Cleverdon Copper Mine

Some of Nova Scotia’s most beautiful parks and protected areas contain former mines/quarries!

Dartmouth’s Leighton Dillman Park had a mine in it in the 1840s, the Cleverdon Copper Mine, near the park’s entrance on Windmill Road. In addition to copper, the mine also produced some iron and gold.

Like so many stories about mining in Nova Scotia in the 1800s, the Cleverdon mine’s story starts with the General Mining Association:

In 1826, King George IV granted his brother, Prince Frederick, the Duke of York, all mineral rights in Nova Scotia that had not previously been granted. These rights were, in turn, given to the General Mining Association (GMA), a company formed by Rundell, Bridge and Rundell (RBR), the Royal Goldsmiths from 1797-1843.

The Duke of York, who was known for his free-spending ways, was heavily indebted to RBR. He gave them the mineral rights in exchange for clearing his debts and 25% of the GMA's profits.
John Cleverdon got the mineral rights for the mine and an investment of 500 pounds from the GMA.

Mining started in 1842 with extraction of some iron ore. By October, the pit was 10-12 feet deep and Cleverdon was hopeful of finding a good lead of copper ore. Copper was, indeed, found and mining continued for several years.

Cleverdon’s arrangement for the mineral rights had been made with Samuel Cunard, who is best-known as a shipping magnate but was also the General Mining Association’s agent in Nova Scotia for many years (

Unfortunately for Cleverdon, Cunard rescinded their deal and demanded that Cleverdon return the £500 plus 10% of the mined ore.

Cleverdon turned to the government for help in 1847, pleading that the mineral rights be granted to him since, under the terms of the GMA’s monopoly, if the GMA did not work a mine after 12-months notice, the mine could be granted to someone else.

A newly-created Mines and Minerals Committee of the legislature held a meeting about the matter. Cleverdon testified about his deal with the GMA and how Cunard had rebuffed Cleverdon’s repeated attempts to negotiate a new arrangement. The committee notified Cunard in writing about the hearing but he did not attend or offer any defence of his actions.

The Committee does not appear to have offered an opinion on the specific case of the Cleverdon mine and the mine shut down. In 1848, the Commons Commission was given permission to dispose of the abandoned pit.

However, the Mines and Minerals Committee did make a recommendation to the legislature that the GMA’s monopoly be ended.

The GMA did many good things for Nova Scotia. It invested heavily and brought the industrial revolution to the province. Our first steam engines were built by the GMA to power pit hoists and pumps, and to drive coal ships. Nova Scotia's first railway (meaning it was powered by steam, not horses) was the Albion Mines Railway, built in 1839 to haul coal from the Stellarton mines to docks in Pictou Harbour. It was only the second steam railway in Canada.

GMA also helped professionalize Nova Scotia’s mining industry by founding permanent mining communities and bringing skilled British miners to the province.

However, the GMA’s monopoly, and the heavy-handed ways the company enforced it, were resented by many Nova Scotians, including by other entrepreneurs prevented from pursuing mining opportunities.

In 1856, public pressure on Nova Scotia’s legislative assembly resulted in a delegation being sent to England asking that the mineral rights given to the Duke of York be rescinded. Nova Scotia’s legislative assembly passed a bill in 1858 that repealed them.

Cleverdon’s mine was small-scale and short-lived, due at least in part to the GMA reneging on its agreement with him. While the mine is so obscure that few people know about it today, it contributed to the cancellation of the GMA’s monopoly a decade later, a major turning point in the history of Nova Scotia’s mining industry and, indeed, the province.

John Cleverdon was born in Callington, Cornwall County, England, in 1790 where he worked as cooper (barrel-maker) with his brother, Thomas. Copper mining was a major industry in Cornwall so Cleverdon may have had some familiarity with it as well.

John married Frances “Fanny” Willcocks on June 26, 1812 in Callington (the marriage certificate referred to her “condition” as “spinster”).

In search of a better life, Thomas Cleverdon moved to Australia and became a farmer. John and Franny moved their family to Canada in 1831, leaving England on August 10 and landing in “Saint Jons” on September 22 (the misspelling of the town name leaves it unclear whether they arrived in Saint John, New Brunswick, or St. John’s, Newfoundland). The family arrived in Halifax October 22.

Cleverdon started a China import business in Halifax, selling items like the plate below. According to family legend, he loaded barrels with crockery before leaving England and made his children sit on them during the crossing so nobody could steal them.

Cleverdon’s business was based at what was then the corner of Grafton and Jacob streets. (Jacob Street was one of a number of streets that were razed in the late 1950s/early 1960s as part of the redevelopment that resulted in Scotia Square and the Cogswell Interchange). He later moved to the corner of Granville Street and Bells Lane, another road that no longer exists.

Cleverdon passed away in 1869 and was buried in the Church of the Holy Spirit Cemetery in Lakelands, Hants County.

Leighton Dillman Park is part of the Dartmouth Common, greenspace that was set aside shortly after Dartmouth was founded in 1750, following the medieval English practice that ensured livestock could be fed. The Common’s boundaries were Park Avenue (what was then the rear of the new town), along Victoria Road, down Boland Road and back to the shoreline.

Around 1840, the northwest section of the Common was subdivided and laid out into streets to accommodate Dartmouth’s growth. Early trails across the Common became Windmill Road, Shore Road and School Street and later, Fairbanks Street.

John Leighton Dillman (1897-1988) was the park’s volunteer gardener for 25 years.