Fort Needham

Some of Nova Scotia’s most beautiful parks contain former mines and quarries – including Halifax’s Fort Needham!

According to the 1924 annual report for Nova Scotia’s Department of Mines, “The company [Fairview Clay Works] is securing its clay from a newly opened pit at Fort Needham, at the north end of Halifax.” Fifteen tons of clay were extracted that year, which the report described as “a good grade of potters clay.” The Fort Needham pit replaced two other pits the company had operated in Enfield and on the bank of the Sackville River.

We could not find any records to indicate where exactly the pit was located at Fort Needham, but it is interesting to note that the area was well developed by 1924. For example, the Hydrostone neighbourhood was built shortly after the 1917 Halifax Explosion and the 1921 picture below shows some Hydrostone houses on Novalea Drive with Fort Needham hill on the right.

The clay was hauled to the company’s Fairview plant by “auto truck” where it was mixed with silica to make potter’s clay and fire clay. (Fire clay is a type of clay that can withstand intense heat, so it was used to make liners for stoves and furnaces and other objects that are exposed to high temperatures.)

The clay was dried and then crushed by rollers to grind up any shale in it. It was then mixed with silica to produce different grades of clay before being moulded, dried and put in kilns (a type of oven). “After proper burning the products are cooled and are ready for shipment,” according to the annual report. The products included stove linings, flowerpots, vases, chimney tops, umbrella stands and jars.

The silica quarry, which was immediately next to the company’s plant, was operated by the Fairview Crushed Stone Company.

Fort Needham is a drumlin - rocks, gravel, sand and clay left by glaciers 10,000-70,000 years ago when Nova Scotia was covered by kilometre-thick glaciers.

Several other notable landforms in downtown Halifax are also drumlins, including Citadel Hill and the islands in Halifax harbour. The word drumlin comes from the Gaelic word druim, meaning “rounded hill,” or “mound.”

While the Department of Mines annual report says Fort Needham’s clay was good quality, the drumlin is not a pure pottery clay deposit. Instead, it is a mixture of relatively poor-quality, clay-rich glacial till (sediments deposited by glaciers). It also includes shale and sandstone pebbles and boulders. The same is true of Citadel Hill and the other drumlins in downtown Halifax. (British soldiers who had to dig Citadel Hill’s moat were lucky that the hill is soft till, not bedrock!)

The poor quality of the clay may be why annual reports after 1924 do not mention the Fort Needham clay pit or the Fairview Clay Works. The pit was apparently shut down after just one season of operation.

Fort Needham Memorial Park was established in the 1950s. It is home to the Halifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower where the memorial service for the Explosion is held annually on December 6. The park is one of the highest points in the area, giving magnificent views of the city and harbour, thanks to the glaciers that formed it.

The park has a playground, picnic tables, open sports field, wooded areas, an off-leash dog area - and a little-known history of mineral extraction.

The historic Hydrostone neighbourhood was built to provide housing after the Halifax Explosion. Hydrostone isn't actually stone - it's concrete block finished with crushed granite to make it look like cut stone. It was an attractive, practical and cost-effective material for rebuilding after the tragedy. See the story at

Merv Sullivan Park, not far up Novalea Drive from For Needham, is often called The Pit by people who may not realize that it was actually a gravel pit! Today it’s a lovely urban park and baseball field. See its story at

Photo credit: Government of Nova Scotia

Photo credit: Government of Nova Scotia

Photo credit: Nova Scotia Archives