Killag Gold District

We love a good treasure hunt story!

Gold-bearing quartz boulders were discovered in the area east of the Killag River in Sheet Harbour between 1865 and 1868. The large amounts of gold in the boulders triggered a search to find the veins the boulders came from.

Leopold Burkner, a German who immigrated to Nova Scotia at the beginning of our first gold rush in the early 1860s, was among the first to search for the gold’s source. Burkner, who was also very active in the Waverley, Mount Uniacke and Caribou gold districts, took into Killag everything he needed to build a 10-stamp mill but after searching unsuccessfully for months, he took the mill back out again without ever having erected it.

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, more rich boulders were found. Peter Dunbrack and some associates staked 95 claims, built a 5-stamp mill and spent $12,000 over three years in the search, but never found the gold.

It was not until 1889, after five years of prospecting, that George W. Stuart decided the source of the gold boulders was under the swamp that underlies much of the area. Stuart’s hunch was born of long experience – over the years he worked in several of Nova Scotia’s gold districts, including Caribou, Goldenville, Montague and Wine Harbour.

Stuart made several unsuccessful attempts to sink shafts in the swamp, but finally, by means of caissons, Mr. Stuart succeeded in reaching bedrock after passing through 25 feet of peat, quicksand, and boulders. (A caisson is a watertight chamber, open at the bottom, from which the water is kept out by air pressure and in which construction work may be carried out under water.)

After continuing the shaft 35 feet into the bedrock and then digging a 60-foot horizontal tunnel, Stuart finally found the gold-rich vein, now known as the Stuart lead. Some ore was extracted but in 1890 the property was sold to a Boston syndicate led by H. S. MacKay. The Old Provincial Mining Company, as it was called, dug another shaft and built a 10-stamp mill. In December 1890, 51 ounces of gold were recovered from 45 tons of quartz, and during the first nine months of 1891, another 354 ounces were recovered from 378 tons.

In 1896, under the leadership of D. S. Turnbull who had taken over running the operation two years earlier, 123 ounces of gold were recovered from 20 tons of ore, a remarkable return.

In 1897, the Flat Lead was discovered and exploited by sinking the Hall Shaft. Around this time, Robert Hall prospected the area north of the workings and found a few sites with rich drift (gravel with flakes of gold in it). A shaft was dug at one of these sites and 4.12 ounces per ton or ore were produced – another impressive result. The exact location of this shaft has been lost to time.

In 1899 the Little Klondike Shaft was sunk by A. Clattenburg west of the Old Provincial Mine site. Ore from it was crushed at the Old Provincial Gold Mining Company’s mill.

The district was then idle until 1909-10 when M. J. O’Brien produced 59 ounces from the Little Klondike. Work then stopped again.

Activity restarted in 1925 when G. A. Cameron sank the Cameron Shaft somewhere between the Hall and Little Klondike Shafts. The exact location of the shaft is no longer known.

In 1929 George W. Stuart, who made the original discovery of the gold deposit under the swamp, prospected the area of Black Duck Lake about one kilometre east of the Killag mines. He found several sites with rich drift near the southeast end of the lake and in the valley of Grant River.

Stuart solved the original Killag mystery but he failed to solve the second one – the source of this drift has never been found, but it is believed to originate from veins other than those worked in the Killag mines.

From 1930-1951, small-scale mining continued sporadically at Killag by a number of operators.

In total, 3,504 ounces of gold were produced at Killag.

In the modern era, exploration has taken place at Killag on and off since the 1970s. Like many of Nova Scotia’s historical gold mining districts, it has the potential to be returned to production and to create jobs for Nova Scotians.