The Brookfield barite deposit was worked on and off – mostly off – for almost a century and a half.

Barite was discovered in Brookfield, Colchester County, in the 1860s. By 1868, about 1088 tons of barite had been mined from a 12-metre shaft. A small amount of barite was also produced in 1899 by Henderson and Potts, paint manufacturers in Halifax who operated several barite mines in the province because barite is a pigment in white paint.

It was not until 1944 that the deposit’s economic significance was better understood when Canadian Industrials Minerals Ltd. did some trenching and diamond drilling at the site.

Maritime Exploration Ltd. started exploring the deposit in 1945 and in 1948, Maritime-Barytes Ltd. was incorporated to acquire the site by paying Maritime Exploration one million shares in the new company valued at a dollar each.

The key figures behind Maritime-Barytes were Carl Wesley McKee, the company’s president and former general manager of Canadian Industrials Minerals Ltd.; Charles Oliver Campbell, a geologist and prospector who served as the company’s vice president and who was former president of Maritime Exploration Ltd.; and William Lewis Alexander, an accountant who acted as secretary-treasurer.

Maritime-Barytes did additional exploration, including drilling 28 drillholes on the one-square-mile property. The exploration indicated that the deposit contained about 100,000 tons of barite, and the company started developing a mine to produce high-purity, filler-grade barite.

Barite has many industrial applications, including in paint and as a key ingredient in drilling mud - a heavy, viscous fluid mixture that is used in oil and gas drilling operations to carry rock cuttings to the surface and also to lubricate and cool the drill bit. The drilling mud, by hydrostatic pressure, also helps prevent the collapse of unstable strata into the borehole and the intrusion of water from water-bearing strata that may be encountered.

Barite increases the hydrostatic pressure of drilling mud, allowing it to compensate for high-pressure zones experienced during drilling. Barite’s softness also prevents it from damaging drilling tools and enables it to serve as a lubricant. In other words, barite makes drilling safer and more efficient. It is also environmentally-friendly.

Barite’s use in drilling mud was well-known to shareholders in Maritime-Barytes since the Walton barite mine, which worked one of the largest barite deposits in the world, had opened in Hants County in 1941 to provide barite for this purpose (

Barite was considered a particularly important mineral in that period because Germany was no longer a source of it due to WWII, a fact that was noted in Maritime-Barytes’ 1949 prospectus.

According to a master’s thesis written in 1951 by I. M. Stevenson, who later worked as a geologist at the Geological Survey of Canada, “much preliminary work has been carried out since 1948 in preparing the property for operation. A poor direct road of about two miles in length originally linked the property to the Middle Stewiacke-Brookfield highway. This dirt road has been greatly improved and extended, and several bridges have been built.

“The outcrop of ore has had the overburden [dirt] bull-dozed off, and an area of outcrop approximately 150 feet by 75 feet is now exposed. A [blasting] powder house has been constructed, as well as a storage building of about 40 feet by 20 feet in size. Construction of a mill was begun late in 1950, and installation of machinery began in January, 1951.”

According to Stevenson, the planned capacity of the mill was “25 to 30 tons per day, with the finished product being 99% (plus) of pure white barium sulphate.”

Stevenson wrote, “The extreme purity of the Brookfield ore is equalled by no other known barytes deposits of commercial value in Canada. Thus, a ready market for the ore is assured….In view of the present demand for barytes, the barytes deposit at Brookfield will undoubtedly prove to be of considerable economic value, both for the owners and for the province of Nova Scotia.”

Unfortunately, Stevenson’s prediction turned out to be wrong. Inconsistent product grade forced the operation to close in 1952.

A September 1951 Department of Mines memo said the company struggled with the milling process: “the chief concern of the [company] officials has been their inability to obtain a white ground barytes product. However, a few days before my inspection, Mr. C. A. Anderson, the mill superintendent, was successful in finding a combination of flotation reagents that produce the desired grade of product.”

The problem, the memo suggested, was that the “upper portion of the orebody now being quarried is somewhat oxidized and the slimes from this material were adulterating the flotation products.” In other words, iron in the deposit had oxidized (rusted) and was an impurity that was difficult to deal with in processing. The fact that there was iron in the Brookfield barite deposit was not surprising since two historical iron mines operated nearby (

With the mine shut down, exploration activity started again in 1957 and continued intermittently in the 1960s and 70s.

Starting in 1979, Nystone Chemicals Canada operated a seasonal, surface mining operation that extracted about 5,000 tons of ore per year and had it crushed at the North River Sand and Gravel Company’s crusher in Truro. The material was then transported to the Nystone Chemicals mill in Debert Industrial Park where pharmaceutical-grade barium sulphate was produced. The refined product was shipped to the parent company, E-Z-EM Corporation of New York, for further processing and packaging. Its ultimate use was in barium enemas (barite is safe to consume) and other internal medical X-ray procedures.

The mine shut down in the early 2000s, mainly due to declining demand for the pharmaceutical-grade barite it provided.

The picture below of the Nystone mine shows that much of the rock and soil in the area has a reddish colour due to its iron content oxidizing.

Maritime-Barytes also owned a barite deposit in Stewiacke which, according to the company’s 1949 prospectus, “was one of the earliest worked in Nova Scotia.” It was mined in the 1890s by Henderson and Potts. “The white colour ore was pretty well mined out and as there was no market at that time for the off colour variety, little other work was done on the property.”

Maritime-Barytes also explored the zinc deposit in Gays River, which has been mined intermittently since the late 1970s. Zinc is a critical mineral that is essential to clean energy (