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Great Canadian Roadtrip: Amethyst Mines of Northern Ontario

Updated: 7 days ago

A transcontinental road trip across Canada is a great way to slow travel this vast county. An awful lot of that road trip will be on Highway 1, the Trans-Canada Highway. The Trans-Canada Highway is a federal–provincial highway system that travels through all ten provinces of Canada, from coast to coast. The main route spans 7,476 km (4,645 mi) coast to coast. I have driven portions of this road many times over the years but in the summer of 2019, I drove all those kilometres (plus!) both ways during an epic 9 week Great Canadian Road Trip. There are many kilometres of rocks, trees, and random lakes with very few settlements along the way. There are long stretches of the highway where there is little of anything beyond the wilderness and the pavement ahead. Much of the land is sparsely populated indigenous lands or parks/Crown Land, especially in Northern Ontario where the ugly cities burst from stunning natural landscapes, announced by tall industrial smokestacks.

The geography of the area around Thunder Bay and along the shores of Lake Superior is ideal for the formation of amethyst. Amethyst is semi-precious quartz crystals. It's the iron content in the soil that creates the beautiful blue-purple tones.

Thunder Bay amethyst has been known since the 19th century, and is remarkable for its variety and colours. I first read about the mines on the handy website TransCanada Highway and was immediately determined to visit and try my hand at picking amethysts. I admit I thought it would be a more challenging task than it turned out to be.

There are three mines that welcome tourists in the Thunder Bay area. About 60 km east of Thunder Bay is