Our story began when our grandfather Joe Biro was running a motel in Lake Louise, and went fishing on a sunny afternoon off in the early 70s. He wasn’t having a lot of luck, so he sat down on a log at the side of the river. He looked up the river and saw that there was a brilliant sparkle coming from the riverbank a few hundred meters away. Curious as to what was causing this brilliant spectacle, he walked down the river's edge and found a small crevice in the river bank. This crevice was filled with sparkling quartz crystals. This is where our story began.
Rocks, rocks, and more rocks. He read about them, he hunted for them, and for some unknown reason he wanted more of them. Joe had become hooked; he had become what we would later come to know as a “rockhound”. A lifelong fascination with rock collecting had begun, and there was no putting this genie back into its bottle. The hobby grew quickly; a quirky pastime had become an obsession.
Unlike other families who travelled to sandy beaches for their spring breaks, our family holidays were spent walking the hills searching for rocks and prospecting. Instead of carrying a beach towel, we carried a tough burlap rock collecting satchel; instead of flip flops on our feet, we wore rugged hiking boots. Added to this ensemble were a magnifying glass, and looks of grim determination. Only then were we ready to go. Amethysts were discovered, opals were mined, and jaspers were dug in dry foothills littered with rattlesnakes. We repelled down cliff sides looking for travertine, we walked the badlands looking for petrified wood and dinosaur bones, and quarries were visited where fossil leaves were found. If there was a rock collecting spot nearby, we visited it. Rocks of all types were sought out.
It had started with a few crystals and soon the “collection” took on a life of its own. This collection of unique treasures covered our living room. Each rock had its location, its provenance, and its unique set of attributes. Where others saw just rocks, he saw unique crystal shapes, octahedrons, and sometimes even gemstones. Where he saw potential, my mother saw things that collected dust.
He would tell anyone who would listen his tall “rock” tales. These stories of crystals he had found that were too large to carry, cliffs too steep to climb, and if only he had another hour, he could have dug out that huge gemstone that had to be just a few inches further underground. If they asked him about it, they soon discovered the magnitude of his hobby.
The rocks threatened to overrun our home; the collection had grown to mythic proportions. Our mother launched a desperate plan to take back our home from the rocks. She insisted he thin out the collection. “Perhaps you could sell some of your collection,” she said. Surprisingly, he agreed.
The business was born.
The collection had grown to include all types of fossils, eggs, spheres, and many rock crystals, minerals, and stone samples. Eventually he decided to cut his own gemstones from pieces he had mined. He spent an afternoon mining picture jasper rock, and then spent the winter months cutting that same jasper and turning it into gemstones. He loved to cut gemstones, but people didn’t know what to do with them. They would say, “That’s pretty, but what do you do with it?” He would answer, “You get it made into jewellery.” Finally he got tired of answering this question, and he took up silversmithing. Eventually he made all the silver jewellery in the store, producing hundreds of silver pendants and rings from scratch. At last, a hobby had become a fulltime job.
Finally, demand got to be too big. He spent all of his time finding rocks, cutting gemstones, and making silver jewellery. One store eventually turned into 2, then 3, then 6. It was too much work for one, so he found like minded people to make the jewellery for him. A staff of one eventually turned into a staff of 55. This didn’t include the hundreds of people that made our jewellery, in places nearby like Calgary, and places exotic from all over the world. That number didn’t include the items bought from other rockhounds like him out of their extensive collections. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of people were involved in the “collection” and the bringing of that collection to the masses. It now took several full time positions to manage the personnel, and several more full time positions to maintain the quality control of our merchandise.An institution was born, and it continues to grow – we welcome you to the wonderful world of the “rockhound” and the place where rockhounds can view treasures from the earth. Welcome to Rocks and Gems Canada!
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