Gold was discovered in Blockhouse, Lunenburg County, in 1879 but it was almost two decades before the mystery of the gold’s source was solved.

A man named Ernst found rich drift (gravel with gold in it) in 1879 but the discovery attracted little attention.

In 1885, a gold-bearing boulder was discovered in the area and a number of claims were staked. However, while prospectors found more gold-bearing drift, no one could find the quartz veins from which the gold had eroded.

On January 15, 1896, Nova Scotia prospecting legend, Walter Henry Prest (1856-1920), took over the search.

Like many scientists of his day, Prest, who was born in Spry Harbour, wore several hats: he was a prospector, geologist and botanist, all stemming from his love of the outdoors. He authored several books and pamphlets, but it is his innovative work prospecting for gold in glaciated terrains for which he deserves most acclaim. Blockhouse is an example.

Most Nova Scotia gold is found in quartz veins that lie east-west, parallel to the bedding (the layers of rock). However, some gold deposits in the southern end of the province have most of their gold in cross veins, meaning they cut across the bedding.

That may not sound like a big deal but picture a grid. Most Nova Scotian gold is found along the horizonal lines (east-west) but at some sites the gold is found along the vertical lines (north-south). This is a simplification to illustrate the point, but that is a huge difference geologically… and a huge difference if you are trying to find the gold!

A common prospecting approach was to start from where gold-bearing drift was found and dig trenches in a northerly direction. If the veins lie east-west, the odds are good that a north-south trench will intercept them eventually.

This did not work at Blockhouse.

When Walter Prest took over, he studied the gold-bearing quartz boulders and the direction glaciers had carried them during the last ice age. The glaciers had carried the boulders southeast, meaning they originated to the northwest.

Since the boulders had eroded from the source veins, this meant the veins of gold must be to the northwest, so he systematically dug a series of pits and then panned the glacial till (dirt/sediment) in them for gold. This process is called drift prospecting and it is somewhat similar to a dog zeroing in on a favorite treat. He catches a whiff of it then zig zags back and forth following the strengthening, but narrowing, scent plume to its ultimate source. Drift prospecting is similar except instead of sniffing, Prest systematically dug pits and panned the till for gold to define and follow the gold plume to its source.

On January 28, 1896, after less than two weeks, Prest found a rich gold-bearing quartz vein in bedrock 200 metres northwest of where he had started prospecting.

Not only did he find in a couple weeks what others had failed to find over many years, it turns out that one of the other prospectors’ north-south trenches was dug just over one metre from the Prest vein, but it failed to reveal the gold because it was orientated the wrong way. So close!

Prest described his approach in the Journal of the Nova Scotia Institute of Science in 1896. This was likely the first documented description of a drift prospecting program anywhere in the world. This method of prospecting is common today but was innovative in Prest’s time.

After Prest’s find, the Blockhouse Mining Company, managed by Prest, sank two shafts but, unfortunately, the mine closed down not long after.

In 1897, Godfrey Smith prospected north of the Blockhouse Mining Company’s property and, even further north, A. A. Hiseler sank a shaft on the continuation of the Prest vein. (Finding gold became a lot easier after Prest figured out that the vein ran north-south!)

In 1898 a new owner, T. Foster, took over the Blockhouse Mining Company’s property. Foster built a 10-stamp mill to process the ore and mining continued successfully until 1901.

Blockhouse was mined again briefly from 1935-38 by the Nugold Mining Corporation. It built a 10-stamp mill, deepened the main shaft and did considerable tunnelling, but had little success recovering gold with its milling process so the mine shut down.

A total of 3588 ounces of gold were produced at Blockhouse.

Today the Blockhouse gold mine is a forest.