Allan Mine

Reclamation usually means returning a mine/quarry to nature but it can also mean preparing it for development. Today, the former Allan Mine in Stellarton is the site of Sobeys’ headquarters.

The Allan Mine (aka Allan Shaft) started in 1904. It was named for Sir Hugh Montague Allan (1860-1951), president of the Acadia Coal Company, the mine’s operator.

No. 1 Shaft went 1240 feet deep to the Foord Seam, the thickest coal seam in Nova Scotia – it is 13.4 metres thick in places. The shaft had intermediate landings at 476 feet and 962 feet, from which cross measure tunnels intersect the seam.

No. 2 Shaft was 1008 feet deep and had one intermediate landing. This shaft was the upcast shaft (the shaft by which air left the mine as part of the ventilation system).

In addition to the Foord Seam, the mine also worked the Cage and Third Seams but these workings were discontinued as the quality of these two seams declined. The Ford Seam was the main source of coal.

The 1.2-ton capacity mine cars were filled with the extracted coal and hauled to the pit bottom by horses or compressed air rope haulage engines, as conditions warranted. From the pit bottom the cars were hoisted to the surface in a cage (elevator) that had four decks, each deck holding one car.

The temperature in the mine was consistently 14 to 16.5 degrees Celsius year-round.

The Foord Seam contained approximately forty feet of clean coal without any dirt partings. It was excellent quality for burning to heat houses or generate steam, and for use as coking coal.

The roof of the Foord Seam was a weak shale which required heavy timbering to prevent roof falls.

The seam was prone to spontaneous combustion so the mine was worked mainly by the “room and pillar” method and developed on a panel system, so sections of the mine could be closed to cut off oxygen supply to any fires. (Room and pillar is a mining system in which "rooms" of ore are dug out while "pillars" of untouched material are left to support the roof.)

The Allan Mine was known for having spontaneous fires and a total of eight explosions. Half of the explosions did not result in fatalities, but the most serious, on January 23, 1918, killed 88 men. Ninety-seven men were in the mine at the time of the explosion. Nine, who were lucky enough to be working near the 476-foot level, made it to the cage, signalled its operator and were lifted to safety. There were no other survivors and the explosion was the worst disaster in the Pictou coalfield.

The cause of the explosion was not definitively determined but the probable cause was a shot a (small blast to free coal from the coalface) that blew backwards on the 1200-foot level.

There were rumours that local miners of Austro-Hungarian descent blew up the mine as an act of war but no proof of sabotage was found.

Mining resumed after the wreckage was cleared. Coal was of strategic importance during WWI.

Unfortunately, the Pictou Coalfield was known to be particularly “gassy” and this made it a difficult coalfield to mine safely underground.

Methane is a gas formed as organic matter decomposes in the absence of oxygen, such as when plants die in wetlands, marshes and swamps – the sorts of places where coal usually forms. The methane is trapped in the coal as it forms and is released as coal is mined.

Methane is a greenhouse gas. It is also combustible, which is why it has always been a safety challenge in underground coal mines. It is essential that it be vented out of a mine, so it cannot pool and trigger fires and explosions.

The Westray mine disaster, in which 26 miners were killed on May 9, 1992, was partly caused by the inadequate ventilation of methane. Westray was on the Foord Seam. Nova Scotia’s mining and quarrying industry has reduced its injury rate by 90% since the Westray public inquiry report was released in 1997. Today, we are one of the safer industries in the province.

Every underground mine that opened in the Foord seam ended in fire or explosion. The Allan Mine shut down in 1951 due to a fire. The mine produced a total of 5,493,831 tons of coal.

Stellarton was founded by the General Mining Association, which had a monopoly on most Nova Scotia coal from 1827-57. The town was originally named Albion Mines but the name was changed to Stellarton in 1870. It was named for a kind of soft, oily coal found in 1798 called Stellar coal, or stellarite, which, when burned, gave off sparks resembling stars.