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Title: Geological Report on Asbestos and its Indications, in the Province of Quebec, Canada
Author: Boyd, Lucius J.
Language: English
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Having been called upon to make a close and careful examination of the
geological formations in the eastern townships of Garthby, Wolf'stown,
and Coleraine, situated in the province of Quebec, Canada, I gave
special attention to the distribution of the Asbestos-bearing rocks
(serpentine), which have been, in my opinion, heretofore only partially
traced. Perhaps this was owing to the difficulties which had to be
encountered from the thick undergrowth which in many places rendered it
almost impossible to penetrate sufficiently in order to make a _true_
report as regards the "existence," "location," and "association" of
these rocks.

Admirable reports have been written by R. E. Ellis, LL.D., Dr. Hunt, and
others, on the origin and distribution of the serpentines, and have been
fully discussed and ventilated. Still, though various opinions have been
expressed upon the subject, they appear to differ in many respects. I
mention these facts as possibly one inexperienced or unacquainted with
the country might consider it strange that a thorough examination of the
Asbestos properties had not been followed. Yet the causes I have
mentioned above, as well as the difficulties I had to contend with
during the months of heavy snowfall, lead me to believe that my
_confrères_ (geologists) were disinclined to follow up a correct and
actual prospectus of these valuable serpentinous localities.

Before locating, or going into details of these classes of rock as a
mineral repository, I intend to treat on the subject as regards their
mode of existence and origin.

Serpentine is diffused under the head of "metamorphic rocks," while, in
the widest sense, according to Studor and others, mineral metamorphism
means every change of aggregation, structure, or chemical condition,
which rocks have undergone subsequently to their deposition and
than gravity and cohesion.

There fall under this definition the discolouration of the surface of,
for instance, black limestone, by the loss of its carbon, the formation
of brownish red crusts in rocks of limestone, sandstone, many
slatestones, shales, granite, &c., by the decomposition of compounds of
iron, finely disseminated in the mass of the rock, the change in rocks
consequent in the absorption of water, and the crumbling of many
granites and porphyries into gravel, occasioned by the decomposition of
the mica and felspar.

In its more limited sense the term "metamorphic" is confined to those
changes of rock which are produced directly or indirectly by agencies
seated in the interior of the earth. In many cases the mode of change
may be explained by our physical or chemical theories, and may be viewed
as the effects of temperature or of electro-chemical actions adjoining
rocks or connecting communications with the interior of the earth, also
distinctly point out the seat from which this change proceeds. In many
other cases the metamorphic process itself remains a mystery, and from
the nature of the products alone do we conclude that such a metamorphic
action has taken place.

Serpentine is generally believed to have been originally deposited as a
sediment, and to have acquired its present compact crystalline character
through the subsequent action of various chemical, or mechanical,
agencies. It is known to be a _hydrated silicate of magnesia_ with about
equal parts of silica and magnesia, and contains 12 per cent. of water
with varying proportions of iron, chromium manganese, alumina and lime,
has a specific gravity of 2.7, and weighs about 169 lbs. to the cubic
foot. It is found both in a soft and very compact state, of a waxy
lustre, with many different shades of beautiful green which give it a
mottled appearance like a serpent, hence the origin of its name
"serpentine," or ophite. It is called "ranocchia" by the Italians, from
the appearance it bears to the "frog," and, on account of its
susceptibility to a high polish, is greatly valued as a marble for
interior ornamental purposes, more than exterior, as it weathers
rapidly. In Galway, Ireland, it is found in large quantities, and called
"serpentinous marble," or "ophi-calcite." It is also to be found in
other parts of the world, as in the Pyrenees, Alps of Dauphing, Mount
St. Gothard, Italy, Sweden, Ural Mountains, Silesia, New South Wales,
Savoy, Corsica, Cornwall, Scotland, and other places too numerous to
mention; but in Canada the finest and most crystalline serpentine is to
be found forming great belts of over 100 miles long and several thousand
feet in breadth. There it associates with the dioretic, or volcanic,
rocks, and is, according to Dr. Ells, without any doubt, "An alteration
product of a dioretic rock rich in olivine." It is sometimes very
difficult to distinguish the mineral constituents in many of the
metamorphic rocks, but diorite is always considered to be composed
chiefly of felspar and hornblende, which composition enters largely into
the serpentines. Actinolite, tremolite, &c., and many other minerals,
are sometimes found associating with it.

There are many valuable properties attributed to serpentine, and I am of
opinion that the time is not far distant when it will be commercially
considered an invaluable substance, and this on account of its
refractory properties. I may also mention that it can be extensively
used in the manufacture of crucibles, &c. Its soft and unctuous
qualities (especially where it is found associated with "steatite," or
"soapstone," which is often to be seen in large quantities) renders it
easy to be worked, and, if reduced to a powder, could be moulded in
bricks which the most intense heat will not affect. One of the chief
properties it contains, and one which the serpentine of Lower Canada is
so famous for, is the Asbestos, crysotile, or fibrous serpentine. This
valuable and important mineral product is found in paying quantities
only at certain points in the extensive serpentine reefs, and was first
mined as an article of commerce in Canada in 1878, and has now become a
regular and rapidly-developing industry.

On account of its incombustible and indestructible qualities, is
extensively used in steam, hydraulic, and electrical machinery. It has
been adopted by the Admiralty for engine packing, in Her Majesty's
war-ships. It is spun into six-fold yarn, with a tensile strength of 40
lbs. and upwards, is manufactured into cloth, as clothing for firemen,
and covering hose-pipes, in fire brigades, and also engine purposes, as
well as drop-curtains, and general stage scenery, and is employed by the
principal railway and steamship companies, collieries, ironworks and all
classes of factories, and, in the manufacture of the new Asbestos grates
and stoves, is finding for itself a large market. Messrs. Bell &
Company of London, who are the largest Asbestos users in the world,
have adopted it in the manufacture of over 50 special purposes in
connection with steam engines and general machinery, and, as a
lubricant, Asbestoline ranks in the first degree.

There have been many mines started in Canada by people of the farming
class, as well as by companies, and "cotton," as Asbestos is locally
termed, has been found in large quantities within a few feet from the
surface, in veins from 1/4 to 6 inches and more in length of fibre. In
Italy, Asbestos is found, measuring up to 6 feet, in fibre, and
chemically speaking, there is no difference between it and Canadian,
except that the latter, though shorter in fibre, is much more compact
and crystalline, and purer in every sense of the word than can be
obtained in Italy, so much so, as I understand, that users of Italian
material have virtually abandoned it for Canadian. Although I have no
doubt but that Italian Asbestos has its own special purposes.

The greatest depth reached in Canada is 130 feet in open workings. No
timbering or extensive machinery is used in the manipulation of the
mines, as the "cuts"--being usually in the mountain side--afford a
natural drainage, and dumpage.

Having blasted the rock, the first process of extraction is termed
"cobbing," which means breaking off the adhering serpentine from the
Asbestos vein, this being manual work done by boys. The fibre is packed
in sacks, each weighing 100 lbs., and in some cases 200 lbs. are shipped
by the local railroad company to Montreal or New York at something about
10 cents and 20 cents per sack.

Asbestos is sorted into three qualities, and priced thus:--

    1st quality, selling at mine $80 to $200, per ton of 2,000 lbs.
    2nd    "        "       "     60  "   70,      "        "   "
    3rd    "        "       "     25  "   50,      "        "   "

Some inferior quality, at a very low price, is used by the Asbestos
Mining and Manufacturing Company of Quebec.

The workmen are principally French Canadians belonging to the
neighbouring villages, and the wages paid them are--

    Miners (without board), $0.90 (3/9) to $1.25 (5/2), per day.
    Pickers and cobbers,    $0.40 (1/8)  " $0.70 (2/11),   "

The cost of extraction is taken from $20 to $25 per ton; this includes
local administrations and all other expenses connected with the mine,
and with the adoption of machinery and the use of air-compressed drills
the cost of actual mining will be reduced to at least 30 per cent.; so
taking an average price of about $70 per ton, a net profit of from £8 to
£9, or $45, is obtainable per ton of raw material.

In 1886 the total amount of Asbestos, taken from all the mines, may be
estimated at 1,500 tons, and of the amount returned last year (1888),
all but 400 tons were from the Quebec province mines, and of these
Thetford turned out 2,560 tons, and Black Lake 950, or together
three-fourths of the whole out-put. The 400 tons were from Bridgewater,
in the province of Ontario, a somewhat different class of mineral,
which is generally used in the manufacture of fire-proof roofing.

As regards the indications of Asbestos, it is a general recognised fact,
and one that may be depended on, that not alone in Canada, but indeed
all other places where Asbestos-bearing serpentine is found, the
existence of Asbestos, or "Amianthus," is noticed when the serpentine is
exposed, and presents a rusted, sometimes greyish and broken appearance,
due to decomposition or weathering, or covered with a thin layer of
soil. Small veins of Asbestos are to be seen forming a network on the
surface of the rock. If closely examined there may be noticed the
indications of a fault which, in the eastern townships of Quebec, has
generally a direction of N. 40° E., this fault appearing in all openings
where a good show of mineral is to be seen, presenting a wall either in
a vertical position or at an angle, which is preferred to be not greater
than 30°. From this wall, at a varying distance of from 5 to 20 feet,
will be found another, sometimes parallel to, or at an opposite angle;
in this latter case, if these walls be worked down, they will be found
to either meet, forming a trough-like appearance, or to change their
course in a downward direction, leaving only a few feet from each other
at the narrowest point, and then diverge to an unlimited depth. In this
case their faces will have a slicken appearance, smeared over with thin
layers of imperfect Asbestos, or crysotile, now and then compact,
fibrous hornblende, up to 24 inches in length, of various colours, and
rich deposits of olivine, in rare cases small quantities of "ground
ivory" with many other admixtures.

The condition of the serpentine within these walls is greatly distorted,
containing many small veins of Asbestos varying from mere threads to 2
and 3 inches in thickness, and sometimes deposits of grains of magnetic
iron or magnetite with traces of chromic iron, which in some localities
break the continuity of the fibre, veins of rich white crystalline
matter (perhaps calcareous) with large deposits of "soapstone," or
steatite, associated with "serpentite." Such contorted out-crops are
indications of rich veins of Asbestos, which will be found to both
increase in quantity and quality the deeper they are worked. And in the
case where the walls are parallel and the filling matter in the same
contorted condition, it is inevitable, in order to obtain a good fibre,
considerable depth should be reached.

The serpentine, which constitute these walls, will also be found to
proportionally become more compact, and less associated with impurities,
and contain the finest quality and lustre of fibre.

A very interesting phenomenon may be noticed at some of the mines in
connection with this contorted matter. It is the transposition of the
serpentine into Asbestos fibre, by the action of the atmosphere. This is
to be seen on the dumps where the filling matter and cobbed rock is
exposed. In one or two cases I have seen large quantities of broken rock
changed into fibre after a few years, by atmospherical chemical

In so many cases I find people are prejudiced from going deeper than a
few feet from the surface, as not finding a copious supply of Asbestos
there, when _good_ indications are shown they become disheartened.

Therefore, from these practical facts it will be seen that in order to
get the best results it is necessary to work at the lowest possible
level when a favourable out-crop is shown, as, possibly, working at a
high elevation on the out-crop may be a mistake, where a lower point is

There are good indications of Asbestos where the serpentine is crossed
by quartzose, gneiss, or "traverse dykes," and some valuable finds have
been made at the junction with the dioretic rocks.

When the serpentine is found dark in colour, to have a granular
appearance, containing many dark grains of, perhaps, felspathic
crystals, the Asbestos will be of a dark, dull, translucent lustre, very
compact, and easily fluffed to a fine silken fibre. The admixtures of
hard and soft serpentine, where not effected by a fault, may sometimes
be regarded as a doubtful indication of an immediate find, but if its
hardness increases on descending, and colour becomes more uniform, from
a light emerald green with a whitish admixture, to a dark olive, and
containing numerous small veins of fibre, the conclusions may be
considered as favourable to rich deposits of Asbestos.

In conclusion I may add that the foregoing remarks, as regards the
indications of this valuable mineral, are based on my personal
geological experience, and the reliable information of the managers of
the various Asbestos mines in Canada, whose opinions have greatly aided
me in my recent prospection, and I trust that this pamphlet will not
alone be a benefit to them, but to the Asbestos industry, which I feel
assured will be one of the most prominent in the province of Quebec.

            C.E., F.R.G.S.I.

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