Father Lanigan’s “Prospect”

While gold is often found in quartz veins, not all quartz veins contain gold. Unfortunately, that is a lesson Father John J. Lanigan learned the hard way.

Nova Scotia Department of Mines engineer M. G. Goudge visited Terence Bay, Halifax County, on October 21, 1940, to “establish a corner post on the tract of ground covered under prospecting license for gold” by Father Lanigan. Goudge was referring to the historical practice of staking a mineral claim by literally driving stakes into the ground to mark the area. That is where the expression “staking a claim” came from, meaning you have a right to something or that it should belong to you.

Father Lanigan’s claim was, according to a memo Goudge later wrote, “immediately northwest of Shellbird Lake and three quarters of a mile south of the highway.”

Goudge wrote, “Father Lanigan was first interested in this property by Mr. James Nolan who operates a so-called mineral detector and upon his advice has applied for two more claims.”

When he arrived, Goudge found a shallow pit, but no evidence of gold in the quartz veins. Indeed, he expressed concern about Father Lanigan’s desire to stake additional claims because of the cost and low potential for finding gold: “The money for these claims is coming from the church funds of the community and under the circumstances, viz. the poor financial straights of the people in the community and the location of the property I would advise that the one claim already under license be sufficient to prove the presence of gold before they spend further money on other claims.”

Goudge’s colleague, H. L. Cameron, did a follow up visit the next year on July 7. No one was at the site when he arrived, but he examined the quartz veins in granite exposed by several prospecting shafts and holes. He concluded that “They do not contain any mineral with the exception of a few grains of muscovite…It is very unlikely that any gold values will be found in them.”

Cameron later wrote, “I was informed at the Convent in Terrence Bay that assay samples had been taken but had not as yet been reported on.” The assay (test) results presumably later showed that there was no gold in the samples since there are no additional records of work on the claim.

Cameron’s 1941 sketch of the site is below.

While Father Lanagan appears to have had the best interests of his parishioners at heart, he seems to have fallen victim to the misconception that quartz veins always contain gold.

All gold on Earth formed billions of years ago in stars that over-heated and exploded. Gold formed in the heat of the explosions and gathered in clouds in space. The clouds eventually condensed, forming Earth 4.5 billion years ago and distributing gold around the planet. As a result, all rock contains at least some tiny amount of gold, but to mine it, we need a geological anomaly like a tectonic plate collision to form a deposit - to concentrate the gold so a mine is economically viable.

That is what happened: 400 million years ago, the tectonic plates that host North Africa and North America started colliding. Layers of horizontal sedimentary rock were crumpled into anticlines (domes) and synclines (troughs) - a series of rock waves. Fluid leached gold from rock deep underground and flowed into cracks in rock closer to surface, forming veins of gold-bearing quartz as the fluid eventually cooled and hardened. This is how most of Nova Scotia’s gold deposits formed.

However, most quartz veins do not contain meaningful amounts of gold, and many have made the mistake of assuming that a discovery of quartz would automatically lead to riches.

Father Lanigan and his men dug four shallow shafts, a couple of metres deep, and several small test pits, but all they found was pyrite - fool’s gold.

Father Lanigan served the parish of Prospect from 1924-45. He is shown in the photo below wearing white along with Archbishop O'Donnell (centre with hat) and other priests at the Consecration of St. Joseph's Church at Shad Bay, on July 24, 1932. (Thanks to the Prospect Genealogical Website, https://www.prospectvillage.ca/, for the photo.)

Some of Nova Scotia’s most beautiful parks and protected areas contain former mines and quarries. For example, the Terence Bay Wilderness Area includes two sites that were quarried for building stone used in some of Halifax’s historic buildings. See the story at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/terence-bay-stories

For a century and a half, staking claims in Nova Scotia was done by hammering stakes into the ground and marking the area in government ledgers and on a master set of 500 mapsheets, which were updated daily by hand at the Halifax offices of the Department of Mines. Today, claims are staked through an online mapping system (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/gold-fields).