fossilized ammonitefossilized ammonite

Ammonite Mining in Canada

Beautiful ammolite gems are made from ammonite fossils. Come with Jeff Moriarty of Moriarty’s Gem Art on an ammonite mining trip to Canada.

3 Minute Read

During a recent trip to Montana in search of sapphires, my father, brother, and I decided to cross the border into Canada to mine for ammonite. These shelled cephalopods died out about 66 million years ago, and their fossils are the source of ammolite — a gemstone made from this material. Alberta, Canada is the only place in the world where ammolite occurs. My father, Steve Moriarty, was in the ammolite business decades ago, so he has a connection to these super-cool fossils.
fossilized ammonite
Fossilized ammonites are found all over the world. However, only fossils from three species of these extinct creatures produce the gem-quality material known as ammolite. To date, these fossils are found only in Alberta, Canada. Ammonite found earlier this year at the Enchanted Designs mine. Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

Traveling to Canada

Because of COVID restrictions, getting into Canada from the US was tough. We needed our passports and vaccination status uploaded to the ArriveCan app ahead of time. (Editors note: as of 10/1/22, proof of vaccination is no longer required to enter Canada. Always confirm international travel requirements before going on your trip).

After crossing the border, it took us about an hour to drive to where we planned to dig for ammonite. You could get there quicker, but we were driving a large RV. It takes longer to get anywhere, but we can easily set up camp in the mining areas, especially when they're in the middle of nowhere.

RV camper
Where we slept during our trip. Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

Ammonite from Enchanted Designs

We had previously contacted Tom, the owner of Enchanted Designs, one of Alberta's biggest ammonite companies. We first met him at his store and office in Lethbridge. Tom showed us the entire process — from his inventory to cleaning and polishing and finally to the finished pieces. He had some fantastic ammonite and ammolite specimens there. We bought many pieces on the spot. They were just too good to pass up. We spent almost four hours there and learned a ton from Tom and his team.

ammonites - Enchanted Designs
Ammonites we purchased from Enchanted Designs. Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

Next, we visited their ammonite mine. Even though it was also in Lethbridge, it was still about a 30-minute drive away. Although it was a good-sized operation, only a few people remained because it was the end of the mining season.

main dig site - ammonite mine
At the main dig site. Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

Most of the time, you just watch the mining process. However, they uncovered some ammonite while digging the grounds when we were there. It was quite exciting to see!

  • ammonite 1 - Lethbridge, Alberta
    Ammonite found at the mine during our visit. Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.
  • ammonite-2 Lethbridge, Alberta
    Ammonite found at the mine during our visit. Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

    Digging for Ammonite

    While it was great to see that find, we wanted to do our own digging. So, they introduced us to John Reed, their local expert and our guide for the day. He took us to the "steep" side of one of the rivers where they manually mine for ammonite.

      He showed us what to look for, how to dig, and where to dig. We spent about 4-5 hours along the river that day. It was very hot and sunny without much shade. Not easy work. We found a few small pieces but nothing to write home about. We were glad we bought what we did at the main office!

      This trip was more about the fun of mining together and hearing John's stories about his finds and experiences over the years. He told us about the Kainai First Nations people who own the mining rights to the land on the other side of the river. He also told stories about the poachers he had to scare off, especially at night.

      the mining team
      Left to right: Michael Moriarty, bench jeweler; Jeff Moriarty; Steve Moriarty, gem cutter. Photo by Moriarty's Gem Art. Used with permission.

      Saying Goodbye

      We stopped close to 8 pm that night, said our goodbyes to John, and jumped back in our RV. We had found a small campground nearby where we stayed for the night. While it was just a quick 2-day trip, it's amazing what we learned. We were delighted with what we purchased.

        Take a look at more finished ammolite gemstones by Moriarty's Gem Art.

        Jeff Moriarty

        Jeff Moriarty has been in the family jewelry business for over 25 years. His family has a jewelry store in Crown Point, Indiana, as well as an ecommerce website.  He travels the world with his father in search of amazing gemstones and new discoveries.

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