Green Gold

B.C.’s pioneer miners from the Orient who shipped unknown tons of the mineral home, often as “ballast,” prized jade for its potential in the making of jewelry and works of art: a devotion to beauty which. more than once, earned the derision of white prospectors who measured their own bonanza gold, purely in terms of dollars and cents.

Actually the Chinese appreciated jade for considerably more than its merits as a gemstone. Jade was prized by the Chinese and Japanese as the most precious of all gems. The Chinese in particular are known for the objects d’art they carve from it, and they traditionally associate it with five cardinal virtues: charity, modesty, courage, justice and wisdom. Jade has been considered to have great medicinal qualities in the Orient as a general tonic and when swallowed shortly before death it is said to prevent the decomposition of the body.

Its very name is derived from the Spanish word for Kidney stone, jade at one time being considered a cure for kidney ailments.

The term jade usually applies to not one but two similar minerals. The rarer variety, jadeite, is a sodium aluminum silicate which comes in green and white. The mere common, and therefore less valuable variety, is called nephrite, a calcium magnesium iron silicate which also ranges from dark green to white. This is the “jade” which is found in mainland British Columbia.

Today jade is hunted in several areas of the province, notably at Dease Lake in northern B.C., at Wheaton Creek, a hundred-odd miles to the south, in the historic mining country of the Bridge River, and at Takla Landing, near Fort St. James.

This far-sighted move, made at the same time jade was formally dedicated as the province’s official mineral emblem, was intended to insure that commercial interests did not gain control of the area. Perhaps it is within this region that the fabled “mother lode’ of jade is situated. Solid mountains of the mineral have, in fact, been uncovered in recent years: but we are getting ahead of our stray. Indians around Lytton long believed that Skihist Mountain was nothing less than pure jade, and guarded by evil spirits which inflicted painful illness upon anyone who attempted to mine the taboo peak. Ironically, they were not far wrong, for it has been found that rugged Mount Skihist does contain a mineral known as vesuviantie, a close relative of jade. Named after the Italian volcano where it was first discovered, this handsome mineral is often mistaken for jade as it comes in striking green, as well as in lime, yellow and brown.

Most jade in B.C. is recovered in boulder form in the shallows or in the gravel backwaters of a river such as the Fraser. Unfortunately, as most novices soon find out, if all that is green is not jade, all that is jade is not valuable! As in anything else, quality counts. Besides richness and purity of color, jade is judged by its absence of flaws such as hairline cracks and darker spots which can give it a mottled appearance. Another fault not uncommon among jade toted home by beginners is over-zealousness, the ecstatic rock-hound shattering his brittle prize with too many blows of the hammer!

In 1969, the recovery of a boulder of solid jade which they estimated to be worth $45,000 was found near Bralorne. In January of 1970, Kuan-Yin Jade Industries Ltd. of Toronto announced claims in B.C.’s Mount Ogden region to be worth between $400,000 and $30 million at the current market prices of between $1 and $50 per ton.

During Expo ’70, a 23-ton jade boulder valued at $1,500,000 was gently loaded aboard a freighter for the trans-Pacific voyage to Osaka where the giant green stone, one of its sides polished to a mirror-like finish, was to be displayed at the B.C. pavilion. Despite its being dropped during unloading (damaging the freighter in the process!) the cumbersome giant reached Osaka intact.

Just think, a century ago, remember, aside from the Chinese, you couldn’t give it away !

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