Yukon had its gold rush, Newfoundland its cod rush, and now a Canadian television show is honing in on British Columbia’s jade rush. The province produces around 75 per cent of the world’s nephrite jade–an extremely tough and beautiful gemstone that’s been revered for thousands of years.
Claudia Bunce has been involved in the industry ever since she was five years old, when her father moved his young family into the remote Cassiar Mountain range of Northern B.C. to Jade City, population 35.
Bunce took up the family business, helping to set up Dease Lake Jade Mining with her husband Robin. Their exploits and adventures are the subject of Jade Fever, a show whose second season is premiering on the Discovery Network at 10 p.m. ET on Feb. 23.
Nephrite has been used by aboriginal people in Canada for thousands of years, with jade artifacts discovered at Salish cultural sites near Lillooet, B.C..
The only countries that are mining large amounts of nephrite jade are Canada, China and Russia — with most of the product being exported to Asian countries – and New Zealand, where it’s a popular gemstone used for carvings and jewelry.
Mining jade is hard on the body but easier on the land than people assume, say the Bunces. The Bunces' quirky outback crew must trek equipment 120 kilometers along muddy trails, through rivers and forests to a spot where they suspect a jade deposit might be found. But when it comes to actually removing it from the land, the Bunces say the environmental impact pales when compared to that of mining gold.
Most jade runs in the top few meters from the surface, and extracting it uses very little water, says Robin Bunce.
Being environmentally responsible is important to the Bunces on both a family level and a business level. As part of that, they only mine so much a year and do everything they can to ensure the vegetation grows back.
“We’re doing it for our kids, we’re doing it because we want our kids to be safe. We don’t want them to lose these trees, this water,” says Claudia.
When the family was initially entertaining the idea of allowing the film crews into their lives, others cautioned them that the network would try to catch them out in an environmental blunder. But Claudia says that’s exactly why the spotlight is a positive thing: it encourages them to be as sustainable as possible and to be stewards within the industry.
“This isn’t a job for us," says Claudia. "This is a lifestyle.”