Little Narrows

The biggest truck in Nova Scotia is this 200-ton haul truck at Cape Breton’s Little Narrows gypsum quarry.

Despite how it may seem, mines and quarries use big vehicles to reduce fuel consumption. It is often more fuel-efficient to haul one big load than a bunch of small ones using smaller trucks. Reducing fuel consumption is good for the environment and reduces operational costs. Mining companies carefully track and analyze fuel consumption to ensure they use as little as necessary.

Still, this truck is a big one by Nova Scotia standards. Most haul trucks at our mines and quarries are in the 50- to 100-ton range.

When we describe a truck by its weight, we are referring to both the approximate weight of the vehicle and its capacity. That means the 200-ton truck weighs about 400 tons when fully loaded (200 tons for the truck itself and 200 tons for the gypsum it carries).

The Little Narrows gypsum quarry started production in 1936. Labour and transportation shortages during WWII caused it to close temporarily from 1943-45 but it otherwise operated continuously until 2016 when the lingering effects of the 2009 economic downturn caused it to close.

Gypsum’s main use is in wallboard and with fewer new homes being built after the collapse of the US housing market, there was less demand for wallboard and less need to produce Nova Scotia gypsum.

Wallboard was invented in the United States in 1918. Plaster made from gypsum was sandwiched between two sheets of paper and within ten years, large scale production was revolutionizing the construction industry.

Today, wallboard is used in most buildings. An average home has about seven tons of gypsum in its walls. Most walls in Nova Scotia contain gypsum quarried in the province.

Safety is the main reason gypsum is in wallboard. Gypsum is 21% water at the molecular level so it slows the spread of fire and helps save lives.

Below are pictures of a reclaimed part of the quarry. It is an example of "progressive reclamation," meaning we reclaim areas where extraction is complete while continuing to mine elsewhere on site. Mining makes temporary use of land and then reclaims it so it can be used for other purposes.

The bones of a mastodon were found at Little Narrows in 2014, one of several mastodons that have been found in Nova Scotia quarries (

Little Narrows was once known as the Straits of Sheila after an Irish woman who lived on MacNevin’s Island, just north of the strait. It is said that she was a member of an aristocratic family in Ireland. The old Mi’kmaq name was Twailketc, meaning “little opening” or “outlet.”