Around 1910, a harness maker from Baddeck started digging a mine shaft along the Barachois River in the hope of striking it rich. He didn’t.

Several Nova Scotia Department of Mines memos from the late 1930s tell us what little is known about the mysterious project.

On August 20, 1937, Department of Mines engineer M. G. Goudge visited the Tarbot area of Victoria County, where J. D. McDonald showed him an outcrop of a quartz vein about “three quarters of a mile upstream from the main road.”

Goudge later wrote, “Several shots of dynamite had been put in here several years ago exposing the vein from six to eight feet [in length]…A sample was taken and brought to Halifax where an assay by Professor G. F. Murphy of the Nova Scotia Technical College gave gold to the value of $3.50 per ton and silver $0.25 per ton.”

Goudge returned on August 11 the following year and visited the home of M. H. McLeod, who had staked the claim but let it lapse in March and had done no prospecting since fall 1937.

Goudge’s memo, written after this second visit, said a Mr. Robinson of Baddeck had originally started the shaft about 31 years ago. (Later memos and Department of Mines annual reports consistently say it was a Mr. Robertson, so Goudge had the name wrong in this memo.)

Goudge examined the 28-foot shaft dug on the east bank of the river and wrote that the quartz vein was reported to be about 12 inches wide where it “terminated abruptly in the centre of the brook but appeared to be continuing eastwards.” The exposed vein was only 15 feet long.

An assay (test) of ore from the shaft produced a value of $40 per ton of ore, a good rate, but the vein was too short to be of economic significance. Efforts to find an extension of the vein to the west were not successful.

In late August 1939, J. P. Messervey of the Department of Mines visited the site, describing it as the “property of Joseph McIntosh and Douglass Barret (both of Glace Bay) at Tarbotvale.”

Messervey wrote in a September 9 memo that McIntosh and Barret had dug the shaft, and he marked the location at “A” on the map below.

He corrected this statement in a second memo, dated October 6: “The impression given during conversations during my last visit was that part of the sinking of the shaft was performed by the present licensee [McIntosh and Barret] but I found out this trip that the sinking of the shaft was all performed by Mr. Robertson, harness maker of Baddeck about the year 1910. Mr. Robertson is now deceased. The work performed by the present licensee consisted mainly of unwatering the shaft a couple of times and taking the samples for assay.”

McIntosh and Barret tried to pump out the shaft at the time of Messervey’s August visit but could only empty it to a depth of 15 feet “as there was considerable debris in the bottom of the shaft.”

Messervey wrote that the quartz vein was as wide as 28 inches on the north side of the shaft. Assays of samples taken by Messervey again showed interesting quantities of gold: “These returns certainly warrant further exploration upon the property by Mr. McIntosh and his associates.”

Messervey was back at the site on September 27, 1939. McIntosh and Barret had cleaned out the shaft to a depth of 18 feet. Messervey pushed a pole “down through the loose muck an additional 10 feet,” which suggested that the shaft’s total depth was 28 feet.

The photo of the two men below is presumably of McIntosh and Barret since it was appended to Messervey’s 1939 memos. Messervey took several other photos of the area in that period.

Messervey found two areas, south and north of the shaft, that had quartz float on surface – rocks that had eroded from the underground quartz vein. He advised McIntosh and Barret to dig a series of trenches at right angles to the strike (direction) of the vein, a common prospecting technique for finding extensions of a vein. Trenches dug at right angles often intersect the vein and allow its location to be traced from surface before doing the much more difficult and expensive work of tunnelling to extract it.

Work stalled after Messervey’s second visit. This was around the time that Nova Scotia’s third historical gold rush petered out, partly due to labour, material and transportation challenges caused by World War Two.

In 1946, George Vibert Douglas, the provincial government’s geologist, visited the site. Samples taken by him showed values of half an ounce of gold per ton of ore, a good return.

Prospecting since 1968 has found additional veins and that the deposit also contains several other minerals, including telluride, copper, lead and zinc. However, the site remained underexplored and never mined despite its significant potential.

The site is now part of the French River Wilderness Area so it can no longer be explored and potentially used to create jobs for Nova Scotians.