Feeley Mine

An historical copper mine on the Wallace River is an example of how former mines and quarries are often hidden in plain sight!

The Feeley mine, which operated around the beginning of the 1900s on the farm of John Feeley, was about one mile north of Wentworth Centre, Cumberland County.

Its copper deposit outcropped on the river channel, which is presumably how the deposit was discovered.

A shallow pit was dug at the eastern end of the outcrop and a tunnel was dug from the pit bottom into the sandstone bedrock at the base of a 60-feet-high cliff.

The mine was inspected in late August 1943 when the river water was low enough that the workings could be pumped out. The Department of Mines’ J. P. Messervey and A. E. Flynn of the Nova Scotia Technical College found that the tunnel was 257 feet long and the ore layer continued along the tunnel’s roof for 147 feet at which point it pinched out. Several other tunnels had been dug off the main one.

A 1943 assay (metallurgical test) of an ore sample taken about 90 feet into the main tunnel reported that it was about 4% copper, a decent percentage.

Little remains of the Feeley mine today other than waste rock piles and wooden footings of the near-vertical hoist structure. It is an example of how former mines and quarries often blend back into the environment.

The Feeley mine’s ore – the rock that contained the copper – was processed at a plant in Wentworth Centre. According to the 1943 Department of Mines annual report, the Munro-Thompson Ore Reduction Company started construction in 1902 of a leaching plant to process ore from a number of copper prospects in the Wentworth area.

The plant consisted of two units of four tanks each, arranged in a series, one above the other. A roaster was built to heat the ore and a smelter building was under construction in 1903 when the company changed its name to the Cumberland Copper Company.

According to a 1913 federal government report called The Copper Smelting Industries of Canada, “At that time it was expected that this plant would be ready for operation in 1903…but we find no further reference to the operation of the plant.”

We also could not find other government documents about the plant’s operations, other than a brief reference in the 1907 Department of Mines report which only said the Cumberland Copper Company was still active in the area that year. Local accounts suggest the plant closed in 1906.

A 2007 inspection of the site confirmed that the plant did operate for at least a while because there is waste rock and other materials from processing at the overgrown onsite.

The Palmer mine, which the Copper Crown Mining Company operated, also reportedly sent its ore to the Wentworth Centre plant for processing but historical records are unclear on this. Department of Mines annual reports suggest the Palmer mine closed in 1900, three years before the Wentworth Centre plant started running but it is possible that additional extraction took place at some point.

The Palmer mine was on the north side of the west branch of the Wallace River, about 2.5 miles from Wentworth Centre.

Mining began around 1898 and took place at two sites. A now-collapsed tunnel was accessed from a portal near the top of the bank on the west side of the river. A second site was 150 yards upriver, where a small stream enters the French River from the west. A tunnel and remnants of a dam are still visible at the site. The dam was part of the system to process and wash the copper.

A new, one-mile road was built in 1899 so ore could be hauled to Hunter Road, and on to Westchester Station, by teams of horses.

Ore not hauled to Westchester Station was left in a pile at the mine site by the operators because they ran into metallurgical problems in milling it. The company was “seeking a chemical means of reducing this ore, as owing to its plastic nature it is said to be unsuitable for the ‘rolls’ [the regular milling process].”

By 1900, the Palmer mine’s slope (decline tunnel) had been driven 250 feet into the riverbank and several other tunnels had also been dug. However, the mine was filled with water and no longer operating when a government inspector visited that year.

Because the mine was shut down, the 1900 Department of Mines annual report’s comments about the Palmer mine were based on “reliable information extracted from an interested party who was with me on the ground…From the foregoing it would appear that one of two alternatives presents itself – either the belt [ore] has pinched out or the workers have forsaken it. I am rather inclined to think the latter in this case.”

Copper is in high demand these days because it is essential in green technologies like electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels. For example, an electric vehicle contains about 183 pounds of copper, four times as much as in a regular car. That’s about six kilometres of copper wiring per electric car!

Many experts predict the world could face a shortfall in copper supply because of the growth in its usage, and because there are not enough mines to supply it.

Copper also has important health applications because it kills bacteria and viruses, sometimes within minutes. It has been shown to kill a long list of microbes, including norovirus, E. Coli and coronaviruses—including the novel strain that causes COVID-19.