[An Excerpt from Flim Flam: Canada’s Greatest Frauds, Scams, and Con Artists, Bourrie, Mark. Dundurn.]
Viola’s campaign made Canada the prospecting centre of the world and set
the stage for the huge increase in Canadian mining in the 1950s, which in turn, turned Toronto from a financial backwater into a major investment market.
The Viola MacMillan mineral gallery at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa is one of those new – style museum displays that drive people bananas. It’s set up so that people don’t linger. The audio – video equipment is often broken, so many visitors don’t get to see snippets of the National Film Board movie about Viola’s life.
Photos are not labelled. Fat security guards whisper into walkie – talkies and try not to make eye contact with the public. There’s virtually no explanation about the minerals themselves. Some are displayed by colour: blue crystals, green crystals. For the serious mineralogist, the display is an exercise in frustration; for the casual tourist, it’s a display of pretty rocks.
The MacMillan Gallery takes up a tiny portion of the museum’s second floor; the rest of the wing is devoted to a fake Nova Scotia beach, a fake mine, and a fake cave that has been so worn by children’s play that pieces of foam rubber are exposed. Yet the MacMillan Gallery is worth seeing, especially at a time of day when few people are around.
There are incredible crystals, beautiful cut gem, and carved semi – precious stones. There are also remarkable specimens of gold and silver ore: gold crystals, silver wire, nuggets of gold the size of a child’s fist, a hunk of silver the size of small loaf of bread. Even without decent explanations of the minerals, it’s obvious that they must be rare.
If things that beautiful were common, everyone would have a chunk in their homes, and people would send crystals instead of flowers. Part of the gallery is devoted to prospecting, complete with a tent and camping gear, geologists ’ equipment, and the stuff that Viola would have used on her frequent trips to the subarctic wilderness. Viola MacMillan was, above all, a prospector.
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