Chris Yorke-Hardy (left) puts the finishing touches on an opal ring at the Opal Miner’s Gift Shop and Design Studio.

Chris Yorke-Hardy (left) puts the finishing touches on an opal ring at the Opal Miner’s Gift Shop and Design Studio.

Opal Resources unearths basalt claim

Vernon mineral company adds columnar basalt to opal operation.

What started out as a quest for gold has transformed into a pair of unique mineral enterprises for Vernon’s Spectral Gold Corporation.

While prospecting for gold on his mineral claim in the hills south of Falkland in the early 1990s, owner Bob Yorke-Hardy soon discovered a sizeable opal deposit. After doing a little research, he realized it had the potential to become the only economically viable opal deposit in all of Canada.

And so, Opal Resources Canada (a division of Spectral Gold Corp.), was born.

“There are isolated opal occurrences – a few pieces here, a few pieces there – but this is quite a significant deposit,” said Yorke-Hardy, who runs the business with son Chris and wife Alana.

“Over the surface area, we’ve found opal to be quite extensive. We haven’t tested the depth because of the costs of doing drilling. We don’t even know the full size of it yet, but it’s got some very good opal in it.”

Operating out of their Opal Miner’s Gift Shop and Design Studio on Highway 97 (along Greenhow Road), the Yorke-Hardys offer customized opal jewelry, including one-of-a-kind rings, earrings and pendants.

Working with the client, Chris is responsible for creating the design with sketches and wax models. Once approved, the piece is outsourced for casting and then returned so Chris can set the opal and polish the finished product.

For those seeking a more hands-on experience, customers can book guided tours to Opal Resource’s deposit where they can learn how to unearth the attractive gemstones.

The Yorke-Hardys were in the process of expanding their operation back in the late ‘90s, however, they suffered a major setback when their former business location was expropriated for the highway expansion between Vernon and Armstrong.

“It’s not a process anybody wants to go through,” said Yorke-Hardy, noting the company hasn’t extracted any opal since 2004. “We’re trying to get over that. We’ve restructured the company and are moving forward.”

With its current opal supply dwindling, and believing in further expansion, Opal Resources is heading back to the claim to resume extraction. Eventually, Yorke-Hardy would like to offer a production run of jewelry, but plans to expand with caution.

“We’d like to be able to market it into other stores, but in order to be able to do that you’ve got to keep production up.”

The second phase of Spectral’s operation came about in 2010, when, while once again prospecting for gold, the Yorke-Hardys discovered a columnar basalt deposit.

The site, known as the Lady King Basalt deposit, is conveniently located adjacent to good access roads, only a short truck haul from Highway 97, and a short distance from Vernon.

Columnar basalt’s slender, rectangular profile – mineral from this particular deposit can range from four inches to two feet wide, and anywhere from a foot to eight feet in length – makes it a versatile landscape commodity. It can be used to create waterscapes, stairs, walls, landscape features, fountains and other garden accessories such as birdbaths, benches, tables, barbecue enclosures, gate posts, driveway curbing, garden borders and ground cover.

It isn’t all that common in the Okanagan, mainly because the closest deposits are found in Squamish and Quesnel, but Yorke-Hardy believes Lady King will change all that. He plans to cater to both backyard gardeners, who might want a rock or two for a water feature, to large-scale landscape contractors, who might require full truckloads from the site.

“That’s one of the reasons you don’t see it used much in landscaping around here,” said Yorke-Hardy. “It’s pricey because it’s shipped so far.

“There is no reason why we couldn’t get a share of that market. Ours can be brought in, round-trip with a full truckload is under three hours. It’s quite economic. It’s awareness that’s required.”

With Lady King ideally situated near the railway network, Yorke-Hardy also has eyes on the Alberta market for his columnar basalt.