Joe Cope and Goffs Tungsten

In 1918, Mi’kmaq prospector Joseph C. Cope, one of Nova Scotia’s best-known citizens, according to the Chronicle-Herald, discovered tungsten in Goffs, Halifax County.

Joe, as he was usually called, found the deposit when he was prospecting for arsenic. He noted scheelite, a mineral from which tungsten is often extracted, in several quartz veins at the site. Along with his brother, Isaac, and two “MacDonald Men,” Joe dug some trenches in the early 1920s but did not work the deposit further.

The site was then inactive until 1931 when Ralph E. Kirkpatrick, from Grand Falls, New Brunswick, and Lawrence MacKay, from Riverdale, Nova Scotia, were shown the site by one of the MacDonalds. They staked the area and the Kirkpatrick Tungsten Syndicate mined modest amounts of scheelite in the years that followed. Work continued at the mine intermittently for the rest of the decade.

In all, about three tons of concentrate was produced by milling the scheelite to extract the tungsten. In 1940, the concentrate was shipped to Welland, Ontario, likely for use by Atlas Steels, one of Canada’s largest steel companies and a provider of materiel for the war effort.

About one ton of lower grade concentrate was stored in powder boxes at the mine.

The property was examined in the early 1940s as part of an effort to find additional supply of tungsten to support the Allies in WWII, but most of the scheelite had already been extracted. A 1943 memo said, “Hardly a speck of scheelite is now visible in the exposed trenches and it was found that the ore of the best pocket pinched out after a few feet of [shaft] sinking.”

The good scheelite was in pockets that were too few and difficult to find to justify the expense of additional mining in Goffs.

Tungsten was a critical mineral during WWII. It was used as filaments in lightbulbs and, because it is the metal with the highest melting point (3,422 °C), in plane engines and munitions. Tungsten is often mixed with other metals to make alloys that have high temperature tolerance, high corrosion resistance and excellent welding properties. Today, these superalloys are used in the aerospace and automotive industries in things like airplane turbine blades and wear-resistant parts and coatings.

When he passed away in 1951 at the age of 93, Joe Cope was described in the Chronicle-Herald as “one of Nova Scotia’s oldest and most widely-known citizens.” According to the newspaper, “During his early years, Joe, and his brother Isaac, travelled throughout the province prospecting for gold and other valuable minerals.”

Cope is also said to have been the first professional Mi’kmaq photographer. According to Harry Piers (1870-1940), curator of the Provincial Museum (now called the Nova Scotia Museum), Cope “took many photographs, during 2 or 3 years, including many portraits of Indians, who were bad pay. When he could not afford to buy chemicals for his work, he gave it up.” (Please note that the word “Indian” is not considered appropriate today but we use it here to be true to the original texts. The word “Micmac” also appears below for the same reason.)

Piers said, “Joe Cope was well-educated and could write well. For a time he was employed in [the railway] baggage-room in Halifax. He now is camping 6 or 7 miles above Bridgewater, being now interested in prospecting for minerals. No doubt he was born at Dartmouth.”

Piers also wrote that in 1916, during WWII, he received from Cope “a letter and drawings describing a device for guiding bombs dropped from aeroplanes, which he had devised, and which he had constructed a demonstration piece of apparatus. He says, ‘I am one of your Halifax Micmac Indians, unfortunately too old to shoulder musket to defend my King and Country, but if my idea or invention is of any use, I will gladly offer it to my King and Country free of charge.’”

Piers sent Cope's letter and drawings “to the Comptroller of Munitions Inventions, London, England; and on 6 April the Comptroller sent to Cope a long and appreciative letter, which also pointed out in detail the weak points in Cope's device.”

Joe Cope was the son of Peter Cope, who had, according to the Chronicle-Herald, “journeyed to England to see Queen Victoria shortly before Confederation to settle Indian troubles.” Piers wrote that Peter Cope “once went by himself to England to see the Queen, but was not able to meet her, only catching a glimpse of her as she passed in a carriage.” It was rare for people to travel such long distances in that era so Peter Cope’s journey to England was remarkable, though unsuccessful in achieving its goal of meeting the Queen.