with calcite from the Bluebell Mine

Quartz is the second most abundant mineral on Earth, present in many different types of rocks. Although usually clear or milky white in colour, quartz is found in a variety of colours due to impurities in the crystal structure. Pure quartz consists of silicon and oxygen only, but atoms of other elements often make their way into the quartz crystal structure. Some varieties of quartz, like purple amethyst and yellow citrine, are considered to be semi-precious gemstones and have been used since ancient times to make jewellery and decorative objects. Well formed (euhedral) crystals of quartz have a hexagonal cross section and are highly collectible.

Calcite is a form of calcium carbonate that grows in rhombic crystals and is usually white or pale pink in colour. Calcite can sometimes be confused with quartz but can be easily distinguished when scratched or tested with weak hydrochloric acid. Unlike quartz, calcite can be scratched with a pocket knife and fizzes when it comes into contact with acid. Calcite occurs in many different geological environments, either filling veins and cavities, forming chalk and limestone sedimentary rocks, or turning into marble when heated and metamorphosed. It is the main constituent of many shells and marine organisms like plankton. Trilobites, which have been extinct for about 250 million years, had special compound eyes made up clear calcite lenses.

This sample is from the Bluebell mine near Riondell, on the eastern shore of Kootenay Lake in southeastern BC. It contains beautiful needle-like euhedral quartz crystals as well as milky white rhombic calcite crystals.

The Bluebell mine was known for its galena and sphalerite enrichment, and was an important source of lead and zinc in the East Kootenays during the early 1900s. Quartz and calcite were abundant gangue (waste) minerals at the mine. The ore was mined out and milled to separate the valuable ore minerals from the quartz and calcite.

The area has a long mining history. Galena was first discovered in the Riondell area in 1825 and, according to some accounts, used by Hudsons Bay Company traders in the mid 1800s to make bullets. The first mineral claims were staked by American Robert Sproule, and included the area around the Bluebell Mine. He didn’t keep them for long though. When he left to register his claims, his claims were restaked by an Englishman, Thomas Hammill. A dispute followed and ended with Sproule shooting Hammill dead. Not long after, Sproule was also dead, executed by hanging as punishment for his crime.

The Bluebell mine went into production in the 1880s and changed hands several times throughout its history, with active mining operations from 1888 to 1929 and again from around 1950 to 1972. Ore was processed at a concentrator built by Cominco in Riondel in the 1950s. Cominco also built power lines across Kootenay Bay for the first time, bringing power to the east shore communities. A smelter at Pilot Bay to the south further refined the ore to extract lead and zinc, which were then transported further afield for use in industry.

Just how much ore was produced at the Bluebell mine is uncertain, but it was enough to generate over 500,000 tons of mill tailings, which ended up mainly at the bottom of Kootenay Lake.

The town of Riondell grew and shrank with the mine. At its peak in the 1950s, the population exceeded 300. Since the closure of the mine in the early 1970s, the population has declined and the community is now mainly a retirement community.

Specimen Information

Store: Pacific Museum of the Earth, University of British Columbia

Collection: UBC Collection

Accession #: 22834

Primary Mineral: Quartz

Secondary Mineral: Calcite

Site Locality: Bluebell Mine

Location: Riondell, British Columbia

Special Features: n/a

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