Kennington Cove Talc

Some of Nova Scotia’s most beautiful parks and protected areas contain former mines and quarries – including the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Park!

A deposit believed to be talc was found at Kennington Cove on Gabarus Bay in 1895. The site is about four miles south of Louisbourg and today, the former mine is part of the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Park.

Most records refer to the mine being at Kennington Cove but it was more specifically at Landing Cove by Soapstone Brook. The words soapstone and talc are sometimes used interchangeably in historical records because soapstone is mainly comprised of talc. Talc is the softest mineral and “soapstone” refers to the rock’s softness, which makes it feel soapy.

William Todd of Louisbourg discovered the deposit. On September 5, 1895, he wrote to James H. Austin who worked at the Crown Lands Office: "I am one of those who have leased that Property for mineral purposes. Talc or soapstone is the mineral I have struck and I know some parties would like to get hold of it.”

Perhaps trying to get Austin to expedite the paperwork, Todd implied that doing so would benefit Austin’s brother: “I am anxious to get it settled as I promised your brother at Whycocomagh that as soon as I got things fixed here, I would go back there for a few days and examine a gold property which he knows of, and which he and I have been talking about all last Winter. Now that Grant not being issued is causing my delay here, and keeping me from going to see the Gold property. Now I hope you will do what you can to get this thing fixed as soon as possible, and please don't forget to tell me who wrote the letter objecting to the Crown Grant.”

Todd dug two shafts on the property, about 450 feet apart, in the couple years that followed. The main shaft was 25 feet deep and so close to Soapstone Brook’s eastern edge that brook water seeped into the shaft.

The second shaft was west of Soapstone Brook. It was about 5x10 feet, and 60 feet deep. Short tunnels were dug from the bottoms of both shafts.

The deposit outcrops on the shore at Landing Cove but can only be seen “during low water on an extreme spring tide,” according to a June 1938 government memo.

John A. Church, a mining engineer from New York, visited the mine while Todd was working it and reported back to the company that hired him to assess it that, “I consider this an unusually large and important deposit of talc of the best quality.”

Church also clarified that the deposit was alumina silicate, which has geological similarities to talc but is a different mineral: “I speak of the material in this vein as ‘Talc’ because it will serve all the purposes for which Talc is used, but is not Talc in the mineralogical sense. It occurs in a wide exposure of stratified felsitic rocks and black shale composed mainly of silicate of alumina, and true Talc is a silicate of magnesia….Commercially, the question is not important. The uses to which Talc is put are not dependent on its composition but upon its physical condition, softness, capacity for fine pulverization, lustre and color, and in all these respects the vein at Louisbourg supplies material of the best quality. The average run of the vein will rank as No. 1 and if an extra grade is warranted the softer portions can be sorted, and ground to a powder as fine a quality as any mine can produce.”

In May 1938, T. B. McAllister had cleaned out the main shaft and repaired it. He placed a winch over the shaft and a considerable pile of waste rock was nearby. (In mining, the term “waste rock” means rock leftover from extraction and processing, not that there is anything wrong with the rock.)

McAllister’s work can be seen in the picture below that was taped to the 1938 memo. The tape is visible in the scan of the document.

Several pieces of the best ore were taken from the waste rock pile in 1938 and sent to Hugh S. Spence at Ottawa’s Department of Mines for testing. Spence had requested samples that spring and later discussed the site in his 1940 report about talc and soapstone deposits across Canada. However, he also pointed out that it was alumina silicate.

In November 1943, about 25 pounds of samples were taken from the waste rock pile and sent to T. A. Klinefelter in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Klinefelter was in charge of the clay section of the United States Department of Interior’s Bureau of Mines.

(A bit of trivia: a 1915 report from Ottawa’s Department of Mines, called “A List of Canadian Mineral Occurrences,” lists the Kennington Cove deposit as being in both Cape Breton and Annapolis County, an administrative error that lives on in history!)

Talc’s softness makes it useful in a wide range of consumer and industrial products, such as cosmetics, baby powder, paint, paper, lubricants, ceramics, rubber, plastics and foods.

Kennington Cove is where 4000 New Englanders, aided by the British Navy, landed for the first siege of Louisbourg in 1745. British General James Wolfe and his men also landed there in 1758 at the beginning of the second siege of Louisbourg.

Kennington Cove is named after a British naval ship, the HMS Kennington, which took part in the 1758 siege.