Galena Mine, Cheticamp

The metallurgical challenges of an historical lead mine in Cheticamp illustrate how the modern mining industry is completely different from mining a century ago.

In 1897, a deposit of quartz and galena was found on Faribault Brook, about seven miles inland from Cheticamp. (The brook is named for eminent geologist Eugène Rodolphe Faribault. He worked for the Geological Survey of Canada from 1882-1932 and his life’s work was mapping Nova Scotia’s gold fields.)

Galena is an ore of lead (meaning that lead is often extracted from it), and the mine that worked the deposit was called the Galena Mine. Lead was the mine’s main focus. However, a number of other metals were also found in the deposit.

Assays (tests) of the ore were done as far as away as New York and Swansea, England, an important centre of metalworking in the 1800s.

F. H. Mason, a mining engineer, examined the property in 1897 for its owner, the Cheticamp Gold Mining Company. He wrote that the assays showed “the ore carries one oz. [ounce] of silver for every unit of lead. Gold has been found in some of the assays, the highest return for that metal being 14 dwt. [pennyweights] per ton, but as a large proportion of the assays only gave a trace of gold, it would not be fair to rely upon any return from that metal. At the same time, taking into consideration the general character of the ore and the fact that the stream in the neighbourhood of the vein contains very appreciable quantities of alluvial gold, it is far form improvable that from time to time, gold will certainly swell the returns from the mine.”

Despite its name, the Cheticamp Gold Mining Company would not make its money from the Galena Mine’s gold. There was gold in the deposit but not enough by historical standards for it to be a significant source of revenue for the mine.

It would later be learned that the deposit also contained other metals, including copper and zinc.

F. H. Mason concluded his report by saying, “For the amount of work done I have never seen a more promising prospect than the one under consideration. Comparatively little work has been done on the lead itself, but a considerable amount of labor has been devoted to making a way to the mine through rough country. The location, although it at first appears out of the way is really a very excellent one. At a comparatively small cost a trolley way could be run around the mountain to the nearest settlement, and considering there is abundance of natural power, this trolley way could be worked by electricity. Labor, coal and fluxes are cheap. There is a protecting duty on the principal product which will more than pay for the smelting of the ore, and finally, your mine is only seven miles from an excellent port which is within reasonable distance of the principal markets of Canada.”

The Cheticamp Gold Mining Company was encouraged and in 1898, it began active operations. A road was constructed to the deposit, a mill erected, a dam built half a mile up the brook, and a wooden flume 2,600 feet long and an iron flume 190 feet long were constructed.

Adits (tunnels) were dug and in November, 50 tons of ore were processed, producing 10,713 pounds of concentrates that contained 25.3% lead, 22 ounces of silver and three pennyweights of gold per ton. (One pennyweight is 1.5 grams so three pennyweights equals 4.5 grams.)

A 1902 memo said the company spent about $25,000 developing the mine before it ran into a major problem – its mill “was not capable of treating the ore. Several tests have since been made, which demonstrated the fact that it is impossible to make a concentrate with this process better than 25% lead, this being due to the fact that the ore contains arsenopyrite, copper and occasionally other mispickel which interferes with the concentrating, as the gravity of these materials is so near that of the lead that a separation in the Jig is impossible.”

In other words, the various metals in the deposit proved to be a double-edged sword. They could provide additional revenue for the mine but the company was not able to separate and capture the various metals in the milling process.

After investing so heavily in infrastructure and other start up costs, the company was out of money and could not afford to fix the mill. The mine shut down.

The property was idle for two years until a small syndicate bought all the assets of the Cheticamp Gold Mining Company for $50,000 and invested an additional $10,000 in further proving the value of the deposit.

The syndicate conducted assays on the mine’s tailings – the waste from the Cheticamp Gold Mining Company’s previous milling – and found that the mill lost over 50% of the ore’s value to the tailings. Think of a baker constantly throwing away half of the bread he bakes and you realize how financially disastrous the milling problem was.

The syndicate came up with a new mill design and H. Reid Harrison, author of the 1902 memo said, “…there is no reason why the property could not be made to pay a large dividend immediately after the proposed plant is installed.”

However, the syndicate failed to find investors to pay for the new mill and restart the mine. The site never returned to production.

There was a total of five adits driven on the Galena Mine, located on the northeast bank of Faribault Brook, approximately three metres above the brook, not far from where it enters Cheticamp River.

The site has been explored intermittently ever since and today it remains an intriguing copper-zinc-lead prospect. It also has potential to be a gold mine. Gold quantities measured in grams per ton were not very meaningful in the historical era because our early gold miners lacked the science to efficiently extract such small quantities. Nova Scotia’s historical gold mines generally had to produce ounces per ton to be viable.

However, modern gold mines measure ore grades in grams per ton, not ounces. The challenge modern gold miners face is that the “low hanging fruit” has already been taken by historical mines so modern mines generally have to extract from lower-grade deposits. Improved science and technology make that possible, while also taking proper care of the environment, so a site like the Galena Mine has potential for gold today that it did not have a century ago.

The difference between then and now is a century of scientific advancement in metallurgy - the science of separating metals from their ores.

Metals are usually hosted in rock that the metals need to be separated from in the milling process.

Also, metals deposits almost always have multiple metals in them because of how they form, so the metals also need to be separated from each other, not just from the host rock.

Historically, the science behind milling ore was rudimentary compared to how sophisticated it is today. As a result, historical metals mines often lost significant amounts of valuable metals to the tailings, as the Galena Mine did. They also often caused environmental damage because 100-150 years ago was long before environmental awareness or scientific understanding of how human activities could affect the environment. (Learn more about historical tailings at

The modern mining industry is completely different. It is a sophisticated, science-based activity that takes excellent care of the environment.