A Part-Time Rock Hound Stuns Canada with His Midas Touch

UPDATED 04/30/1979 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/30/1979 at 01:00 AM EDT

There's gold in them thar hills (or words to that effect), Efrem Specogna assured his friends. They told him the rocks were in his head, and sometimes snuck a few into his bed to tease him. He kept on prospecting.

Ten years ago Specogna discovered a rich lode on the remote Queen Charlotte Islands, 80 miles off the coast of British Columbia. Back then gold was worth only $34 an ounce, and though mining companies paid Specogna $90,-000 in options, they finally decided it wasn't worth the effort. But, by January of this year the price of gold had reached a high of around $240 an ounce. Specogna's stake was valued at a possible $2 billion, and the 52-year-old logger sold his rights to Consolidated Cinola, a small Canadian mining company, for $390,000. Word of the deal has already set off a gold rush toward the islands, which are reachable by plane and boat.

A hard-working Italian who immigrated to Canada in 1950, Specogna has not quit his $118-a-day job cutting fir and other evergreen trees, though he does take summers off to comb his three other claims for nuggets. Some of the land is so rugged, it can only be reached by helicopter. Ironically, Specogna says he has found "a lot of gold" right in his hometown of Nanaimo (pop. 40,000), but he adds with a sigh, "It is on land owned by the city for its water supply."

When Specogna decided to leave Italy, he wanted to go to South America. His mother, a strong-minded widow who ran the family farm and midwifed about 5,000 babies in the area, said no. Her three brothers worked in the coal mines outside Nanaimo, and Signora Specogna sent her young son to them.

"I got here just as they were laying people off," Specogna recalls, "so I started working in a logging camp." Transferred to Graham Island, the northernmost of the Charlotte chain, he realized two things were imperative for survival: a wife and a hobby. He took care of the first requirement on a trip home to Italy in 1964. Her name was Lucia Trinco.

While Lucia raised three children, Specogna pursued an interest in mineral exploration to while away the hours. Starting out with a fifty-cent children's book on rocks, he progressed to technical manuals. Every weekend, Specogna and his brother-in-law, John Trinco (who had arrived from Italy), went prospecting with a simple magnifying glass, a compass, a basic surveying device and a hammer to break up the rocks. After three years their efforts panned out—to the amazement of geologists. "They believe it's the youngest known gold deposit in the world," Specogna says.

Lucia, who is a partner in Efrem's ventures, joins in the prospecting now with their kids. Fido, an Irish wolfhound, goes along too, as protection from cougars and wolves. At home in Nanaimo, where the family resettled in 1975, Marino, 14, the eldest child and only son, got his father's help in organizing a soccer team called Specogna's Gold Blasters. Daughter Carol, 10, recently wrote a paper on rocks "because they are a part of my everyday life...and to please my father."

As for Dad, he now has enough money for the children's education and for long-planned trips to Disneyland and Italy. Says Lucia, proudly: "Efrem always knew he was going to make money from that land."

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