Alexander Heatherington

Alexander Heatherington’s 1878 obituary said, “The province of Nova Scotia owes him a debt of gratitude for his persistent efforts to promote her progress, and bring her to the front as one of the first gold-producing countries of the world.” It is true.

Heatherington was a mining agent, a fellow of the Geological Society of London and author who spent much of the 1860s and 1870s promoting Nova Scotia’s gold potential. Nova Scotia’s first gold rush started in the early 1860s and Heatherington played an important role in promoting the province to investors in the United States and beyond, writing a number of important works, including:

  • “A Practical Guide for Tourists, Miners, and Investors, and all persons interested in the development of the Gold Fields of Nova Scotia.” The book was published in 1868 and, according to Heatherington, mostly written “amid frequent interruptions and harrassings in the space of less than four weeks.”
  • “The Gold Yield of Nova Scotia,” later entitled “The Mining Industries of Nova Scotia” published most years between 1860 and 1874.
  • “A Plea for the Gold Industry of Nova Scotia,” (1874).

He also started a monthly paper called the Mining Gazette which first appeared on January 10, 1868. It was mainly focussed on Nova Scotia’s mining industry, but Heatherington wrote that it would “also contain a repertory of mining intelligence from all parts of the world, and a notice of every invention or discovery that might be useful to the investor, the miner, the amalgamator, and the explorer.” A subscription to the Mining Gazette cost $2.50 per year in advance. Advertisements on the front page cost 50 cents per line of 10 words, and 25 cents on back or inside pages. As it began, the Gazette was published from Somerset House on Halifax’s Prince Street, “Opposite South End of Province Building.”

In 1867, he opened the International Mining Agency in Halifax, which was associated with the Canadian Mines Bureau in London, England. He used his transatlantic connections to further promote Nova Scotia’s gold potential to investors abroad.

There were two main things about Heatherington’s writing that were striking.

First, despite his frequent focus on statistical analysis, Heatherington’s writing was very colourful and casual, and still makes for enjoyable reading today. For example, while he was a great promoter of Nova Scotia’s gold potential, his description of Halifax in “A Practical Guide…” was, well, colourful:

Sewage ran untreated into the harbour through drains that "probably on account of the cost of cutting through the rocky ground, are only from eighteen inches to three feet in depth, a fact of which one is unpleasantly reminded in dry warm weather on passing near the open gratings." Garbage was "put into boxes or barrels in front of the house until cleared away by the wind, or the city scavenger."

Regarding the Public Gardens, he said "The military and naval bands perform there at times, but it contains nothing to make it otherwise permanently attractive." Also, "There are not half a dozen private gardens in the town worth visiting, the majority being shabby and neglected."

Regarding the Halifax Commons, "Much of the ground is swampy, and although mostly used for cricket and drill exercise, it seems, too, a kind of morgue for cats, dogs, and hoop-skirts." The city was lit with gas lamps that were "generally so dirty that the light reflected from them merely serves to make darkness visible."

Halifax had "numerous dirty, unpainted, and irregular shanties which now disfigure it." Halifax hotels were so shabby that "they are all excelled by any second rate hotel in the United States..."

Second, Heatherington did extensive analysis of statistics about Nova Scotia’s gold sector. His statistical work, though mostly based on Department of Mines records, was adopted by the Department and handed out at the 1867 Paris Exhibition. A version was also printed in the New York Times in 1866.

His methodical, data-based approach was in stark contrast to how Nova Scotia’s gold sector generally worked in that era. Most of Nova Scotia’s early gold miners had little to no experience in mining, and used the crudest methods to extract gold – many just smashed quartz with a hammer and tried to follow the quartz veins in the hope of striking it rich. Many gave up and returned to their farms and other professions, finding that despite all the excitement about the 1860s gold rush, gold mining usually did not pay off, especially for those with no scientific understanding of the work.

(Given their lack of scientific knowledge, it is hardly surprising that gold miners in the historical era did not take proper care of the environment. Fortunately, modern gold mining is completely different. It is a sophisticated, science-based activity that is committed to environmental protection. Learn more about differences between historical and modern gold mining at

In that context, Heatherington’s professional, analytical discussion of gold mining was unusual. He believed that with detailed reports, “The geological structure of every district would gradully [sic] be illustrated by the working plans of the different companies; and perhaps some rule in nature discovered, by comparison or induction which would guide the miner or prospector in his operations.”

The Nova Scotia government only started requiring gold miners to submit reports about their work several years into the 1860s for the simple reason that gold mining did not exist in the province prior to that decade. This means early gold production was not captured in records – and some production continued to go unreported in later years so miners could avoid paying royalties. Even so, Heatherington estimated that about three tons of gold had been extracted in the province by the end of 1867, an impressive figure.

According to Heatherington, the average daily number of gold miners in Nova Scotia grew from 86.4 in 1862 to 679 in 1866. The quartz raised (i.e. extracted and hauled out of a mine to its mill) grew from 86.4 tons per man in 1862 to 300 tons in 1866, a measure of improved productivity in the province’s gold mines.

Heatherington used statistics, such as the yield of gold per ton of ore, to argue that Nova Scotia’s gold fields had even more potential than those of California and Australia, where gold rushes had started in 1848 and 1851 respectively.

He also argued that mining in Nova Scotia cost less. For example, he wrote that daily “wages in Australia vary from $2 to $3.50; in California from $3.50 to $5.00, but according to late reports the miners in the latter country have struck for $6.00. The maximum paid in Nova Scotia is $1.50; and $1.25 is the general average.”

Like many important figures in Nova Scotia’s mining history, Heatherington is little-known today but he was an impressive entrepreneur and promoter in his day.

Heatherington died in Toronto on March 8, 1878, of pleurisy.

Halifax in the 1860s.