Bear Lake (Photo by Carly Freeman)
1. Bancroft Mineral Museum
Mining and the railroad made the region boom, and they’re paired up again in this recently restored, century-old train station. On a guided tour, gaze in wonder at a lime-green, football-size chunk of fluorite and massive gypsum, quartz and titanite crystals while learning about the geological forces that created them. The quality, variety and accessibility of minerals in the Eastern Ontario highlands are the reason behind Bancroft’s 1950s mining heyday and the annual Rockhound Gemboree, Canada’s largest gem and mineral show.
2. Bear Lake Diggings
To get yourhands dirty, pick up a permit and drive half an hour west to a claim site operated by the local chamber of commerce. A short hike in the woods brings you to a seam between outcrops of hard bedrock. Centuries of rain have eaten away the calcite, leaving behind veins of hornblende, apatite and other crystals. Pack a garden spade and rake – and bug spray – to channel your inner prospector while rooting through the loamy soil. Some finds here can be worth hundreds of dollars, but the thrill of the hunt is priceless.
3. Bancroft Eatery and Brew Pub
Cross-sectioned logs and saw-blade murals adorn the walls of the 100-year-old hotel that presides over the town’s main crossroads, a nod to Bancroft’s pioneering past. But there are no more rooms to let to loggers and miners; nor is there a beer parlour with sawdust floors. Instead, inspect your rock-hunting bounty while waiting on orders of crisp Caesar salad, deep-fried green onion and cheese wontonswith sriracha or steak and mushroom wraps. Come mid-August, a Belgian blonde ale will be brewed on site by owner Jake Krupa.
4. Princess Sodalite Mine and Rock Shop
Proprietor Andy Christie can identify about 90 percent of the minerals embedded in hunks of stone in the rock farm behind his shop, where you can bring a bucket and pay by the pound. “The ones I don’t know,” says the quick-tongued Scot, “are called leaverite, as in ‘leave ’er right where it is.’” In his sprawling display cases sit hundreds of gemstones and crystals from the Bancroft area and beyond, including earrings and necklaces adorned with semi-precious royal blue sodalite that Christie quarries from the deposit out back.
5. Craftsman Restaurant
Perched on a hill above the highway, Craftsman looks like a little yellow house. Inside, with a plate of lightly breaded Lake Erie perch, a bottle of Ontario’s Church Key pale ale and a guy on a guitar in the corner covering Blue Rodeo and Gordon Lightfoot songs, the Craftsman feels like home. Sit in a bright red booth by the windows or on the enclosed porch where miners used to bring their ladies to dance in the 1950s (back when the diner was called the Little Brown Jug). On the special board, look for burgers made with organic, grass-fed beef from up the road. Order the perfectly grilled Manitoulin Island pickerel, served with creamy coleslaw made from scratch – like everything else on the menu.
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