Gem Hunting: Where to Find Crystals in Nature Across Canada

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Get outside and uncover crystals that have been forming for thousands – or even millions – of years.

gemstones from Manitoba
   Photo: Corey Sylvestre

There’s a good chance you’ve participated in the growing trend of gem hunting – also known as rockhounding or crystal hunting – without even realizing it. Have you ever found yourself stopping to pick up and admire a vibrant stone that caught your eye? Then consider yourself an amateur gem hunter. Whether they’re hidden along riverbeds and shores of sandy beaches or camouflaged by foliage on your local hiking trail, astonishing gems can be found all over Canada.

August 19, 2021

People appreciate gems for a range of reasons. Some are collectors. Others like to display them as home decor, and a growing number are interested in their healing and metaphysical properties popular in spiritual practices. And although the experience of gem hunting itself is priceless, you may just stumble upon something truly valuable if you’re lucky.

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Peterborough resident Beau Harper’s interest in rocks and minerals began at an early age and his family gifted him rocks and fossils to help grow his collection. Now an experienced gem hunter and owner of From the Ground Up, he sells rocks, minerals and fossils from around the world, as well as his personal finds from across Canada. “Collecting crystals is a whole different experience from buying them,” says Harper. “There’s something about being the first human to lay eyes on a crystal that you just can’t get from your local crystal shop.”

a collection of gemstones
   Photo: Corey Sylvestre

Whether you’re a beginner or experienced veteran, make sure you have the proper tools. If you’re just getting started, pack some variation of these basic tools: rock hammer and/or rock pick, chisel, size‑appropriate shovel (handler’s choice), a bag or basket for storage and something to wrap your finds in to avoid damage from chipping or scratching. A small sledgehammer, pickaxe, magnifying glass (to inspect your treasures) and safety glasses and gloves can also be handy – depending on how much you want to carry.

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You’ll get the best results if you prepare by researching your planned destination and familiarizing yourself with the rules and regulations that govern removing natural materials; these vary province to province and even city to city. Understanding what minerals and crystal formations you can expect to find on site will also prove beneficial when it comes to identifying your discoveries. Turning to Google – to find out the rules, as well as what you can expect to find where you’re going gem hunting – is the best bet. 

Finally, if you’re not up to flying solo, take a semi‑guided tour is likely the best choice for a family‑oriented introduction to gem hunting.

gemstones from Winnipeg
   Photo: Corey Sylvestre

Where to go gem hunting

  1. Partridge Island – Parrsboro, Nova Scotia  – 

    In Parrsboro (population 1,500) you’ll find gorgeous beach views, with several kilometres of ocean floor that are uncovered at low tide as a result of “the world’s most drastic tide changes”. Sections of the cliffside have also collapsed onto shore, leaving exposed rock for you to work with. The rich minerals in the area are a result of volcanic activity from the Jurassic Period, 250 million years ago. Some common crystals in this area include deep purple amethyst, glistening agate and geode formations, as well as jasper, quartz and more.

  1. Princess Sodalite Mine – Bancroft, Ontario – 

    Bancroft is known among gem hunters as the mineral capital of Canada, an area with a rich geological history and mining heritage. Visit the Princess Sodalite Mine’s “Rock Farm,” an area with chunks of materials from local quarries, mines and collectors brought in for visitors. This is a fee‑collecting site, so while you don’t need to pay for entry, you will be charged $2/pound to take your finds home. There are over 100 types of minerals and crystals to dig through. “My favourite spot to hunt is certainly Bancroft, Ontario,” says Harper. “It’s an area with a lot of mineral diversity.”

golden selenite crystal
   Photo: Corey Sylvestre
  1. Souris Agate and Gravel Pits – Souris, Manitoba – 

    This is a privately owned location, so you will need to purchase a permit from the shop about one kilometre from the pit. Guided tours are also available by appointment through the summer months. This is an ideal educational, hands‑on location for everyone, including kids. Be prepared for steep walls – of close to 15 feet (over four metres) – and shifting sand that may cause small avalanches underfoot. Oh, and dazzling agates, of course. “My favourite place to go rockhounding is the Souris, Manitoba gravel pits,” says Corey Sylvester of @manitobarockhound. “It’s known as North America's largest glacial deposit of semi‑precious gemstones. Agates, petrified wood and many different fossils can be found here.”

gem hunting Johnstons Canyon
   Photo: Jordan Tesolin
  1. Kamloops Lake – Kamloops, B.C. – 

    Kamloops Lake offers picturesque scenery and almost 30 kilometres of changing landscape, including mountainous hiking trails, beach shores and towering cliff sides. This is considered a prime rockhounding location because you can secure finds such as precious opals, vibrant orange agates, light purple amethyst and chalcedony, among other minerals and crystals. Since rivers are essentially conveyor belts – sand, silt and gravel travel and reach this resting place where crystal formations can occur over time.

gem hunters
   Photo: Beau Harper
  1. Red Deer River – Red Deer, Alberta  – 

    The long and slow‑moving Red Deer River invites those seeking the thrill of gem hunting to come and pay a visit. An important thing to note is that collecting and/or removing any rocky materials is not allowed (without special permits) in provincial and national parks – and Alberta has some of the strictest rules and regulations in Canada. It’s been suggested that those visiting partake in ‘visual rockhounding,’ where participants admire, but do not remove any material. There are various minerals and crystals to discover: geodes, agates, quartz and more.