Factory Bog

If you have ever used diatomaceous earth when gardening but don’t know much about it, this post is for you!

Diatomaceous earth, also called diatomite, is a mineral formed by the accumulation of the shells of microscopic diatoms, a type of algae that has thrived in many Nova Scotia lakes since the last ice age. Diatoms extract silica from lake water to make their shells and, when they die, the shells sink to the bottom of the lake and accumulate.

Diatomite shells are essentially pure silica and very small. Each shell has microscopic pores and spine-like protrusions that form a delicate, lace-like structure that is useful in many applications.

Diatomaceous earth is an excellent, nontoxic, insect control agent on creatures such as slugs, ants and even bed bugs, which are killed by crawling over the razor-sharp silica fragments.
A lot of diatomaceous earth was mined in Nova Scotia between 1889-1955, including at Factory Bog in Little River, Digby Neck.

Exploration for diatomaceous earth began in the area around 1900 but it was not until 1927 that the site was purchased by Scotia Diatom Products, which kicked off a three-decade period of extraction. Scotia Diatom Products mined it from 1927-28. A company called International Diatomite Industries was then formed by the merger of Scotia Diatom Products with the Oxford Tripoli Company. International Diatomite Industries worked the mine from 1928-34.

The mine was taken over in 1942 by the Wightman family, which ran a canning plant in Digby and produced canned seafood, cod liver oil and other products. The family was an investor in International Diatomite Industries before it went out of business and believed the company had overextended itself by building a calcining plant to heat and dry the diatomaceous earth that was too big and expensive during the Depression.

George Franklin Wightman, who ran the mine, was an innovator and he worked to improve the calcining process that was so important to the operation. The diatomaceous earth was very moist when extracted and it had to be calcined/dried before it could be sold. Wightman built a new calcining process, which included installing drying racks over much of the property, a tram to connect them and a series of 1000-gallon tanks installed in a vertical position. After the dried material was placed in the tanks, fires were light underneath them to cook off the organic material that was intwined with the diatomaceous earth and which had to be removed before it could be sold.

After this calcining process was complete, the dried product was trucked to Digby and shipped to places all over North America, including as far away as California.

The Factory Bog closed down in 1955 because of the passing of the mine’s foreman, Everett Bolivar, who had done an excellent job managing the day-to-day operations. There was also new competition from newly-discovered diatomaceous earth deposits in California that were extracted in a dry state and without organics mixed in. This made the California product cheaper to produce.

George Wightman was the last operator of the mine and he produced about 900 tons of diatomite. It is estimated that a total of 5,600 tons of dried product was produced at Factory Bog.

The Factory Bog seems to have triggered an ongoing interest in mining among Wightman family members. Wightman’s brother became a mining engineer and Wightman’s son, John, is a well-known prospector and explorationist in Nova Scotia. Among many other projects, John Wightman played a key role in advancing the Moose River gold mine that started operating in 2017.

The bog is roughly 20 hectares in size and is believed to still contain about 400,000 cubic metres of diatomaceous material. Because of diatomaceous earth’s high moisture content, this would produce about 53,400 tons of calcined (dried) product.

Besides being a natural pesticide, diatomaceous earth has many other uses.

It’s used as a filter in the beverage industry for the clarification of wine, beer and fruit juices, and in water purification systems. Liquids can pass through diatomite because it’s porous, but solids are trapped by it, which makes it an excellent filter.

Diatomite is also calcined and used as an absorbent because it absorbs six times its dry weight. For example, it’s used to help clean up oil spills.

As a filler, diatomite is used in the tire-making industry and in concrete it makes a stronger, lighter product that is resistant to saltwater erosion. It’s also in pharmaceuticals, paint, cosmetics and art supplies.

To our knowledge, no one has considered mining diatomaceous earth in Nova Scotia for many years even though we still have a lot of it in many of our lakes.