VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Deposits of opal, emerald, sapphire and rare blue beryl glow like rainbows across northern British Columbia and the Yukon and, slowly, people are starting to notice.
"Until recently no one really looked for gemstones in B.C.," said Brian Grant, a geologist with the British Columbia Geological Survey. "People assumed they were only found in tropical places."
Bob Yorke-Hardy, president of Okanagan Opal Inc., was looking for gold when he cracked open a rock and was nearly blinded by an eyeful of opal.
"If I had been looking for opal and read any book about it and where it's usually found, I certainly wouldn't have been working in B.C.," he said.
Paul Wojdak, a regional geologist with the Department of Mines and Energy, said there could be a lot more glimmer in the province, and the economy is driving people to go after it.
British Columbia is already the No. 1 jade producer in the world.
In recent years the decline in the price of metal from lead and zinc to copper has curtailed much of the more traditional mineral exploration, leaving prospectors with more time to spend on longshots like precious stones.
Efforts are underway to determine the extent of an opal deposit in the Whitesail Mountains of the Ootsa Lake region, jade discoveries in the Dease Lake area and emerald deposits on the Yukon border.
Wojdak said much of the excitement concerns emerald prospects that were discovered by a man looking for copper. This summer, a group of geologists looking for emerald stumbled across a uniquely dark blue beryl.
"Blue beryl is usually a light colot known as aquamarine. This was a more primary blue that was quite dark, called maxixe," said Heather Neufeld, a researcher from the University of British Columbia on the team that found the stone.