Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Greedy Chinese rush to northern BC to grab Jade

 Greedy Chinese rush to northern BC to grab Jade

May 11 2021

They shot gun beer, ride ATVs, have cook-outs…and oh yes, mine million dollar chunks of jade. They’re the people of Jade City.

Jade City is literally in the middle of nowhere— five hours from Whitehorse, 24 from Vancouver—a remote highway stop in northern British Columbia. There are no government, no police station. No hospital. No one tells this tight-knit community of 35 eclectic individuals what to do. And what they mostly do is dig for Jade.

Claudia Bunce pretty much runs Jade City, along with her husband Robin. She’s a 5 foot tall dynamo. He’s her long-suffering husband. Along with their Chinese-Canadian partner Alan Qiao, and with help from their hot-headed teenage son Josh, they mine a few, big jade claims here. And this year, things are getting serious.

The demand for jade has jumped tenfold over the past decade, fueled by an insatiable demand in China. With 75 percent of the world’s nephrite jade in BC, Beijing billionaires are flocking to Claudia and Robin’s front door—each new investor expecting the locals to dig up the next $10 million boulder. It’s a jade rush with serious money…if only the Bunces can put their beers on ice.

They aren’t making any promises to their new partners. Claudia tells them upfront, “it’s like walking into a casino and throwing a million dollars down and saying ‘I can win this hand’.”

High risk, high reward.

This season, the Jade City miners have their hands full working two claims. At their Dynasty site, drillers are poking holes in the ground hoping to hit an elusive lens of high-grade jade. But no one can agree on where to look…and the drill budget is running out. Then, a serious accident shakes everyone. Meanwhile their Wolverine claim is still an untouched alpine meadow. Getting equipment there means a 120km overland trek, moving heavy equipment up a mountain. Just keeping the equipment running is a major challenge. Then there are the new Chinese investors. They have a way of showing up to check on things and ruffling the feathers of the crew. Robin wants to punch someone out. Alan suggests a Buddhist ceremony to chase away the bad luck. Just another day in the Cassiar jade fields of northern BC.

It’s also tough working with family. 20-year-old son Josh is eager to work the dozers and excavators but father Robin has a hard time reining in Josh’s rebellious streak. Wise-cracking excavator operator Guy Marital just rolls his eyes and keeps digging while Alan tries to keep the peace…and the miners mining. As the season wears on, both sites look a little thin on jade. Will they be able to find enough before the season ends…and their Chinese investors bail?

Tons of Giant Nephrite Jade Discovered in Canada
The Polar Pride boulder—called “the find of the millennium” by trade experts—was discovered in Canada. The 18-ton boulder was split in half for carving. Courtesy of Jade West Group.

Jade is a commercial term encompassing green, white, black or yellow-brown material that consists either of Na-rich pyroxene (
jadeite) or prismatic to acicular amphiboles of the tremolite-actinolite series that form bundles that are randomly oriented and interlocked (nephrite).

Nephrite is tougher (harder to break) than jadeite material. Its fracture strength is about 200 MN/m2 whereas that of jadeite is about 100 MN/m2. On the other hand, jadeite material is harder (7 compared to 6.5 on the Mohs scale).

Jade In British Columbia

Tons of Giant Nephrite Jade Discovered in Canada

Jade was first identified in Canada by Chinese settlers in 1886 in British Columbia; they came to Canada pretending to work on the railway lines but in reality jumped camp to seek out gold gold and jade. At this time jade was considered worthless as they were searching for gold. Jade was not commercialized in Canada until the 1970s. The mining business Loex James Ltd., which was started by two Californians, began commercial mining of Canadian jade in 1972.

There are over fifty known nephrite occurrences in British Columbia. These are located in the Cassiar, Cry and Dease Lake, and Mount Ogden areas, as well as in Southern British Columbia. These occurrences consist of individual blocks, boulder fields, talus blocks, and in situ occurrences. Most of the in situ occurrences are lens or cigar shaped.

They occur at or near the contacts of ultramafic/mafic rocks (mainly serpentinites) with cherts, and other metasedimentary or igneous felsic rocks of oceanic terranes such as the Cache Creek (Mississippian to Jurassic) and Slide Mountain (Devonian to Permian) terranes. These contacts are commonly interpreted as shear/fault related. In general, it is believed that the British Columbia nephrite formed by metasomatic exchange between ultramafic and silica-bearing rocks. Impurities in the nephrite are spinel group minerals (chromite, magnetite, picolite), diopside, uvarovite, titanite, chlorite and talc.

Until the 1960s, almost all of the nephrite produced in British Columbia came from secondary deposits. With the rapid expansion of amateur lapidary activity after World War II, production in British Columbia’s jade fields picked up and they became the most important suppliers.
At the same time, markets opened up in Germany and  China. Mining activity gradually depleted the secondary deposits, but increasing values led to further exploration. These efforts uncovered primary deposits adjacent to the Fraser River area in southern British Columbia, the Mount Ogden area in central British Columbia, and the Cassiar jade fields in the far north. Today, British Columbia is the main supplier for the China market.

Tons of Giant Nephrite Jade Discovered in Canada
Nephrite in British Columbia. Photo Credit: e-NetworkAssociates. com
Jade West Group, founded in 1981, is the biggest player in green nephrite mining and trading in British Columbia. Kirk Makepeace, the company’s founder, is an avid promoter of the stone. He started with a summer job as a jade driller.

Nephrite mining in British Columbia is very challenging. Winters are long and harshly cold, and deposits are remote, so mining can only happen during the short summer season, about 60 days a year. Almost all of the secondary deposits are exhausted, so current mining is almost all from primary deposits. Transporting the heavy equipment to the mining sites is backbreaking work.

Tons of Giant Nephrite Jade Discovered in Canada
Nephrite Mined In British Columbia Canada

Jade West uses diamond-coated circular and wire saws and modern high-pressure hydraulic splitters to remove the nephrite from the mountain and saw it into pieces of a manageable size.  Nephrite’s excellent toughness makes it extremely difficult to break out of the rock. While blasting had been used in the past, Jade West no longer uses explosives.

Nephrite deposits range from 12 inches to 12 feet wide. The wider deposits are very challenging to quarry. Nephrite boulders on the surface sometimes reach weights of 200 tons and are rarely under 100 pounds, but Jade West tries to limit the weight of its boulders to five tons, which is a reasonable size for them to mine, handle, and transport on trucks to the nearest town, about 100 miles away. The average weight is two tons, a size that satisfies the greed of the carving factories in China.

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