Hardwood Lands

Sand from East Hants helps make the runways at Halifax’s airport safe in winter.

On roads and highways, sand and salt are both used to improve winter driving conditions and save lives, each of them working differently.

Sand is put down on top of ice and snow to give drivers more traction.

Road salt helps keep snow from freezing to pavement by dissolving in water and creating brine that has a lower freezing temperature than pure water. This makes it easier to plow snow off roads. All of Nova Scotia’s road salt comes from the Pugwash salt mine, which has been employing Nova Scotians and keeping us safe since 1959. 

At airports, however, salt is generally not used on runways because it is too corrosive to plane bodies and engines. It can act as a catalyst for rust.

Instead, sand is used in combination with de-icing chemicals that do not harm planes.

Sand used on runways and taxiways requires more testing and quality control than sand used on roads because of the safety concerns related to planes landing and taking off. Transport Canada specifications require that the sand must be “free from chlorides and corrosive materials” so it does not harm planes. It must have “a stable physical and chemical structure that is unaffected by water or the elements.”

The sand must be between 3.5 and 7 on the MOHS hardness scale. Friedrich Mohs, a German mineralogist, developed the scale in 1812 and geologists still use it to define the hardness of minerals from 1 (talc) to 10 (diamonds).

Sand used on runways in Canada must have a grain size that is not too big and not too small: “Very fine abrasives may cause erosion of turbine blades, and any material that is too coarse can cause damage to propellers or internal components of jet engines.”

Sand should also be dark in colour “To promote visual awareness and absorption of solar heat.”

All the sand used on runways and taxiways at Halifax Stanfield International Airport is from Shaw Resources’ pit in Hardwood Lands, East Hants.

The sand meets Transport Canada’s requirements and Shaw also puts the sand through a wash plant and drying plant, and then stores it out of the elements in a silo. This ensures the sand does not contain any moisture that might freeze or clump in the airport’s storage shed or in the spreader.

The Hardwood Lands pit was opened by Nova Scotia Sand & Gravel, a company established in 1954 for the primary purpose of supplying concrete aggregates for the construction of the Milford gypsum quarry, which is still the largest surface gypsum quarry in the world. Shaw purchased the majority of Nova Scotia Sand & Gravel’s shares in 1966 and became the full owner a few years later.

The Hardwood Lands sand deposit is a five-kilometre-long esker that formed some 20,000 years ago during the last ice age. Eskers form when sediment carried by glacial meltwater is deposited in tunnels under the ice. The result is a long, sinuous, steep-sided, narrow-crested ridge of sand and gravel that is often very pronounced in today’s landscape.

The picture below shows part of Shaw’s Hardwood Lands operation, including its automated package plant in the foreground, drying plants and various buildings and silos in the middle ground, and the red-roofed wash plant in the background.

Shaw produces numerous other sand products for use in ready-mix concrete, mortar for laying brick and block, the manufacture of concrete block, golf course bunkers, baseball diamond infields, bedding sand for livestock, septic leaching fields, roofing stone, play sand boxes and landscaping.

Most of Shaw’s sand comes from the Hardwood Lands pit and pits on nearby West Indian Road and in Coldbrook, Kings County.

The Shaw family, known for Nova Scotia companies such as Shaw Brick, Shaw Resources and Clayton Developments, operated the historical Shaw Plaster Quarry a few kilometres east of Avondale. See its story at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/shaw-quarries