SOURIS -- The schoolchildren run up to Frank Grabowski, their open palms balancing shiny rocks they've found in the quarry run by his Souris Rock Shop.
Grabowski rattles off the names. "That's petrified wood, that's jasper, that's sandstone," he calls out. After a while, his voice is just sharp background punctuation: "Jasper, agate, clay, sandstone, sandstone, jasper," and this goes on for half an hour as Grade 4 students from Kirkcaldy Heights in Brandon scramble around the quarry.
But then someone brings him a rock with the fossil imprint of an ammolite, a shellfish from perhaps 200 million years ago. Another Grade 4 student finds a small, fossilized tooth. It's sharp, like a canine.
The topper was last year when a 10-year-old out with his family found a fossilized mammoth tusk. It was about 60 centimetres long. Rock-shop owner Grabowski tried to buy it to keep it in the shop's collection, offering up to $200, but the kid would have none of it.
The Souris Rock Shop and quarry, in existence for half a century, is more than just a place where kids find pretty agates. Fossilized bones of woolly mammoths, wild horses and even camels, all large mammals that once roamed North America and became extinct 11,000 years ago, have also been found.
"When I first came up to the rock shop, it just blew me away what you could find," Grabowski, 46, said. So he decided to buy it and become its fourth owner in 50 years.
Grabowski's biggest find is a fossilized mammoth tooth. It's nearly the size of a football. He has ancient camel and horse bones. He has also found what he believes to be a toe bone of a giant sloth, the couch potato of the animal world that also went extinct here at the end of the last ice age.
Herds of camels, wild horses and mammoths once trekked North America all the way up to Alaska before their relatively quick extinction. There is no satisfying explanation for the mass extinction. The two main theories are overkill with man's arrival 14,000 years ago via the exposed Bering Strait (although a body of evidence indicates man may have reached the continent as early as 30,000 years ago), or climate change.
The Souris quarry is unique in that much of its rock comes from elsewhere, mixed with local material, said Jim Bamburak, provincial geologist. The most stone comes from the Alberta Rockies from its uplift 65 million years ago, but stone also travelled from the Northwest Territories and from northern Quebec, beneath Hudson Bay.
It was carried by advancing and retreating ice sheets, and possibly rivers that no longer exist. There were at least five ice ages in the past million years, Bamburak said.
The above-mentioned animal fossils were likely from the most recent Wisconsinan ice age, Bamburak said. The Souris quarry contains 60 per cent of all rock types found in North America, including agate, jasper, epidote, graywacke, petrified wood and fossils.
The stones and fossils are found in an active quarry exposed by earthmovers digging out gravel to use in aggregate to make roads. Bamburak said he has walked along the shoulder of the highway near Souris and found petrified woods and agate, neither of which are native to Manitoba.
For the school kids, searching for rocks and fossilized bones is a huge treasure hunt. Last year, the boy "freaked out" when Grabowski told him he'd found a mammoth tusk.
Under the Heritage Resources Act, fossils are property of the province, but it allows people to possess their discoveries -- hold them for the government -- and only asks it be notified of any significant finds and the location, a government spokesman said.
Adds Grabowski: "I'm not going to take (a fossil) away from the kid. I found my first fossil when I was eight years old and living in Toronto, a cephalopod (shellfish), and I've still got it today."
It costs $20 per car for a permit to go searching in the quarry. The Rock Shop also sells cut and polished stones, and other curios. The Rock Shop has 30 classroom visits booked this year.