Baddeck Bay

There were several historical gypsum quarries between Baddeck Bay and Port Bevis, Victoria County.

In the 1870s, Duncan MacDonald of Montreal opened a small quarry west of Plaister Mines (also sometimes called Plaster Mines, a reference to the gypsum deposit in the area. Gypsum was often called plaster historically because it is a key ingredient in Plaster of Paris).

The quarry was near the shore of the Bras d'Or Lake and a 1000-foot railway connected the quarry to its wharf. In 1875 the quarry produced 5,000 tons of gypsum, most of which was sold in New York for use in plaster. It is believed that 5,000 tons was about the average annual production at the site.

Another small operation was opened by the Victoria Gypsum Mining and Manufacturing Company at Port Bevis in 1891. The company’s president was William Fraser McCurdy (1844 – 1923), a merchant and Victoria’s Member of the Legislative Assembly from 1878 to 1886. As an MLA, he succeeded his father, David McCurdy, who was first elected in 1873.

(According to McCurdy family legend, they were early adopters of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone invention and had one installed in their Baddeck store. One day when the phone was not working properly, a customer offered to fix it. It turned out to be Mr. Bell himself!)

In 1893, the Victoria Gypsum Mining and Manufacturing Company produced 10,240 tons in Port Bevis. This was in addition to the 1,660 tons it extracted at Quarry St. Anns as the company got that site up and running.

The gypsum shipped from Quarry St. Anns in 1893 was used for “land plaster,” meaning it was ground down to powder and used as fertilizer in agriculture. The gypsum from Port Bevis was used to make Plaster of Paris because of its excellent quality. According to the company, it “has reached a high reputation in Philadelphia, and in consequence, our orders for next year have been very largely increased."

According to a 1911 government report, both the Plaister Mines and Port Bevis quarries eventually shut down due to increasing amounts of anhydrite in the gypsum. Gypsum and anhydrite are closely-related minerals - the main difference is gypsum contains water and anhydrite doesn't – but it’s unhelpful to have anhydrite mixed into a gypsum deposit.

Starting in 1927, gypsum was produced from a quarry at Long Hill (also historically called Red Head or Herring Cove). The North American Gypsum Company owned the 630-acre property which was almost entirely underlain by gypsum and had very little overburden. (Overburden is dirt and rock on top of a mineral deposit. Having less of it to remove makes it easier and less expensive to extract the deposit underneath.)

Production ramped up quickly in Long Hill and 1930 was the quarry’s most productive year ever. Several good quarry faces had been opened and 18,513 tons of gypsum were extracted, up from 1911 tons in the quarry’s first year.

The drilling was done by power augers operated by a portable gasoline compressor, and dynamite was used to free the rock from the working face. The gypsum was hauled by horse and cart to a loading platform where it was loaded into two-ton rail cars. The gypsum was taken by rail to the dock about one mile away at Baddeck Bay.

The crushing plant was located at the dock. The gypsum was hauled up an incline and then passed through a Butterworth and Lowe jaw crusher which broke the gypsum down to 4-inch pieces, after which it passed to a gyratory crusher which broke the gypsum down further to 2 inches.

From the gyratory, it went over screens to remove the fines (tiny particles that result from the crushing process) and the crushed chunks of gypsum were stored in an open stockpile near the loading dock. About 10,000 tons of crushed rock could be stored. A link belt loader conveyed the rock from the stockpile to a 36-foot link belt conveyer, and then to a 60-foot conveyer which loaded directly into the vessel. These machines had a capacity of 200 tons per hour.

Much of Long Hill’s gypsum was bought by the Rutland Fire Clay Company in Vermont, which was founded in 1883. Its main purpose was to provide consumers with products to prevent, reduce, or clean soot buildup in fireplaces and stoves. The first product the company made was a stove lining intended to reduce soot accumulation and make the stove run more efficiently. The company expanded its product line to materials for home repair and construction, including plaster, which is why it imported gypsum from the Baddeck area. In 1936, The Rutland Fire Clay Company took all of the quarry’s production for the year.

The Gypsum, Lime and Alabastine Company bought the quarry in 1939 but only operated it for three years. It closed in 1941.

Domtar bought the quarry in 1962 but never operated it.

Exploration drilling was done in the area in the 1950s and 1960s, and a new quarry operation was proposed in Long Hill in the late 1980s, but no mining has occurred since 1941.

A total of 90,662 tons were produced at the Long Hill quarry.

Nova Scotia has traditionally been one of the world’s biggest producers of gypsum, supplying many plaster, and later wallboard, factories on the US east coast. Today, the walls of most Nova Scotian homes contain gypsum quarried in the province, most of it from the world’s largest surface gypsum mine in Milford.

Gypsum is 21% water at the molecular level and is therefore fire-resistant. This is the main reason why it is used in wallboard: safety.