This deep blue lazurite specimen from the Canadian Museum of Nature’s mineral collection glimmers with part mystery and part inspiration. First, the mystery.

Lazurite specimen
Half of a baseball-sized lazurite specimen found in surburban Ottawa in 1992. This unusual discovery has led museum mineralogists to believe there’s a significant undiscovered lazurite deposit somewhere in Ontario or Quebec. Collection number CMNMC 84465. Image: Michael J. Bainbridge, © Michael J. Bainbridge.

This lazurite sample is half of a baseball-sized cobblestone found amid landscaping stones near the entrance of the Ottawa General Hospital by keen-eyed Ottawa resident Judith Bainbridge in 1992.

Luckily, Mrs. Bainbridge and her family are rock hounds and members of the Ottawa Valley Mineral Association. So, when she spotted this unusual bluish rock among the ordinary landscaping stones she broke the specimen in half and brought it to the museum staff for formal identification.

To her surprise, and ours, we identified the blue mineral as lazurite, better known as lapis lazuli, a prized mineral for jewellery making when found in its deep, rich-blue form.

We were astonished that such a high quality lazurite specimen was found in Ottawa. Lazurite is found worldwide as crystals and massive veins, with the best-known localities in Siberia, Russia, Colorado and California USA, and localities in Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Chile.

Bird carving
This beautiful blue bird is carved from Afghani lazurite. Collection number: CMNGE 22120. Image: Michael J. Bainbridge, © Michael J. Bainbridge.

But the only known Canadian deposits are two sites along the Soper River, near Kimmirut on the southern tip of Baffin Island, Nunavut. However, unlike Mrs. Bainbridge’s rich blue-coloured lazurite, the Soper River lazurite is usually pale blue or even green.

If Mrs. Bainbridge’s lazurite wasn’t from Soper River, where was it from? The landscaping stones at the Ottawa General Hospital that included the lazurite were from several local sand and gravel pits. My colleagues and I searched the gravel pits for more lazurite specimens, but it proved to be harder than finding a needle in a haystack given that each site had millions and millions of ordinary stones, most of them still buried in glacial deposits. We didn’t find more lazurite.

Nonetheless, we concluded that our lazurite specimen had likely been transported by glaciers from an unknown deposit somewhere in Ontario or Quebec where lies a well-hidden, rich vein of lazurite!

book cover featuring a mineral
Cover of Michael Bainbridge’s forthcoming book. Image: Michael Bainbridge, © Michael Bainbridge

While the Ottawa lazurite’s definitive source is still a mystery, it’s had a clear impact. It helped inspire one of Canada’s leading professional mineral photographers, Mrs. Bainbridge’s son, Michael Bainbridge, just 12-years old when the lazurite mystery began.

Many of his beautiful mineral photographs are in the museum’s Earth Gallery, and his upcoming book The Pinch Collection at the Canadian Museum of Nature will be published later this year.

All of which shows that you never know what will be revealed by an interesting mineral find.