Ecum Secum Intrigue!

For a modest producer, the Ecum Secum gold district had its share of intrigue!

A great deal of gold was found in surface boulders in Ecum Secum, at the northeastern edge of Halifax County, in 1868.

From 1868-79, the Atlantic Company worked the area and crushed small quantities of ore. From 1880-92, the Pittsburgh Company was active on land previously worked by the Atlantic Company but, like the Atlantic Company, the Pittsburgh Company was not very successful.

In 1894, two shafts were sunk by Malcolm Cameron. In 1899, the property was held by the Westminster Gold Mining Company, which was also active in the Lawrencetown gold district.

In 1902-03, this property was in the hands of the Donovan Mining Company. The mine closed but was operated again from August 1906 to June 1907 by the Ecum Secum Gold Field Ltd.

Another vein on the east side of the harbour near the water was worked around 1902. A shaft was dug, some tunnelling took place and a 5-stamp mill was built. The discovery of this vein is attributed to G. C. Armstrong.

In 1889, during the Pittsburgh Company era, John Cameron of Melrose said that he had legally staked a claim on the west side of Ecum Secum Harbour the previous year. (In English, “staking a claim” to something means you have a right to it or that it should belong to you. The expression comes from literally driving wooden stakes into the ground to mark a mineral claim – a specific area where a person/company has the sole right to explore and mine.)

Cameron said he paid the government’s staking fee and that he renewed the claim in February 1889. He found a quartz vein that contained gold and he formed a company to pursue the project, selling shares to various partners.

It all fell apart a few months later, in May 1889, when the government’s Inspector of Mines told Cameron that his claim had previously been staked by the Pittsburgh Company.

Cameron was stripped of his claim and pursued by his former partners who wanted their money back. He petitioned the government for a total of $2,416, a significant sum back then, to recover his costs and as compensation for the government’s apparent mistake in allowing the claim to be staked by two parties.

After reviewing the matter, the legislature’s Committee on Mines and Minerals recommended that Cameron receive only $500, enough to pay back his partners and cover expenses (including “Coach hire from Sherbrooke to Ecum Secum”) but leaving only $84 to compensate him for his time and trouble.

Since only one person/company is allowed to stake a mineral claim at a time, the question remained: how did this happen? An investigation revealed that a clerk of the Department of Mines, named Mr. Carman, moonlighted as an agent for the Pittsburgh Company. The clerk allowed the same ground to be staked twice, meaning he did not just cheat John Cameron, but also the mines department and the Pittsburgh Company, both of whom were paying him wages. (The Committee’s report does not say but maybe Carman pocketed John Cameron’s staking fees. He presumably tried to profit from his dishonesty in some fashion.)

Another unusual episode took place in the 1930s when prospecting activity restarted in Ecum Secum. Colonel Williams, President of Ecum Secum Mines, accused another miner, Stephen Fleet, of “high-grading,” which today usually means extracting only the richest ore in a mine, leaving less valuable ore untouched.

However, Colonel Williams meant Fleet was doing two dishonest things:

First, Williams was accusing Fleet of stealing gold from nearby mines (i.e. Goldenville) and pretending it had come from Fleet’s Ecum Secum mine.

Second, Williams was also accusing Fleet of only mining the richest ore in his mine and bringing in excavated rock from old Ecum Secum workings to make it appear that more mining was taking place at Fleet’s mine than was actually the case. Williams said the rock was transported by truck and then by boat across Ecum Secum “lake” (presumably meaning either Ecum Secum Harbour or the wide area of Ecum Secum River) and then spread around Fleet’s mine at surface.

Both accusations suggested Fleet was fraudulently trying to inflate the value of his mine.

Fleet’s mining work was apparently funded by his relative, a Mr. Murphy, who worked in the boiler room of the Moirs chocolate factory in Halifax.

After visiting Fleet’s mine, the mines department inspector dismissed Colonel Williams’ allegations: “In my opinion bona fide work has been carried out by Mr. Stephen Fleet on his property… There is no excess rock or quartz visible on the property above that which would normally come from the excavations.” The inspector concluded that Fleet was actively working the site and that transporting the rock from elsewhere would have cost Fleet more time and money than any illicit profit he would have made.

It is not known whether Colonel Williams truly believed the accusations he made against Fleet or if he had another reason for making them.

In total, 1300 ounces of gold were produced at Ecum Secum.

Exploration in Ecum Secum started again in the 1970s and has continued on and off since. Like so many of Nova Scotia’s historical gold districts, it has the potential to be returned to production and to create jobs for Nova Scotians.

Staking claims in Nova Scotia began in 1862 when the legislature passed “An Act relating to the Gold Fields” in response to the province’s first gold rush. Learn more at