British Columbia, home to lush green temperate rain forests and majestic wildlife can also lay claim to many great jade discoveries. Excavated in the remote Mount Ogden area along with significant deposits along Fraser River and the Cassire highway in Southern British Columbia, Jade is a staple of South Asian culture – China’s national stone, and is prized in many other cultures around the world for its strength and lush, elegant beauty. In the 1860’s through early 1900’s, Chinese miners and railroad workers earned extra money by shipping tons of jade from British Columbia home to China where it is highly sought after for carving.
British Columbia is now the world’s largest producer of nephrite jade, producing over 75% of the world’s Jade – in particular a tiny place with a miniscule population known as “Jade city” responsible for the bulk of BC’s Jade production.
“Jade City is a “spot on the road” in northwestern British Columbia, Canada, near the Yukon, located on Highway 37, west of Good Hope Lake and close to Cassiar, in the Cassiar Highlands. The region around Jade City is rich with serpentinite (a jade precursor), greenstone (jade look-a-likes), and Nephrite jade. The region is home to 92% of the world’s nephrite jade. Jade City is by road about 24 hours north of Greater Vancouver, and 1 hour south of the Yukon border. As of 2015, it has a population of about 30 people.”
It didn’t take long for this tiny mining community to become a world famous tourist stop especially for the American travellers entering Alaka thought the Cassire highway.
Until the 1960’s, almost all of the nephrite produced in British Columbia came from secondary deposits. With the accelerated development of amateur ‘lapidary activity’ after World War II, production in British Columbia’s jade fields grew and they became the most important suppliers on earth. Around about the same time, markets opened up in Germany and then in the Orient. Vigorous mining activity progressively depleted the secondary jade 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 off north. Today, British Columbia is the main supplier for the exporting market to China.
Jade was adopted as B.C.’s official gemstone in 1968 through the Mineral Emblem Act. ‘Jade West Group’ founded in 1981, is the largest player in green nephrite mining and trading in all of British Columbia. Over thirty years later, Jade West has become one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of green nephrite jade. The company owns and operates three out of the four active nephrite mines in British Columbia, including the infamous ‘Polar Mine’ not too far from Dease Lake, the Kutcho and Ogden Mountain mines. The Polar Mine’s high-quality production is known as ‘Polar Jade’ among trade workers.
Nephrite mining in British Columbia can be highly challenging. Winters are far too long, bitterly cold and deposits are so outlying that mining can only happen during the very short and fleeting summer season – which lasts for a grand total of approximately 60 days out of the year. Almost all of the secondary deposits are disabled, so current mining is almost all from primary deposits. The transportation of the heavy equipment to the mining sites is painstaking work for the miners.
The process of the mining of Jade has become of interest to people outside of British Columbia, so much so that Canadian television Network OMNI approached a family of Jade miners and spawned a reality TV show (Jade Fever) chronicling the lives of the family up in Jade City – mining from May to October. Claudia’s family (four generations in the mining industry) is the only family based mining company that is known of in the mining world. There isn’t a large scale for mining in the jade industry which is why this family of four is still thriving off their mining along with their Jade store set up Dease Lake. Canada has some of the best jade in the world – found along the Fraser River . The jade mining industry is estimated to be worth billions of dollars. On average, the estimated price for top quality jade can be as high as $1,000 per kilogram.
“The Fraser River Jade Reserve was established in 1968 and stretched from the Hope Bridge to the Highway Bridge in Lillooet. The BC Government designated this area so anyone can look for and take home jade for private use without a Free Miner’s Certificate. As part of a clean up of redundant regulations, the regulation creating the reserve was eliminated in 2004. The former reserve area is still a great clue where to look for Jade. Current Government regulations allow anyone to prospect and collect reasonable samples without a Free Miner License so long as they only do the prospecting with hand tools, so leave your excavator at home”.