Foord Pit

The Museum of Industry doesn’t just have great info about things like Nova Scotia’s historical mines – it’s located on one of them!

The Museum, which is in Stellarton, is on the site of the Foord Pit which opened in 1866 and was the deepest coal mine in the world at one time – its shafts were 1000-feet deep.

The mine, run by the General Mining Association, which had a monopoly on most Nova Scotia minerals from 1827-57, had the most up-to-date technology, including a Cornish pumping system to dewater the mine. The pump came from Newcastle, England, and was the first of its kind in North America. The GMA later built another Cornish pump at its Princess mine in Sydney Mines. Today, the Foord Pit’s partially-reconstructed sandstone pumphouse stands outside the museum’s doors. (The pumphouse is the tall building just right of centre in the black and white picture below.)

Other technological advancements at the Foord Pit included a large steam-driven exhaust fan that provided the first fan ventilation in a Nova Scotia mine and the most powerful winding engines in the province which could easily raise a double-decked cage (elevator) holding more than two tons of coal.

The mine could produce 1,000 tons of coal per day.

A methane-fired explosion occurred in March 1869 and caused the mine to be flooded. Afterwards, only safety lamps were used, devices that were at least somewhat safer than the open flame of candles, and no blasting was allowed until a new fan was installed and found to be totally effective. Instead of blasting, the coal was torn out by a new system consisting of a series of wedges driven into the coal by hydraulic pressure.

1880 was a bad year. Inaccurate surveying was probably to blame for Foord Pit miners twice breaking into older, neighbouring mine workings that fall. The flooding that ensued killed nine horses in the first instance, and six men in the second.

On November 12, 1880, the Foord Pit exploded, killing 44 men in the east side of the mine. Miners from the west side managed to escape through the interconnected Cage pit. Subsequently there were two more explosions, which spread to the Cage, and both mines had to be flooded and closed.

In 1889 the Foord Pit was pumped out and put back into operation. However, on November 11, 1892, there were indications of fire and several small explosions. The mine was again flooded on December 12, 1892.

The remaining coal in the area was later recovered through entries from the Allan Mine workings. Today, the Allan Mine is the site of Sobeys’ headquarters, an example of how former mine lands can be used in different ways after mining is done.

Attempts to reopen the Foord over the years were foiled by fire, and the pit was permanently given up in 1897.

We are proud of our heritage as an industry but we are also proud of how different mining is today from the past. The lives lost in mines like the Foord Pit are an example.

Modern mining is a safe, sophisticated, science-based business that takes excellent care of the environment – completely different from what it was in the past. We have reduced our injury rate by 90% in the past two decades and mining is one of the safer industries in Nova Scotia today.

The Bye Pits immediately next door to the Foord Pit are the Dorrington Softball Complex today.