Galena (November 9th, 2015)

Today we have Galena (PbS), a common lead sulphide mineral that is the main ore mineral of lead itself. It forms in hydrothermal systems where heat and fluids allow the crystals to grow in fractures. These environments are rich in other elements too, and as such galena is also an important source of silver, often containing between 1-2% silver in its matrix.

What makes this particular specimen interesting is not only its well formed crystals, but its location. It is from the ‘ViolaMac’ Mine in Sandon, now a ghost town in the Kootenay region of British Columbia. The mine is named after Viola Huggard MacMillan, or “Queen Bee” as she became known. She was a pioneer in so many senses of the word, working with her husband to stake so many of the famous deposits across Canada. Most of all though, she was a female in a ‘mans world’, becoming a full time prospector in 1929.

Viola and her husband, George, became members of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) in 1933, with George becoming President from 1941 to 1943. Then, in 1944, Viola was voted President, becoming the first woman to hold the position. When she started, PDAC had 77 members, but through her tireless lobbying and work efforts, that grew to over 1,700 through the next 20 years.
Her post-war story continued, as well as being pivotal in setting up the Emergency Gold Measures Act, a law to avert collapse of gold mining in Canada.

As the Toronto Stock Exchange fired up, the couples accumulated wealth was called into question, eventually resulting in George being accused of fraud. Both he and Viola were to be sent to jail, but after years of fighting, the charges were dropped, mainly because the TSE had not halted the trading despite seeing the issues. She was pardoned 11 years later by the Canadian Government, but sadly George died two weeks before the pardon came through.

MacMillan donated $1.25 million to Ottawa’s Museum of Nature in 1989 toward the acquisition of the William Pinch mineral collection. The collection is “a spectacular assembly of 16,000 mineral specimens considered among the top five of its kind in the world,” stated Virginia Heffernan in the Afterword of MacMillan’s autobiography. “In recognition of her generous donation, the museum named the collection the Viola MacMillan Mineral Gallery.

Viola Huggard McMillion was inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame in 1991, two years before passing away aged 90 years.

Specimen Information

Store: Pacific Museum of the Earth, University of British Columbia
Collection: Sutton-Thompson Collection
Accession #: S-74-1051
Primary Mineral: Galena
Secondary Mineral: Chalcopyrite, Calcite, Quartz
Site Locality: ViolaMac Mine
Location: Sandon, British Columbia
Special Features: n/a