Eyes on the ground: Rockhounding across the Atlantic Canadian landscape can yield more than physical gems

Categories: Canada

Meghan Dewar

Special to Saltwire Network

Luc Villeneuve was always interested in Earth sciences, even as a child.

When he was around 10 years old, he and his best friend’s families had cottages near their homes in Ottawa, Ont.

Villeneuve, his brother and his best friend would explore the surrounding forests, searching for caves. Along the way, they would discover crystals and minerals.

A lot of the time, they would find mica, which looks like flaky gold. This piqued their interest and they would hunt for more caves and more minerals whenever they could.

As the boys got older, their parents sold the cottages. Villeneuve and the boys went their separate ways into adulthood.

In 2007, he moved to Windsor, N.S. and was adjusting to living in a new place. He was out for a walk along the Bay of Fundy beach when he looked down and found a piece of agate.

The hobby was reborn.

Luc Villeneuve from Windsor, N.S. has been enjoying rockhounding since he moved to Nova Scotia from Ontario in 2007. – Contributed


Villeneuve adores rockhounding, which is the activity of searching for and collecting rocks, fossils or minerals.

“I’m no geologist, but rockhounding is essentially anybody who is interested in rocks and minerals and going looking for these minerals,” Villeneuve explained. “For me, my particular interest is a mineral called agate, which is a form of quartz.

“We just happen to be pretty rich mineralogically here in Nova Scotia. There’s a lot of different minerals, like agate, quartz, amethyst, jasper — the list goes on.”

Rockhounders can do several things with their findings, says the 47-year-old, such as collecting them to display or making jewelry with them. When he’s able to get out a couple times a month, he enjoys sharing his finds on his dedicated rockhounding Instagram account, @fundy_agate_hunter.

“I’ve collected a lot and I wasn’t able to show people how passionate I was about it, so I started an Instagram page,” said Villeneuve. “I wanted to see how people would react to my photos and my excitement.

“That was a really satisfying moment and I started getting a lot of people commenting and following and being interested. It was always something where it was like, ‘am I weird for being into rocks?’ But it turns out there’s a lot of people who are interested as well.”

Villeneuve reaps many benefits from rockhounding, especially regarding mental health.

“I have a chronic illness and, from that chronic illness, I have a lot of anxiety,” he said. “When I go out to rockhound, it really brings me back and connects me back to Earth. The mineral puts things into perspective and relaxes me.

“Finding a piece of agate is exciting, I like looking at it. It sounds weird, but I always have a little piece of agate in my pocket, so that, whenever I get anxious, I just rub it.”

He emphasized the importance of collecting rocks and minerals ethically so as not to disturb the environment.

“I don’t go digging in any cliffs or anything like that — it’s just walking on the beach,” said Villeneuve. “Anything I find is something that washed up on the beach or eroded and would end up breaking up and turning into sand anyways.

“I also will have a garbage bag with me and will try to bring out as much garbage with me as I can because I think it’s important to try and keep the beaches clean and help protect wildlife.”

It’s also important to be mindful of the tides for personal safety, he noted.

An agate specimen found by Luc Villeneuve of Windsor, N.S. - Contributed
An agate specimen found by Luc Villeneuve of Windsor, N.S. – Contributed


“You’ve got to be careful of the tides, because the Bay of Fundy tides can be quite high,” he cautioned. “You have to make sure that you time your tides or you can be caught in a pinch point. It’s also important to be prepared and let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Wear the right clothing, bring water, wear sunscreen. But the biggest thing is have fun.”

Villeneuve plans to continue his hobby for the foreseeable future.

“It’s beautiful,” he said. “When you find a specimen, you’re picking up something that nobody has ever touched and it’s amazing what the Earth does and what you can find just by being out in nature.”

The crow mentality

Sam Wilson, another crystal and mineral enthusiast, has also gone through life with his head down looking for rocks. The 19-year-old from Halifax, N.S. first started looking for minerals when he was a child.

“My nan would take me out for walks and she would hide little things on the ground, like little treasures,” he recalled. “It kind of trained me to keep my eyes on the ground.

“I was really into science and history and I grew up next to the Boylston quartz quarry, so it was a combination of all those factors that led to me taking on the crow mentality to find shiny objects.”

Wilson’s favourite minerals include different kinds of quartz, zeolite, as well as any interesting rock formations that catch his eye. He also enjoys learning the natural history to the pieces he finds.

A selection of chiastolite specimens found by Sam Wilson of Halifax, N.S. - Contributed
A selection of chiastolite specimens found by Sam Wilson of Halifax, N.S. – Contributed


“My most memorable discovery was finding pretty high-quality chiastolite specimens in an area that wasn’t known to have them,” he said. “I took them to a geologist and he kind of lost his mind a little bit.

“I really like the feeling when you find a crazy nice specimen. Finding an undiscovered occurrence is super gratifying, especially around Nova Scotia where there’s also a ton of nice views and landscapes you can come across when you’re looking.”

However, these landscapes can be rather remote, which can contribute to a few drawbacks of rockhounding.

“Some rockhounding locations, to go out to them is quite a ways and there’s generally no service and some environmental hazards like bears and mine shafts,” noted Wilson. “I keep bear spray on me.

“Also, rocks are super heavy. If you’re going to carry a bunch of rocks back to your car, it’s tough on your body. Rocks can be big and they take up a lot of space.”

Wilson also addressed the time dedication that’s involved in seriously taking up rockhounding.

“You need to put in a bit of time to understand what you’re doing and what you’re looking for,” he explained. “It can be a huge, kind of daunting world to get into.”

Nevertheless, Wilson adores his hobby — so much that he’s considering getting a degree in geology in the future.

“I do really like my job as an electrician, but I want to combine the two at some point … even maybe get a job as a field geologist at some point because it’s just what I like to do,” he said. “I keep feeling this pull towards geology.

“It’s very relaxing and has taken me to many interesting places around the province. It’s a powerful anti-depressant of being outside and shutting your mind off and looking at the ground.”

(This is the first in a series.)

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