashore. Being knowledgeable collectors, we understood that laumontite would dehydrate and crumble quickly when exposed to the air. So, what could we do to protect our glorious specimens? Someone suggested coating the specimens with ignition spray to seal the moisture in so we headed off to the local Canadian Tire store to buy some. Who needs ignition spray in the middle of summer? Much to the surprise of the store clerks, we all left carrying a couple of cans. Back at the campsite all the laumontite was saturated with the spray, so much so, that a haze of spray hung over the camp for sometime afterwards!

In 1970, Dr. Robert Gait led a successful trip around the north of Lake Superior. The first collecting day was at a road cut on highway 17 where, with a lot of hard work, we found some good quality, dark purple fluorite crystals. The next day we visited the amethyst mine at Loon Lake. We were not so lucky there since a dealer had been there the evening before and had purchased all the available specimens. It was interesting to see the mine and the method used to get the specimens – blasting powder appeared to play a significant role! We all picked up little bits of amethyst, but we were disappointed as we had hoped to collect or buy good specimens for our collections. That was the only disappointment of the trip.

The weather was gorgeous and Lake Superior was as warm as bath water in shallow beaches, so we were able to relax after our busy outings. We collected at the Lucy pit at Wawa, where we were taken way back to a part of the mine where there was a pile of rocks containing arsenopyrite crystals. The latter mineral contaminates the ore, so the mine owners were happy to have us carry it away. And what lovely crystals they were, sharp and shiny. Many were broken as we hammered the rocks but most of us got fine examples.

I suppose I could say more about the many specimens that we picked up on the trips. But, enjoyable as the collecting was, the greatest pleasure came from being on holiday with our children, from the company of our friends on the trips and from the evenings that we all sat around the camp fires under the clear night skies, chatting and joking about the day’s activities and speculating on what the next day’s activities would bring. These are experiences that can never be replaced.