The discovery of gold in Port Dufferin, Halifax County, set off an Amazing Race-style dash to see who could stake the claims!

Gold was first discovered in Port Dufferin (originally called Salmon River) in 1868 but it was not until 1880 that a significant find triggered serious mining interest.

A Mi'kmaq named Peter Paul was searching for a missing ox when he found not only the ox but also a boulder containing gold. When extracted, the gold was worth about $15, a decent sum in that era. Within days Paul took not one, but two men to the location of his find — a Captain Brown and then, in the dead of night, a man named Kent Archibald who already operated a mine at Harrigan Cove. Neither of them knew that the other had been shown the secret location.

The stagecoach left Port Dufferin for Halifax the morning after Archibald's midnight tour. Both Brown and Archibald were on board, bound for the city to secure prospecting licenses — neither knowing the other's intention. When the stagecoach stopped at Tangier overnight, Captain Brown got off, but Archibald, being determined, found another way to continue onward. When Brown arrived at the Mines Office a couple of days later, he found that he was too late. Archibald had already staked the site.

(When we consider the poor job early gold miners did taking care of the environment, we have to remember that it was a relatively primitive time, long before environmental science existed. As the story above highlights, Nova Scotians often travelled by stagecoach in that era and it took several days to travel from gold mines on the Eastern Shore to Halifax!)

A gold-bearing quartz vein, about 30-40 inches wide, was uncovered and 100 tons of ore were removed and milled in Harrigan Cove mine. In sinking a shaft on the vein, it was found that it divided to form the legs of a saddle.

The vein was so promising that a 20-stamp mill was built in 1881 to crush the ore. It was driven by power drawn from Salmon River with a waterwheel. Other mine buildings were also erected and work continued on the vein which varied from 4-6 feet wide on the leg.

The property became involved in litigation and was shut down for several months. It reopened in 1882 and the stamp mill, already quite large at 20 stamps, was increased to 30 stamps, an indication of the mine’s potential.

Also in 1882, two gentlemen named Ross and Hattie erected an 8-stamp mill they brought from Dung Cove near Isaac Harbour to process ore from a 4-inch vein discovered near the western shore of Eagle Lake. It was not known at the time but the gold deposit at Dufferin had been split in two by a fault - a fracture, or zone of fractures, between two blocks of rock. Faults are caused by geological forces like tectonic plate movement and they allow blocks of rock to move relative to each other. The result is that part of the Dufferin deposit ended up on the west side of the district where the main Dufferin Mine operated, and part of the deposit ended up about one kilometre away on the east side, where Eagle Lake is located.

In 1883, ore from the Dufferin Mine was being transported by tramway to the mill a half-mile away. At Dufferin, as at many other mines, the tram descended to the mill via gravity – descending a slope – and was hauled back to the mine by a horse.

Also in 1883, Hattie continued working the Hattie Load on Eagle Lake in the eastern part of the district and did additional prospecting in the area. By the end of 1883, 9,726 ounces of gold had been produced in the district, a considerable amount in a relatively short period of time.

By 1885, the Dufferin Mine’s shaft was 150 feet deep and 4,924 ounces were produced for the year.

1886 was the district’s biggest ever – 6,509 ounces were produced. The Dufferin Mine was pushing eastward where the vein was 4-12 feet in thickness.

A second dam was built on the Salmon River to provide additional power for pumping and hoisting. The system used pulleys and cables to transmit the power to the mine site.

By 1887, the Dufferin Mine’s mill had 38 stamps and was kept running continually. In 1888, the Dufferin Mine was further east, where parts of the vein were 20 feet thick. Nova Scotia’s gold-bearing quartz veins are usually measured in inches or a few feet, so the width of the Dufferin Mine’s vein was remarkable.

In 1890, Dufferin Gold Mining Company took over the mine and built a new 20-stamp mill. However, the grade of the ore was lower than that worked in the 1880s and the mine shut down in 1894.

In 1897, new owners, the Montreal-London Gold and Silver Development Company, took over the Dufferin Mine and built a costly new plant with room for a 60-stamp mill. Thirty stamps were installed at first and the mill was now driven by steam power. The company also invested in other new equipment, including electric lighting and air compressors.

The company also proposed a daring new approach – it announced that it would sink a shaft 1000 feet and dig crosscuts (horizontal tunnels) off it to intersect quartz veins. The rest of Nova Scotia’s gold miners watched with great interest to see whether a system of deep mining would work in the province. Most gold mines in the province at that time were only a few hundred feet deep or less.

The company started the shaft in 1898 and went to a depth of 260 feet. The shaft reached a depth of 400 feet in 1900 but it went no further due to declining returns. No gold was produced in 1901. (Interestingly, modern exploration drilling has found gold almost 3000 feet underground, so the company had the right idea about following the gold deeper.)

There were reportedly as many as 1500 people who lived around the mine during the Montreal-London Gold and Silver Development Company period - 180 miners, other mine staff and families.

The Dufferin Mine operated a couple more times in the first half of the 1900s. It has also been mined in the modern era and it is being actively explored today.

Besides the Hattie property, two other small mines operated in the district. One in the western part of the district started in 1909 on a 14-inch vein. Ninety-seven ounces of gold were produced that year and 55 ounces in 1910. In 1923 another small mine was opened two miles east of the Dufferin Mine.

While most of the historical production was at the Dufferin Mine in the western part of the district at the Dufferin Mine, mining in the modern era has been in the eastern part.

Like many of Nova Scotia’s historical gold districts, Dufferin has the potential to return to production and create jobs for Nova Scotians.

In total, the Dufferin gold district produced about 60,000 ounces.

An historical Nova Scotia gold mine that did reach a depth of 1000 feet was the Brookfield Mine. See its story at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/brookfield-gold-district

See the history of the Harrigan Cove gold district at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/harrigan-cove