Avon River

One of Nova Scotia’s earliest gold discoveries was in Falmouth on the west bank of the Avon River.

The first written report of gold at the site was by Henry How, who was born in London, England, in 1828 and moved to Nova Scotia in 1854 to work at King’s College in Windsor as a professor of natural history and chemistry. He became the university’s vice-president in 1877.

How wrote in 1868 that he was told “gold was washed from the Avon River at Windsor, Hants County, sixty years ago, each man making eighteen pence a day." How’s use of the word “washed” referenced the fact that the site contained alluvial gold (flecks and nuggets of gold in sediments in bodies of water like rivers and streams). Washing meant the gold was being separated from the river sand using things like pans or shakers, low-tech methods of prospecting that are still used today (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/panning-for-gold).

Nova Scotia’s first documented gold discovery was in 1858 at Mooseland, Halifax County, but there were a number of earlier discoveries (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/early-gold-discoveries). How’s comments suggest the Avon River find was one of them, although a lack of records leaves us with no additional information about the discovery.

A 1934 Department of Mines memo said the area, about one-quarter mile south of the old Dominion Atlantic Railway bridge that no longer exists, was again being worked: "Mr. Welsford Parker, associated with Mr. Arthur Kuhn, have taken up a 40 acre claim here and are panning the fine sand along the bank of the river. A mechanical batea [large shallow pan] has been purchased from California to take the place of hand panning. Although no reporting has been done yet, Mr. Parker states that the amount of amalgam obtained so far gives evidence of making a good day’s wages. The sand is very fine and of even texture. It is exposed on an eight foot bank along the river for several hundred feet. The sand in the riverbed is of the same nature although somewhat coarser. Mr. Parker states that gold can be panned out of this also."

The site was not accessible for decades after the causeway was built across the Avon River at Windsor at the beginning of the 1970s. The causeway blocked the river and caused Pisiquid (aka Pesaquid) Lake to form, which flooded the site of the gold discovery.

Department of Mines staff visited the area in 1992 and estimated the gold occurrence was, at that time, approximately 40-60 metres from the shore and under 4-5 metres of water.

However, the causeway was later altered to allow the river to flow through part of it and Pisiquid Lake shrank, likely revealing the site of the gold discovery once again, at least at lower tides.

Alluvial gold erodes from gold-bearing veins in bedrock. For example, water erodes the rock and gold and carries the eroded sediments downriver until they settle out. This concentrates the gold in one area, creating alluvial deposits. That's why a classic image of prospectors is someone using a pan to find gold in rivers and streams.

Despite significant prospecting along the Avon River over the years, it is not known from where the Avon’s alluvial gold eroded. The fact that the gold was in fine sand suggests it travelled relatively far from its source since coarser and larger gold nuggets would have settled out closer to their bedrock source since they are heavier. Fine sand-like flecks of gold could have travelled a significant distance in the river’s current.

Footings of the old Dominion Atlantic Railway bridge can be seen on the right. The gold discovery was 1/4 mile further upriver.

The old Dominion Atlantic Railway bridge in 1897.