It was known for many years that there was iron in Arisaig, but it was not until 1893 that an effort was made to mine it - unsuccessfully.

In the hills about 1.5 miles from the shore of the Northumberland Strait in Antigonish County, the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company started work in 1893 on the Tunnel lead, between Iron and McInnes brooks, on the four adjacent properties of John McIsaac and Louis, Andrew and John McDonald (see map below). A tunnel was dug into a hill for a distance of about 80 feet and a tramway was used to carry the ore to the shore for shipping.

The company also opened the Trunk Road Mine, which consisted of two small openings on either side of Arisaig Brook. It also tried to open up the Tunnel lead in the bank on the west side of McInnes brook, on the farm of John McInnes, but little work was done.

A large number of test pits were dug throughout the area.

In 1894, 1,376 tons of ore were delivered to the company’s pig iron and steel plant in Ferrona.

Steel is mainly iron and carbon, and the carbon is derived from metallurgical (steelmaking) coal. Nova Scotia got into steel production in the 1800s because it has vast coal deposits and the hope was that local iron would provide the second of the two key ingredients. Nova Scotia had many historical iron mines but the discovery of major iron deposits in Wabana, Newfoundland, in 1892 made most of Nova Scotia’s relatively small deposits uneconomical.

The Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company ceased operations in Arisaig in 1895, not surprisingly since the company had purchased the Wabana iron deposits and was in the process of opening mines there. Wabana would go on to be the main source of iron for the company's steel mill in Sydney Mines and for the Dominion Iron and Steel Company's mill in Sydney.

In 1910, the Arisaig Iron Company carried out an extensive prospecting program and dug several trenches and test pits. However, no attempt was made to take out any ore.

The total amount of ore mined in Arisaig was not recorded.

The Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company’s short-lived attempt to mine iron in Arisaig faced several challenges besides competition from Wabana.

A 1909 federal Department of Mines report said, “The mining and transportation were alike most primitive, and it is open to conjecture whether the contractor could have received any profit.” Since the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company was a large, sophisticated operation, it is likely that its focus on Wabana resulted in it underinvesting in Arisaig.

The report also raised another challenge: Arisaig was “one of the districts in which attempted speculation has spoiled many chances for sale and development. Without adequate proof, gained by thorough prospecting, but with considerable probability of a large amount of ore, and with the quality of much of the ore against them, various owners have demanded the price of a large mine for an incomplete prospect. And there have been so many owners and middlemen, each requiring a high percentage of profit, that the total cost of the district to the investor could not be other than exorbitant.”

In other words, too many people tried to make a quick buck in Arisaig, and too little work was done to explore and develop the site properly.

The 1909 report also noted another problem: “This is one of the very troublesome districts in which part of the iron minerals is reserved to the crown, and part, owing to the date or character of the land grant, is held with the land. The latter occurs in the so-called soldiers' grants.”

This was a reference to the fact that minerals are owned by the Crown in the British legal system. In centuries past, “the Crown” referred literally to the King. Today, in context of mineral rights, it refers to the governments that own the minerals in their jurisdictions, such as Canada’s provincial governments. It is for this reason that mining companies pay royalties for extracting minerals – they have to compensate the Crown for its minerals.

However, in 1784, lands and mineral rights on some properties around Antigonish Harbour were granted to Loyalist soldiers who had fought for the British during the American Revolution. Heirs of the “Soldiers’ Grant” properties continued to own the minerals granted to the soldiers.

The report said, “It appears to be difficult to keep track of the two classes of land, especially as the lease map at the Mines Office in Halifax covers all the territory in its leases. It is important to the investor to be able to distinguish between these classes; for in one case leases must be taken out at the Mines Office and a royalty of 5 cents per long ton paid into the provincial treasury upon all ore used. In the other case the investor must bargain with the owner of the land for the ore, and pays no royalty to the crown.”

It was believed that the following properties were included in the Soldiers’ Grant: Andrew Macdonald, John Macdonald, John McInnes, and Louis Gillis, the properties lying in a block, east to west, in the vicinity of McInnes brook.