WWII Gypsum

A 1942 Department of Mines memo about the Wentworth Creek gypsum quarry is a reminder that many Nova Scotian mines and quarries struggled during World War Two due to labour, material and transportation challenges.

Nova Scotia has traditionally been one of the largest global providers of gypsum. Its main use is in wallboard, which was invented in the United States in 1918. Plaster made from gypsum was sandwiched between two sheets of paper and within ten years, large scale production was revolutionizing the construction industry.

Today, wallboard is used in most buildings. An average home has about seven tons of gypsum in its walls. Most walls in Nova Scotia contain gypsum quarried in the province.

Safety is the main reason gypsum is in wallboard. Gypsum is 21% water at the molecular level so it slows the spread of fire and helps save lives.

M. G. Goudge, a mining engineer with the provincial Department of Mines, wrote in 1942 that the Canadian Gypsum Company was shipping approximately one million tons of gypsum per year from the Wentworth Creek Quarry in Hants County to plants in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Jacksonville. Goudge was rounding up a bit – the quarry had produced 887,000 tons in 1940 and 856,000 tons in 1941 - but it was still by far the province’s largest gypsum producer. Most gypsum quarries were producing less than 10,000 tons per year in that era. The closest rival to the Wentworth Creek Quarry was the Dingwall quarry operated by National Gypsum, which produced 357,000 tons in 1940 and 299,000 tons in 1941.

Despite the Wentworth Creek Quarry’s success, Goudge’s comments quickly turned to concern about the impact WWII could have on the operation. He said a multi-year exploration drilling program “has been suspended for 1942 and possibly for the duration of the war.”

He went on: “In normal times the company employed four boats of about 7,000 tons to ship the crushed rock along the Atlantic seaboard but at the outset of the war the government requisitioned one boat and another has been sunk in a collision in the Delaware river. By reducing the quarrying operations to a single shift the two remaining boats are able to be maintained on regular schedule. Lately, however, word have been received from head office in the States that the government may see fit in the near future to requisition the remaining two boats thus necessitating the closing down of operations at the quarry for the duration of the war.”

The company would eventually have two ships sunk by the enemy during WWII (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/gypsum-queen).

Goudge then discussed a plan to relocate the quarry’s dynamite magazine because “In the event that it does not become necessary to cease operations it is the desire of the company to cut down overhead costs.” The plan was to move the magazine to a location between the White and Dark quarries – two working areas within the overall Wentworth Creek Quarry - which could not be accessed by a “stranger” without being seen by quarry workers. This would make it possible to eliminate daytime security guard positions to save money. “This move however will not be made until steady future operations are assured. At present the company officials rather expect operations will have to stop in the near future,” the memo said.

Goudge concluded by writing, “The government intimated to the company that the point has been reached where the necessity for boats is greater than the need for gypsum which to date has been largely used for war purposes and the company had priority rating for purchase of machine parts, etc. This change in policy will no doubt have considerable effect upon the other gypsum operations in the province.”

The remaining years of the war would reveal that Goudge was only partly correct. The Wentworth Creek Quarry did not shut down during WWII, but its production dropped dramatically to a war-time low of 148,000 tons in 1943. The quarry employed 260 men in 1939, the year the war started, and only 61 in 1943. However, production and employment recovered steadily after the war and by 1956, the quarry employed 500 men and produced 1,953,000 tons.

However, Goudge was correct that other gypsum quarries would struggle during the war. For example, the Foul Meadows Quarry in Cheverie shut down from 1942-44 (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/cheverie).

The Cheticamp gypsum quarry, operated by National Gypsum (now called Gold Bond), reduced shipments in 1939 due to a lack of ships, and closed permanently in 1940. The quarry’s last shipment to England was dumped at sea so the boat could immediately be used by the government in the war effort. (The Cheticamp quarry is one of Nova Scotia’s most picturesque swimming holes today: https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/cheticamp).

One of the National Gypsum ships that served the Dingwall quarry was sunk by an enemy submarine during the war (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/dingwall).

Labour and transportation shortages during WWII caused the Little Narrows gypsum quarry to close from 1943-45 (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/little-narrows).

Many non-gypsum operations were also affected. For example, more than 1,500 skilled coal miners from Nova Scotia entered the military between 1939 and 1945, causing a decline in coal production when an increase was needed to fuel war-related manufacturing, railways and shipping (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/ww11).

Part of the Wentworth Creek Quarry can be seen next to highway 101 east of Windsor. Meadow Pond, pictured below, was mined in the early 1900s and today it is a beautiful wetland that supports a variety of waterfowl and aquatic species. The site, formerly called Meadow Quarry, contains forested areas, gypsum outcrops and a variety of flora. The Government of Nova Scotia stocks this well-known fishing hole and the West Hants Wildlife Association hosts an annual ice fishing derby on it.

See the story of the Wentworth Creek Quarry at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/wentworth-creek-quarry