Sphalerite (November 30th, 2015)

Sphalerite is the main ore mineral for Zinc, and although relatively common, finding it in commercial amounts is somewhat rarer. The zinc will give the mineral a yellow or red hue, but iron can replace the zinc in the atomic structure, making the crystals black. Rarely, cobalt finds its way into the structure, and produces green crystals.

Although Sphalerite is a relatively soft mineral, it can be cut (faceted) into attractive gems which are used for mineral displays.

This particular specimen comes from the Lucky Jim Mine on Quadra Island in BC.

Quadra Island was one of the few Gulf Islands where mining and logging were profitable, and an intense phase of discovery started in 1880.

The Lucky Jim Mine started up in 1903, producing gold and copper ore which peaked in 1911. There were two main shafts which were serviced by huge steam engines with 12ft diameter fly wheels, which provided air for the miners and pumped out water from the mine. The steam engines, fly wheels and shafts (now covered) are still visible at the site.

Alas in 1925, a forest fire ripped through the mine site, and it was never re-opened as the veins were thinner and the gold less profitable.

The story of Lucky Jim was written into a ballad by Gregory Ross in 2009, which tells the story of the mine and describes the lives of the miners working on the site:

Into Quadra Island granite, they sank deep shafts, bold men;
To build the Lucky Jim Mine; the year was 1910.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; life was different then.

Lucky Jim was mined by Finns, in British Columbia’s rain;
Immigrant Canadians, they mined Lucky Jim’s ore vein.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; gold, silver, copper; theirs to gain.

In Lucky Jim’s wet darkness, the miners mined each day;
Left forest, lakes, and birds; went deep to earn their pay.

Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; Canada’s people from far away.
“Old Curley” locomotive, met miners at mineshaft;
Emerging into sunlight, those miners smiled and laughed.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; precious metal from deep shaft.

They shipped their ore to Ladysmith, for final preparation;
Crushed the rock then smelted it; three metals separation.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; helped build Canadian nation.

The Union Steamship steamed, to Granite Bay each week;
Steamed Lucky Jim supplies, past Ripple Rock’s dire peak.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; good fortune they did seek.

Fire the pump’s boiler! Pump water from the mine!
Mine that hard rock hard! We need rich ore to refine.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; they climbed mine’s steep incline.

They hammered into granite, they hammered into quartz;
They made the boiler boil, give hot hisses, and short snorts.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; that steam sent sharp reports.

They drilled into white quartz; they drilled into gray granite;
They tended the pump boiler closely; to stoke it and fan it.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; small gold mine on large planet.

They fed the boiler’s firebox, till steam was hissing well;
Then piston pushed, flywheel spun; and push rod rose and fell.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; smell that wood smoke smell.

In log cabin’s cast-iron cook stove, the mine cook baked good bread;
With salmon, and fresh venison; to keep them all well fed.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; their woodstoves glowed orange-red.

They sawed fir for their fires; while jays and squirrels would scold;
Spent nights in warm log cabins, away from wet and cold.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; at nights their tales they told.

Gold mining costs were high…year 1911 proved too thin…
Lucky Jim shut down…and cold water flooded in.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; gone was miner’s grin.

Quadra’s 1925 forest fire, burned the Lucky Jim;
Any chance for revival, became rather slim.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; gone was gold mine vim.

Year 2006, brought bright end to damp decline;
When fresh Canadian life, woke this mossy forest mine.
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; recovery just in time.

Dull for almost a century; now free from any mystery;
Lucky Jim, the Lucky Jim; gleam on Canadian history.

Specimen Information

Store: Pacific Museum of the Earth, University of British Columbia
Collection: UBC Geological and Mineral Collection
Accession #: 6846
Primary Mineral: Barite
Secondary Mineral: Fluorite
Site Locality: Rock Candy Mine
Location: Grand Forks, British Columbia
Special Features: n/a