Extraordinary Finds

A classic image of prospectors and miners is them discovering a huge nugget while panning for gold or digging with a pickaxe. In truth, such finds were unusual even in the historical era, and they are incredibly rare now. However, Nova Scotia did have examples of such extraordinary discoveries.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, successful Nova Scotia gold mines measured their production in ounces of gold produced per ton of ore milled. In other words, for each ton of rock put through the milling process, a mine generally had to produce in the range of an ounce of gold to be successful.

Today, gold mines measure their production in grams per ton, not ounces. As the world’s richest gold deposits are mined out, we have to mine lower grade deposits. Modern science and engineering make that possible – while taking proper care of the environment – but it means modern mining is a very different activity than what it was historically. It is focussed on methodically extracting and scientifically processing large amounts of ore to produce gold in an environmentally responsible fashion.

But since it’s fun to hear stories about those huge nuggets and mother lodes, here are a few from Nova Scotia’s early gold mining days.

In summer 1863, three men, who were repairing the road in Tangier, Halifax County, found gold while just digging in the dirt next to the road. In three days, they dug out $950 worth of gold, from a spot three or four yards square - this at a time when a day’s wage was about $1. One nugget weighed sixteen ounces, others eight, six, three and two ounces.

In 1865, a 27-ounce gold nugget from Tangier, the largest found in Nova Scotia to that time, was displayed at the Dublin Exhibition.

In August 1936, E. H. Henderson found a spectacular piece of gold quartz in Tangier that was about the size of an apple. The nugget contained 20 ounces of gold and was found in a waste rock pile in the Kent Shaft. A number of nuggets ranging from 0.5 to four ounces were also found in this underground waste rock pile.

These gold nuggets, which had literally been thrown away, highlight how rudimentary early gold mining was compared to the sophisticated science it is today. Not only could gold simply be missed in the dim light of a mine, but the milling of gold ore failed to capture much of the gold. One estimate suggested as much as 50% of the gold mined at Tangier ended up as waste in the tailings.

Also in Tangier, a vein named for the “N-word” (we will not use the actual name because it is inappropriate) produced a number of nuggets reported to be over 20 ounces each. (See Tangier’s story at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/tangier).

Gold was discovered in Oldham, northeast of Halifax airport, in 1861 and the Oldham gold mines became some of the most productive in Nova Scotia. One lot of quartz extracted in 1864 had a phenomenal yield of 103 ounces of gold per ton. A gold nugget found at Oldham in 1874 weighed 61 ounces and at the time was worth $1,135. In today’s prices, that nugget would be worth about $100,000. (See the Oldham gold district’s story at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/oldham-gold-district).

In Wine Harbour, Guysborough County, the Hattie claim yielded 125 ounces of gold in five tons of ore – 25 ounces per ton! – in 1866 (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/wine-harbour-gold-district).

In Isaac’s Harbour, two men started work on a quartz vein that was six inches wide. At a depth of 30 feet, the vein widened to two feet. In 402 days of work, they produced 246 ounces of gold and each of them made a profit of $2000 for their work. (See the story of Isaac’s Harbour at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/isaacs-harbour).