Gold and Hydro Power

Gold miners were among the first in Nova Scotia to use a type of renewable energy – hydro power. For example, the Moose River gold district used water to power equipment in the 1880s. Today, the modern Moose River mine is using renewable energy in the form of solar panels.

Nova Scotia was mostly wilderness during Nova Scotia’s early gold rushes – from about 1861 to the early 1940s - and the basic infrastructure we take for granted today did not exist. For example, mining companies often had to build their own roads to mines in the backwoods. They also often had to build lodging, blacksmith shops and other facilities necessary for both operations and living because they were so isolated and needed to be as self-sufficient as possible.

Most mines also had to generate their own power onsite. Literal horsepower was often used, with horses hauling wagons and trams, and powering equipment like arrastras, an early type of rock crusher (

In 1861-62, the Lawrencetown gold district had two crushers built that used waterpower. This became relatively common in gold districts in the 1800s as water was used to power equipment, not by generating electricity but by use of things like waterwheels that were moved by water and drove equipment mechanically.

For example, Damas Touquoy, who discovered the Moose River gold deposit and for whom it was named, built a 15-stamp mill in 1887 that was powered by use of a dam on Moose River. The Moose River Gold Mining Company also used water to run its 10-stamp mill at that time. A dam at the foot of Long Lake, a short distance to the north, retained enough water to provide power continuously. (The pictures below show Touquoy at his mine in 1897).

In the mid 1880s at the Dufferin mine, Halifax County, two dams provided waterpower, one for crushing and the other for pumping and hoisting. Power was carried from the latter dam three-quarters of a mile using a system of pulleys and “endless” (looped) ropes (

Unfortunately, there were times when droughts forced mines to temporarily stop working because there was not enough water. For example, in 1886, the Jumbo mine in Gold River, Lunenburg County, temporarily shut down because a drought left the river too low to power its 20-stamp mill and hoisting and pumping equipment (

Another example is Renfrew, Hants County, where no crushing of ore was done for the last three months of 1864 due to lack of rain. In 1885 in Renfrew, another drought brought crushing at the Empress mine to a halt for part of the season (

As technology advanced, Nova Scotia’s extraordinary coal deposits, which have powered our economy for two centuries, were used as fuel in steam engines that ran equipment.

Coal was also eventually used to generate electricity at mines (

However, buying and transporting coal to many parts of the province was expensive, especially given how little infrastructure was in place.

The problem is illustrated by the Micmac gold mine in, Lunenburg County, southwest of Bridgewater. (“Micmac” is a spelling of Mi’kmaq that is considered inappropriate by many but we use it here for historical accuracy.)

In the early 1900s, the mine’s biggest cost by far was buying coal to burn to produce steam power, mainly to operate the pumps that removed water from the mine. The company was spending almost three times as much on coal as on actual mining work, a situation that was unsustainable.

Efforts were made in 1906-07 to strike a deal with the town of Liverpool to get cheaper electricity. However, an agreement could not be reached and the mine temporarily shut down while the company investigated the area for hydroelectricity potential.

A 1908 report estimated that hydroelectricity would decrease the mine’s power costs from “around $120 to $18 per hour per horse power” – a huge potential savings.

The mine shut down in 1908 and did not follow through on its plan to build a dam on the LaHave River to generate hydropower (

It was against this backdrop that, in 1909, Nova Scotia’s legislature passed “An Act for the Further Assisting of the Gold Mining Industry.” Among other things, it allowed the government to provide financial assistance to mining companies “for the purpose of utilizing water power in order to reduce, as far as possible, the cost of gold mining in the province of Nova Scotia….” Any financial assistance to companies was to be repaid from revenue generated by the mine.

The government assistance came too late for the Micmac mine. It never returned to full production.

Today, Nova Scotia has electricity available throughout virtually the entire province, so mining companies do not need to generate their own power onsite. This is a significant advantage of working in Nova Scotia since many mines around the world are in remote locations, far from roads and electricity grids, and powering them can be a significant and expensive challenge. For example, importing diesel, sometimes by flying it in, is particularly expensive in places like northern Canada.

Despite having easy access to electricity through the province’s grid, the modern Moose River mine installed solar panels several years ago to generate some of its energy, emissions-free, onsite.