Northern Wilds Magazine
White, brown and emerald green glass pieces are more common to find. | LISA JACQUES
Along the Shore

Tumbled to perfection: Lake Superior beach glass

The potential to find treasure on the shores of Lake Superior is but another reason to get outside and take a long walk on the beach. As the motion of the lake constantly shapes and alters the rocks beneath the water’s surface, occasionally some specialty pieces are deposited within reach. From the casual beach-goer to the enthusiastic collector, tumbled portions of glass warrant extra attention because of their unique appearance and rarity.

What is essentially pretty trash, the beach glass that hunters find today has been tossed around in Lake Superior for decades or even centuries. Bottles, jars, and various types of tableware that were thrown overboard into the lake along shipping lanes or left on the shoreline in years gone by have been smoothed by the water’s movement. Waves pound the pieces into the shoreline and make them smaller and smoother, cutting off sharp edges.

Hunting for unique and rare objects on the shore was often a family affair for beach glass enthusiast Lisa Jacques. She estimates that she has thousands of pieces that have been collected during a lifetime of her “pleasure and hobby.”

“I have been doing this since I was a child with my grandparents,” she explains. “Also, my mom was my best partner and greatest competition. She always seemed to find blue glass—Noxzema Jars, we think—or maybe from Milk of Magnesia bottles.”

During summers spent with her grandmother in Rossport, Ontario, Jacques learned about agates, Lake Superior greenstone and other Lake Superior rocks. They would polish their haul to make jewelry and sell it out of a little porch that she turned into a gift shop out of her home.

Now based in Terrace Bay, Jacques has brought home finds from all over the North Shore of Lake Superior, from Thunder Bay to Marathon. Though every piece is inherently special, some colors inspire more awe because of how unusual they are. While white, brown, and emerald green pieces are more typical, olive green, aqua, cobalt blue, and amber are the next level of rarity. An experienced collector like Jacques has had the joy of picking even the most exceptional colors.

Lisa’s mom and dog often walk the beach in Terrace Bay, looking for glass, too. | LISA JACQUES

“I love every piece I find but I definitely get excited finding red, dark blue, yellow or orange,” says Jacques. “Sometimes you can get combinations of colors, too.”

Appearance of the beach glass also varies based on the qualities of the water and type of shoreline in which it has been submerged. Because of the pH of saltwater, glass hunters near the ocean might find that their gems have more of a frosted appearance. When glass gets stuck in between rocks on a rockier shoreline, only one edge of the piece is exposed to erosion, which results in a more triangular shape. The even tumbling of a sandy shore produces rounder pieces.

Because an increase of plastic containers in the last 100 years has lessened the use of glass packaging in general, it is likely that beach glass findings might dwindle in the future. In addition, attitudes and laws regarding water-based trash disposal have made it (thankfully) less common to simply toss it overboard.

Although signs point to the beach glass pickings getting slimmer, Jacques still considers her searches to be beautiful walks that often yield unexpected discoveries. Despite plans to craft with her glass one day, for now she says she is “just enjoying finding it.” For aspiring collectors hoping to add variety to their respective collections, she has some words of encouragement and inspiration.

“Just get out there and look down. You never know what Lake Superior has to offer up on her vast shoreline.,” she says. “It’s an incredible place where we live.”

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