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With gold, silver, amethyst, and other rare minerals and semi-precious gems scattered throughout the region, you’re certain to make interesting finds rockhounding in Atlantic Canada. There’s always the tantalizing, if improbable, possibility of a motherlode.

“You search the places other people have given up on,” says Jason White, an independent prospector in Conception Bay South, N.L. “It doesn’t come right away … The potential to find something is always there.”

Twenty years ago, White was a tax auditor for Revenue Canada when an amateur interest grew into his prospecting career. He learned silver appears in the same ore as lead — but in smaller quantities, often going undetected ­— making old lead mine sites a good place to look for the precious ore. He began exploring Newfoundland’s historical mining sites, primarily on the Burin and Avalon peninsulas.

“The best place to find a mine is in the shadow of another mine,” he explains. “Technology has changed so much it’s literally a fresh mine. They didn’t have dynamite. They didn’t have modern technology … I took these old mining sites that everyone had walked away from, and I went in looking at it like a big puzzle — just kept sniffing.”

It’s surprisingly easy to get started. Research is your first step. “Look for YouTube videos,” White says, adding there are many that will teach the basics. “Learn how to properly pan for minerals … Learn about very basic geology and minerology. Learn about iron pyrite. Look at historic mining work in your area. There are a lot of websites that have this info.” Whether you’re looking for display gems or mineral deposits, the basic practices are the same.

Before heading out, review local regulations and research who owns the land you want to prospect.

“The number one thing is: where am I?” White says. “Does somebody own this? Be careful, respectful of the environment. Make sure you’re not in a salmon river during spawning season, for example. Prospecting is the least environmentally damaging part of the process, or it should be … Be careful of old mine workings. If you see a pile of dirt, you’re near a shaft. If you have a fall in the field, it can kill you.”

Beyond the standard gear for any venture into the wild, you don’t need much special equipment: a magnifying lens, rock hammers of various sizes, containers for transporting samples, chisels, pry bars, and a magnet (useful for identifying many minerals). “You’ll also want a couple different coloured lights — a regular black light and white LED lights are good,” adds White. “Keep your eye open for colour changes in the rock, big cracks. These are all small clues that you’re getting close.”

Examine anything that looks remotely interesting. “Take a lot of photos,” White says. “Photos are just as much evidence as notes. Use the GPS on your phone to note your exact location.”

And while there’s always the lure of treasures awaiting discovery, be realistic about your odds.

“Don’t get obsessive about it,” White says. “You might find a vein that’s 30 feet (10 metres) of solid metal. I haven’t done it, but some people do ... A lot of people are successful simply by being in the right place in the right time.” 


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