One Member's Perspective
- Tony Steede
As with many of our members, I graduated to the Walker Mineralogical Club. I had been introduced to minerals by an acquaintance who collected specimens simply because they were unusual. My interest took a slightly different turn. I wanted to know more about why they formed as they did. I bought several books, did some collecting, and was only subsequently introduced to a mineral club. At that point I was in heaven. I had no idea that there were organized groups of people with interests similar to mine! Well, somewhat similar. I thoroughly enjoyed the first club that I joined but soon discovered that most of the members were happy with the knowledge that minerals existed, whereas by this point I was more interested in why they existed.
I had heard of the Walker Club, but they were known as a real “snooty” group. I may be reserved, but I have never considered myself to be “snooty”. Nevertheless, Walker Club lectures were a magnet (lodestone) that I could not resist. I joined and found myself attending almost all the lectures, sitting in a back row to avoid drawing attention to myself.
I quickly discovered another advantage of joining the club: the annual auction. My interest had blossomed into a fascination with crystallography and mineral identification. I had probably attended a lecture by Dr. Donald Gorman and realized that having a large variety of minerals would help me with identification. What better arena for finding a large variety of minerals could there be than the club auction? There was one problem. I found that I was frequently bidding against a youngster who seemed to have more money than I did (and an excellent taste in minerals!). That was my introduction to Alan Rachlin.
Alan was much more involved in the club than I was. This was to change. I was not aware that some of the more dedicated members, such as Alan, felt that the club was losing its focus. Largely at Alan’s instigation, new council members were nominated and elected. This brought Dr. Joe Mandarino back to the club’s council as the President. Alan might have thought that by persuading me to join the council our auction rivalry would end. I have never been a joiner and was reluctant to get involved. However, I was influenced by the argument that if I wanted the club to provide the kind of information that was of interest to me, I had better help guide it in that direction. I had already seen another mineral club change from being primarily mineralogically oriented to one of providing a bit of everything from fossil collecting to searching beaches for planted objects with metal detectors.
Alan followed Dr. Mandarino as president of the club and he performed that service for a number of years. One topic that preoccupied Alan was whether he was guiding the club in the right direction. He was steadfast in his belief that the club should continue to provide informative and educational lectures on minerals and that it should not branch out to embrace fossils, the lapidary arts, or any other associated fields. He provided an excellent group of speakers, and by all accounts the members seemed to appreciate the topics selected. Yet, our membership was shrinking. The question that nagged Alan was: what was the reason for the decline? Was it his choice of lectures or was it a general change in the interests of the public at large? Many members were aging and found that they could not attend as many functions: others had passed away.
Other clubs were having similar problems, which may have influenced some of them to broaden the subjects that they offered their memberships. Our discussions always concluded the same way: that it was better for the club to provide serious information on mineralogy to a limited number of members than to provide a wider but, by necessity, more superficial or less comprehensive discussion of topics, even though it might attract more members.
In retrospect, the decision to remain focused on the educational aspects of mineralogy appears to have been the correct one. The club has not grown much in size but it has continually attracted dynamic new members. In my view, a larger percentage of the members are actively involved in the club than at any time since my initial association with it.
One aspect of the club may not be fully appreciated by the general membership, i.e. the organization of the council. One reason that we have remained focused is our history: not only are we the oldest club in Canada, but the club was founded by professionals, more or less, for professionals. These days comparatively few members are professional mineralogists or geologists but our constitution reflects our history and our council is structured in such a way that newly elected members learn the value of some of our processes before they are expected to take over leadership of the club. In this way, our club benefits from fresh ideas brought in by new council members but retains many of its links to the past.
One of those links is its relationship with the Royal Ontario Museum – or, to be more precise, its relationship with the museum’s mineral scientists. Our members have benefited greatly by the support of these professionals. Where else can mineral collectors with no formal geological or mineralogical education meet and become acquainted with mineral researchers, educators, and curators? I know that my knowledge of minerals has profited immensely from this relationship, and I often wonder what the professionals get in return. In my years of association with the club, I have found all the ROM mineral scientists to be extremely approachable. Many of them are regular attendees of our meetings and seem genuinely interested in helping those less knowledgeable to understand more about the minerals that they collect.
I cannot comment on the club without mentioning field trips. Some of my more memorable experiences have occurred on collecting trips. Why else would one go to Black Lake, Quebec, or Leaf Rapids, Manitoba? I would be surprised if anyone attending any of our over-night trips would accuse us of being “snooty”.
Field collecting used to be more important to the club than at the present time. In my view, there are a variety of reasons for this. One is that there are more trips offered by other clubs and organizations. For example, the relatively new Field Trippers Guild offers many excellent excursions without the need for an organization to offer other club functions. And, the Central Canadian Federation of Mineralogical Societies offers trips for families that are well researched. Fewer day-trip-collecting sites within reach of Toronto is another problem. Yet, the club has a dedicated group of field trippers and field trip planners, and I hope that this function will remain central to the club.
One type of collecting trip at which the club has excelled is the week-long summer trip. Typically, it has been a trip of intense mineral collecting, frequently at sites that require some effort to get to or at which getting permission to collect is difficult. Sometimes these become exceptional expeditions to areas quite removed from normal collecting locations. The members who can participate in these trips gain lifelong memories, enjoy the company of people with similar interests when it is too dark to collect, and frequently even end up adding specimens to their collections.
Another function of the club that has become almost synonymous with its name is the annual auction. I look forward to it as much now as when I first joined. I believe that the auction’s importance to the club goes far beyond its role as a fund-raiser. It has become a way of recycling specimens. Members can upgrade their collections knowing that their replaced minerals can be donated to the auction and they will probably end up receiving as much for them as selling them to a dealer. More importantly, members get a chance to purchase minerals that might not have been on the market for many years. This is particularly the case when the club has been approached to handle full collections. In the past, many collections have been thrown out when their owners died or were forced to move. I have seen some remarkable “old” specimens at our auctions, as well as many that were of interest solely because they came from an old mine or other long gone site. It would be tragic for these specimens to just disappear.
There you have it. I joined the club because of its focus on the study of mineralogy. I have remained an active member of the club because it has not strayed from this objective. I have met many extremely knowledgeable, interesting, and enjoyable people who seem to be interested in many of the same things that I am. I get to collect minerals with fine companionship at some intriguing locations, and I get the opportunity to add some minerals to my collection that I probably cannot collect or purchase from dealers. What more could a mineral collector want?