Lansdowne/New Lairg

In 2002, exploration at a historical copper mine in Pictou County led to a discovery the prospectors were not expecting – evidence of a murder.

An 1899 report in the Industrial Advocate newspaper said many claims had been staked around Lansdowne/New Lairg after the discovery of a copper deposit. Gold and silver had also been found in assays (metallurgical tests).

There were high base metal prices due to the needs of the Boer War (1899-1902), so the Copper Crown Mining Company hastily dug two tunnels into a hillside, following mineralized outcrops back into the hill. The first tunnel was 18 metres long with a chamber dug about 12 metres from surface. The second tunnel was 9 metres further up the hill than the first, and 24 metres in length.

A third tunnel, 180 metres north of the other two, was driven 42 metres into the hill and a shaft was dug from the top of the hill to connect with this third tunnel. The shaft was vertical for the first 12 metres but inclined for the next 23 metres. The shaft did not connect with the tunnel as planned - an additional 122 metres of shaft would reportedly have been needed to make them connect.

In total, about 730 tonnes of ore were shipped by rail from the New Lairg workings to a small smelter in Pictou before weak base metal prices following the Boer War caused the mine to close.

There has been exploration at the site on and off since the 1950s but little significant activity.

However, exploration work did result in an important discovery - of a body at the bottom of a mine shaft. According to police reports, it was a person who went missing in 1983, nineteen years before his remains were found by the prospectors.

After the discovery, the RCMP asked a government geologist whether a big rock they found inside the mine had originated there. (This is an unusual application of geologists’ expertise – investigating a murder – but yet another example of how important geological science is.) The RCMP would not reveal any information but geologists wondered if the rock had been used to weigh the body down in water at the bottom of the shaft.

To determine whether the rock was from the mine or had been brought there from elsewhere, a geologist would consider factors such as: Is it the same type of rock as the mine? Is the rock angular and fresh (i.e. blasted from a rock face in recent history) or does it show signs of having been exposed to the elements for a long time (i.e. has it been smoothed by weathering over many years or eroded by travelling on or under a glacier?)

The case is apparently still open so anyone with information that might be helpful should contact the RCMP.

The Lansdowne copper deposit is one of many created along the Cobequid-Chedabucto Fault System by the collision of Europe and Northern Africa 400 million years ago.

The heat and pressure caused by two tectonic plates colliding and rubbing against each other for millions of years caused earthquakes and melted rocks in Earth’s crust. It also caused the concentration of many minerals. There are hundreds of known mineral deposits in the area, many of which were mined.

The only thing in the mine today is bats. The mine was sealed after the body was found in 2002 but a pipe was left to give bats access to the first tunnel. Historical mine shafts often provide an important habitat for Nova Scotia’s bats during winter hibernation. Bats need very specific environmental and climatic conditions and need to be in a place where they are undisturbed during the winter.

Why do mine shafts make for perfect winter hibernation sites for bats? For winter hibernation, bats require:

• 100% relative humidity
• areas that do not flood
• areas with no wind or air movement
• baffling from outside, so that if there is a temperature change it is gradual
• complexity of habitat - so they can select, at any given time, spots that meet their immediate roosting requirements; and
• protection from predators (including people) - that is why total darkness is best