Dunbrack Mine

United States Colonel Robert Ewing ran a mine in Nova Scotia in the early 1900s…which is a bit odd since he’s from New Orleans! Here’s the story:

In 1888, John Kerr found mineralized boulders on the west side of highway 357, the road to Meaghers Grant from Musquoduboit Harbour.

Prospecting followed but it was not until 1909 that Bessie and John Dunbrack are credited with finding what we now know is a lead-copper-zinc-silver deposit. (In fact, records differ on which of them found the mine. For example, a December 23, 1908 story in a newspaper in Altoona, Pennsylvania, says Bessie Dunbrack of Musquoduboit had found a silver mine. Some other records say it was John who found it.)

The 1911 Canadian census says Bessie Dunbrack (1867-1934) was living in Meaghers Grant, Halifax County, during that period. Her full name was Elizabeth Achurst Dunbrack but Elizabeth is sometimes shortened to Bessie. She lived with her mother, Martha Dunbrack, the head of the household – her father, James Charles Dunbrack, had passed away in 1898. No other family members are listed as living in the household.

John Dunbrack was Bessie’s first cousin. The United States 1910 census says John was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he had been living for at least several years since the census shows he had children there in 1906 and 1909. This perhaps suggests that Bessie was the discoverer of the deposit, since John was living in Cambridge at the time, and that John may have travelled back and forth between Cambridge and Musquoduboit to work on the mine.

The 1921 Canadian census shows that John moved back to Nova Scotia – Uniacke, specifically – between the 1911 and 1921 censuses. He was working as a gold miner.

Mining clearly ran in the family. John’s father, Angus MacInnes Dunbrack, was listed as a miner in the 1891 census and John’s siblings are listed as gold miners in the 1901 census.

Records say John Dunbrack sank two shafts and dug several trenches and test pits at the Dunbrack mine after the discovery of the deposit, but work came to a halt in 1915.

In 1916, Colonel Ewing took over the property and extended the underground workings, but mining stopped again in 1920.

The Main Shaft (Shaft 2) reached a depth of 41 metres. A level at 27 metres had drifts (horizontal tunnels) that go north for 33.5 metres and south for 33 metres.

Another shaft (Shaft 1), a couple of hundred metres to the north of the Main Shaft, reached 20 metres in depth.

The site then sat idle until F. Hogan drilled five exploration drillholes between 1954-58 and the Noranda Exploration Company did some exploration work at the site in 1980-82.

While it’s called a mine, the Dunbrack workings, like many other historical operations, were not a mine in the sense that we use the word now. Historical mines were often pits just a couple feet deep, or a small shaft or two, often even without a mill for processing. There was often very little actual mining or production at such sites.

Our question is how a United States Colonel from New Orleans ended up getting involved in an obscure, and ultimately unsuccessful, mine in Nova Scotia.

Colonel Ewing (1859-1931) was born in Mobile, Alabama. He moved to New Orleans as a young man and had an impressive career as the owner of multiple newspapers and several other businesses. He became one of the most powerful political figures in Louisiana and claimed to have played a key role in securing the presidential nomination for Woodrow Wilson in 1912.

The title “colonel” was honourary, presumably because of his years as a political heavyweight. Ewing did not actually serve in the military.

In 1883, Colonel Ewing married Catherine May Dunbrack of Meaghers Grant - Bessie’s sister. It is not known how or where they met.

Given this family connection, we assume Colonel Ewing took over the mine from his in-laws when Bessie and John were unable to make a success of the mine.

The site used to be known as an excellent one for rockhounding as its waste rock pile contains many minerals specimens. We understand, however, that the property owner prefers that people stay away from the site for safety reasons, so we recommend respecting the owner’s wishes. While some reclamation work has been done, historical sites like this can have undocumented holes and depressions that can be hazardous.

Thanks to the Dunbrack family for their help with family history.