Leitches Creek

Silica from Leitches Creek was used to make bricks for the Sydney steel works.

The Leitches Creek silica quarry was 5.25 miles from Leitches Creek Station in Cape Breton County, according to a 1928 report by Nova Scotia’s Department of Mines. It was operated by the British Empire Steel Corporation.

White quartzite was the material mined during summer and fall each year. The quartzite was mostly comprised of silica (high quality sand) so when it was crushed, the end-product was silica.

In 1928, the quarry’s working face was about 140 feet long and an average of 22 feet high.

To extract the quartzite, holes were drilled into the working face with a steam drill, and occasionally using hand drills. Explosive was inserted into the holes and blasts freed the quartzite from the working face.

The material was then hauled by either “teams” (of horses or oxen) or trucks to Leitches Creek Station where it was dumped into a storage bin, loaded onto rail cars and shipped to the steel mill in Sydney.

The 1928 report said, “The quarry is in good condition for production and is thoroughly safe for working.”

At the steel mill, the silica was used as a key ingredient in bricks for the mill’s furnaces. The quartzite was first crushed down to pieces about 2.5 inches big. It was then further crushed down to powder and mixed with lime, which acted as a binder as the mixture was heated.

The silica/lime mixture was then “drawn, pressed into moulds, having been previously moistened enough to hold together. The moulds are removed leaving the bricks of various forms on the palate. After being air dried for twenty-four hours the bricks are taken into the drier where they remain another twenty-four hours, after which they are placed in the kiln and heated to approximately 2700 degrees F., cooled and placed in storage. The silica is used only at the plants of the Steel Co. in bricks of different shapes as required for the furnaces.”

The 1928 report said, “The silica obtained at the quarry is of good quality. Loss on ignition is practically nil.”