Digging for Natural Clay Deposits

Looking at the photos of my friend Tom’s class digging natural clay deposits reminded me of how much fun I had when I did that with Mr. Carson’s class in high school. It’s very gratifying to process the clay we found and make something with it, even if it was backbreaking work. It made me think of the clay deposits in this area. A local potter once told me where to find clay here. The location is in the Chineside Park area in Port Moody. To reach it, find Hope Street, between Elgin and Douglas, then,  mid-block, head south into the Chines (see the map above). You’ll be walking up a draw on the east side of a creek. Up a ways, on the left bank, you’ll find a natural clay deposit. You’ll need buckets to haul it out and it’d be best to have several people help haul it out in buckets to make it worth your while. This clay body is tried and true, according to a reliable area potter who lives near this outcrop.

I also became curious and did a little looking into the history of clay deposits in the area and found there were several companies that processed clay in the area. One of them was Pacific Clay Products Ltd., at Pleasantside, on Port Moody’s north shore, and it closed in 1950, according to Clay and Shale Deposits, Bulletin 3o, put out by BC Dept. of Mines in 1952. The document states,”fairly extensive stratified deposits of very fine-grained highly plastic blue clay occur at several places in the area, notably Capilano, and Lynn Valleys, near Port Moody.” It goes on to say that other clay bodies had been “worked…in Port Moody” and that the color of the clay is gray or red. I will see if I can find more current information and follow up on this for us.

If you want to pursue digging your own clay in your area, you’ll need to know a bit more before you begin. I like this article from About.com: “How to Use Locals Clays in Your Pottery,” by Beth Peterson. It’s a good run down of what you’ll have to do once you find your clay deposit. She covers finding the clay, processing it, making test pieces, firing it, and testing maturation. Plus, she refers you to other links along the way. I have not followed Peterson’s instructions with the Port Moody clay I gave you directions to above, but I’m passing it on to you because About.com is a very credible source. It is my ‘go-to’ site for anything I want to look up on the internet. If you do decide to dig in your own area, make sure you are careful. Take care of your back! Wet clay is very heavy….

3 Comments

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3 Responses to Digging for Natural Clay Deposits

  1. Tanja

    Hi Jan,

    In your January 10, 2011 post you wrote:

    “A local potter once told me where to find clay here. The location is in the Chineside Park area in Port Moody. To reach it, find Hope Street, between Elgin and Douglas, then, mid-block, head south into the Chines (see the map above). You’ll be walking up a draw on the east side of a creek. Up a ways, on the left bank, you’ll find a natural clay deposit.”

    Could you tell me a it more about where this clay deposit is? I am not quite sure what you mean by a “draw” on the east side of the creek….. do you mean the area that floods right at the start of the creek when you come up from the road or is there another draw farther up the creek along the trail. And if it is farther up, do we take the bigger trail starting at the edge of backyard on the east side of the creek or the smaller trail closer to the creek? Finally how far is “up a ways” and is the left bank you refer to the bank of the creek?

    I just came back from the area but it was getting to dark to go very far. I am looking for a clay source to build a cob oven in New Westminster so would love to find some clay, even if it means a bit of work.

    Thanks.

    Tanja

    Hi, Tanja and thank you for writing… What you walk up when hyou head in that direction is a tiny canyon, also known as a draw, a gully, tiny canyon or chine. I can’t remember how far back it is and I’m going to refer you to Gillian McMillan, who lives a block away, who told me about it and who hauled out clay from this area. It’s been seven years since I’ve seen it and I can’t remember specifics enough to answer your question clearly. I recall you have to walk on the left side of the creek and it was quite a ways back, but I can’t approximate the distance. Gillian will be able to tell you and you can reach her here:

    http://www.gillianmcmillan.com/contact.php

    When you go, get people to help you because it’s heavy and you have to haul it quite a ways…

    Your cob oven sounds like an incredible project and an exciting one. Good luck with it!

    Jan

  2. Dragon

    Thank you very much for this post, it was a nice starting foo point in my quest for Denver clay. If anyone knows about Denver area clay, please feel free to post some info here!

    Take care!

    Dragon

    • Jan

      Hi, Dragon, and thank you for writing. I’m glad to hear you’ll be digging for clay in your area. That’s good news. In this world, at least in North America, we’re so used to buying things processed and packaged up. I think it’s important for people who work in ceramics to have some experience digging their own clay…to have that connection with the source. And, as you’re doing, to find and feel that local connection. You’ve made me happy all over again! By all means, if anyone can add to any info about Denver area clay, please add to the conversation. Cheers! — Jan

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