Gold in Kejimkujik

Some of Nova Scotia’s most beautiful parks and protected areas contain former mines and quarries – including Keji!

Gold was discovered in 1888 in West Caledonia, in an area that is now part of Kejimkujik National Park. A Caledonia businessman, Nelson F. Douglas, was the first to stake claims. He failed to find any gold and sold his claims two years later to Charles Ford, a lumberman from Maitland Bridge. Members of the Ford family would go on to work at the site intermittently for over four decades.

As prospecting ramped up, some rich drift (small pieces of gold in gravel) was panned along McGinty Brook.

The 1893 annual report of the Department of Mines described West Caledonia as a “new mining district lately discovered…The principal owner, Michael McGinty, lives near, and would prefer to sell to practical men who would be able to work it successfully.”

Before the turn of the century, a 55-foot shaft was sunk on the Blue Lead, a gold-bearing quartz vein.

One of Nova Scotia’s most successful historical prospectors, Walter Henry Prest (1856-1920), worked in West Caledonia in 1908 and 1909. His scientific, innovative approaches to prospecting often gave him unique insights into gold deposits and this was the case at West Caledonia.

Up until the time Prest worked there, prospectors at West Caledonia assumed that the drift, which is gold eroded from bedrock gold deposits, had come from the north, carried by a glacier as it moved south during the last ice age. Prospectors therefore assumed that they should look for the bedrock veins to the north, the direction from which the glacier came.

After examining the area, Prest determined that much of the drift had been reworked by a stream flowing into the area from the southwest. In other words, the drift had been carried south by the glacier but much of it had subsequently been carried towards the northeast by a stream. He deduced this because in about 1902, a small gold-bearing boulder was found wedged into a crack on the south side of a larger boulder. He later wrote, “As this piece of ore could not have been thrust in from the north I was convinced that this portion of the gold bearing drift came from the south.”

Tracing drift back to the bedrock deposit it eroded from is a key prospecting method, so it is essential to understand the direction from which drift came. Prest’s insight gave him a better understanding of the area and allowed him to find a rich gold-bearing vein 100 feet to the southwest. He believed further finds in the area simply required additional capital.

The “old stream,” as Prest called it, was a geological mystery that needed to be unravelled because it no longer exists. Prest concluded that the stream had become a small pond that was filled in by rocks and sand, and later, by leaves, sticks, waterplants and shells. He said it eventually became “swamp muck” and peat, and that grass and trees grew over it.

In 1932, Frank V. Kempton started prospecting in the same area Prest had worked. He sank two shafts but conditions made the work expensive and difficult. There were about 15 feet of overburden (the dirt on top of the bedrock) that had to be dug through before reaching bedrock. The area was also low-lying and boggy, so flooding in the shafts was a challenge.

In 1933, Kempton put down two diamond-drillholes to depths of 351 and 240 feet using a Department of Mines drill rig. He asked the provincial government for a grant to do more drilling ($505 to pay the drill operator) but was turned down.

In 1934, A. E. Ford and Horace McClare dewatered the Blue Lead shaft and their team of six men did some tunnelling. However, they produced only 1.5 ounces of gold that year.

In 1935, a trench 110-feet long was dug but no gold was found. Work stopped in November as winter set in. Only 0.7 ounces of gold were produced, the second year in a row that the operation would have lost money. The area has not been worked since.

In total, four or five gold-bearing quartz veins were found and mined at West Caledonia, including the Blue Lead, which was two inches wide, and the McGinty Lead, a highly mineralized vein about eight inches in width.

According to a Nova Scotia government database, 21 shafts of varying sizes are known to have been dug in the area around McGinty Lake, all but two of them to the west of it, inside the park.

The mines are now part of Kejimkujik which was established as a National Park in 1969. The Gold Mines Trail is a family-friendly walk through the gold mining area that includes historical artifacts and educational signage that explains the prospecting and mining that took place there.

See the story of how Walter Prest discovered the Blockhouse gold mine using an innovative method called drift prospecting: