Tlell stonecutter Dutes Dutheil dives into Agate Collecting With Dutes — a pocket guide he wrote with his daughter April. The book launches this Saturday, May 13, at the Crystal Cabin Gallery in Tlell. (April Dutheil/Crystal Cabin)

Agate guide launches at Crystal Cabin this Saturday

Pocket guide tells the story of Haida Gwaii agates, and Tlell stonecutter Dutes Dutheil.

Agate collectors can now comb Haida Gwaii with a pocketful of know-how from Dutes Dutheil.

This Saturday at Tlell’s Crystal Cabin Gallery, Dutes and his daughter April will launch a pocket guide called Agate Collecting with Dutes.

Inside are beautiful agates, notes on how they took shape in Haida Gwaii’s volcanic past, and a little of Dutes’ own story as a lifelong stonecutter.

“I think people will be surprised, even islanders who know a lot about agates,” says April, who wrote the guide with help from her father and Paul Wodjak, a geologist and family friend.

“There are some agates in there that people don’t even know about.”

One is the ‘iris’ agate — a clear, translucent stone with such fine banding that it flashes rainbows when sliced thin and held to the light.

Another is the ‘plume’ agate, named for veins of colour that look like feathers, ferns, or corals.

Even petrified wood can be ‘agatized’ so it is shot through with agate of any colour: white, grey, black, blue, yellow, or red.

As the guide explains, Haida Gwaii had a way more Hawaiian look about 62 million years ago — volcanoes poured lava over much of western Graham Island.

Bubbles of gas got trapped in the lava, leaving cavities as the lava cooled into dark basalt rock.

It was in those cavities that Haida Gwaii’s agates formed over millions of years. Water leached in, bringing bands of clear silica and multi-coloured minerals, layer by layer.

Only in the last 50,000 years did massive glaciers push the agate-rich basalt out to the Haida Gwaii coastlines where beachcombers find agates today.

Agate Collecting with Dutes also had an unsettling start.

April said she and father started working on it shortly after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last May.

“It was such a shock for all of us,” she said.

But while everyone was upset, April said they also agreed it was time to bring the guidebook and a few more of Dutes’ many creative ideas into the world. They are also looking to set up an interpretive display — an ‘Agate Avenue’ — somewhere on Haida Gwaii.

“It shows you should just grab life by the horns — get on these projects, and make them a reality,” said April.

On the cover of the guide is a photo of Dutes and his daughter Sarah collecting agates along the beach. That’s something the sisters started doing “since we were babies, basically,” said April, laughing.

Growing up in northern Ontario, Dutes and his father made similar trips to go rockhounding in the Canadian Shield.

By age 12, Dutes was winning awards for his stone work at lapidary clubs. The guide shows some of his finest work, such as a deep red pendant of cobaltoan calcite set in gold.

Some of the stone-cutting and polishing machines that Dutes used then and now were first used by his grandfather, in France. Now that April and Sarah are running the Crystal Cabin Gallery, that tradition has stretched four generations.

That may be a blink of an eye in geologic time, but like the pocket guide or agates themselves, April said there is a deeper story below the surface.

“It’s more than a rock book,” she said.

Join the launch of Agate Collecting with Dutes at the Crystal Cabin Gallery from 1 to 4 p.m. this Saturday. Expect door prizes, and an agate cake.


A portrait of Dutes Dutheil, a self-taught stonecutter and jeweller who opened the Crystal Cabin gallery in Tlell. (Tallulah/Tallulah Photography)