E. Percy Brown and the Brookfield Mine

E. Percy Brown thought the story of the Brookfield gold mine offered important lessons for Nova Scotia’s gold miners in 1907.

Brown, a mining engineer who worked in several of Nova Scotia’s historical gold districts, gave a presentation on April 20, 1907, called “The Development of an Ore Shoot in Nova Scotia.”

In it, he discussed Queens County’s Brookfield mine, where gold was first discovered in 1885. The mine was initially very successful, producing 1,418 ounces of gold in 1887, but mining ceased in 1888 when a break in the mineralization was encountered.

As was typical in that era, the Brookfield mine was following gold-bearing quartz veins through shafts and tunnels. As long as the veins contained decent quantities of gold, this was a successful approach. However, gold is virtually never distributed evenly throughout a deposit. There will inevitably be richer and poorer areas, and the veins will sometimes pinch out, making it necessary to find their extensions in order to continue mining.

As Brown put it, “Looking over the history of gold mining in Nova Scotia one is struck by the large number of properties which though proved phenomenally rich on the surface have been abandoned after a rocket-like career of one or two years…In almost all instances where any really successful mining has been done in Nova Scotia a shoot or chimney of rich ore has been successfully followed and the poorer portions of the vein neglected.”

Brown said, with a hint of sarcasm, that this method of mining was “peculiarly well adapted to closing down a mine…No development work, such as levels [tunnels] and shafts, was carried ahead and if a blank, or poor portion of the ore body occurred…all the stopes [mining areas] would likely be in it at the same time, seeming to justify the belief of the superficial observer that the vein had absolutely ‘petered out.’”

This is what happened in Brookfield in 1888. Four shafts had been sunk and tunnelling done in high-producing ore, but the mine was shut down as soon as it encountered barren rock. No additional exploration or development work was done to find extensions of the veins.

Brown said, “The plan of the Brookfield Mine at this time might stand almost unaltered for the underground plans of dozens of abandoned Mines in Nova Scotia today. Many of these have given high returns for a year or two, many shafts have been sunk, the rich ore and handsome specimins [sic] being dug out between the shafts; Managers, assistant Managers, Superintendents, etc., have enjoyed good salaries; many miners have made small fortunes by stealing the rich nuggets, until the day has come, as in the above case, when all the Shafts bottomed in barren ground, the stopes were black and the mine was closed down leaving an indignant body of Stock-holders to mourn their loss and blame the gold measures of Nova Scotia.”

It took men of greater vision to restart the Brookfield mine and make it one of the more successful gold mines in the province. Wilbur L. Libbey took it over in 1894. Libbey was from Boston but had mining experience in Mexico and the western United States. He brought a more organized, professional, scientific approach to mining than what had been used at Brookfield previously.

Libbey, along with his underground foreman C. N. Crowe, “had had experience outside of Nova Scotia and appreciated the fact that an ore body as rich as this had proved was not likely to be an isolated bunch….”

They started a tunnel in a westerly direction, “rich quartz” was soon found, and the mine started “yielding larger returns than it had in its earlier days. The blank portion of the vein in the western end of the Mine was proved to be small and the stopes were pushed ahead through it.”

Brown said, “Certainly Mr. Libby’s system was well tested during the year 1897, when a blank portion of the vein was again encountered and though this blank was much larger than the former one, pluck and perseverance won the day and the Mine kept pushing ahead.”

Brown saw lessons for other gold mine operators in Libbey’s success: “Is there any reason to suppose that many of the other deposits of ore referred to in the first portion of this paper and proved so rich on the Surface could not be successfully followed in the same manner as has been done by the Brookfield Mining Company?” Brown wrote. “I hold that there is every reason to support that many, if not all of them, could be so opened up.”

Many of our historical gold miners had little to no experience or expertise in gold mining, and they often just extracted the “low hanging fruit” of a deposit – smashing quartz with a hammer to extract the visible gold easily found near surface. This caused many mines to shut down as soon as challenges were encountered, and huge quantities of gold were lost in the milling process due to operators’ lack sophistication and knowledge. Short-term thinking and a lack of professionalism were very damaging to the industry.

However, Brown, Libbey and a number of others in the 1800s and early 1900s had a more sophisticated, science-based approach to gold mining. They were forerunners of the modern mining industry, which is a science- and technology-based business that takes excellent care of the environment.

The Brookfield (aka Libbey) mine went on to operate for over a decade and its incline shaft became the longest gold mine shaft in Nova Scotia - 600 metres long, or the length of 43 school buses.

The Brookfield mine was eventually shut down for an unusual reason - opposition from the Baptist Church. See the story at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/brookfield-gold-district

Given their lack of scientific knowledge, it is hardly surprising that our early gold miners did not take proper care of the environment. Fortunately, modern gold mining is completely different. Learn more about differences between historical and modern gold mining at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/modern-gold-mining

The Brookfield mine in 1932.