Love and Gold in Oldham

Edward Whidden and Henry N. Reeves found gold in Oldham, but their children found love!

Gold was discovered in Oldham, northeast of Halifax airport, in 1861 by Edward Horne and Samuel Isner. The pair had noticed a large quartz boulder in the woods on hunting trips. They saw gold in it and triggered a local gold rush that resulted in Oldham gold mines being some of the most productive in Nova Scotia (

Whidden and Reeves were gold miners who worked in Oldham and other historical Nova Scotia gold districts in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They both often worked as tributers - miners who leased mines from their owners and worked them.

A 1903 memo written for the Oldham Sterling Gold Company, which controlled the Oldham mine (aka Sterling property) at that time, included Whidden’s thoughts on the area’s potential. Whidden had been hired as the company’s underground foreman after being, according to the memo, “the only one who has been allowed to tribute on the Sterling property for many years past.”

Discussing the two-dozen gold-bearing quartz veins (leads) that were known to cross the Sterling property, Whidden wrote, “In the year 1870, I worked contract work for the Sterling Company on the Frankford and Harrison leads…After the Sterling Company gave up operations the Tributors got as high as seven ounces to the ton,” meaning seven ounces of gold per ton of ore, an excellent output in an era when successful mines usually averaged less than once ounce per ton.

Whidden wrote that he was paid “$1.60 per ton to mine and put quartz on the surface” of the Harrison lead. He also worked “the Hall lead on the Sterling property and got crushing stuff that gave 5 to 7 oz. to the ton.”

Whidden commented that fellow miners “Hardman and Taylor worked the Dunbrack lead on the south and they informed me that they got as high as 168 oz. to the ton.” 168 ounces of gold per ton is an extraordinary yield and an example of Oldham having some of the richest leads in Nova Scotia. Whidden also commented that the Blue lead produced as much as 30 ounces per ton.

Whidden wrote that the Sterling property was “one of the best gold properties in Nova scotia. All that is required to make it a first class paying proposition is some capital to erect a plant and open up the different leads.”

A letter from Henry N. Reeves, pictured below in 1912 in Oldham, was also included in the 1903 memo, discussing his knowledge of the area. (In the memo, the letter is actually attributed to “F. N. Reeves,” but the “F” is almost certainly a typo since only Henry Reeves’ life matched the details in the letter, such as having lived in Oldham for the previous 25 years.)

Henry Reeves, from Dartmouth, went to Boston at the age of 16 to learn the trade of cabinet-making. He fought in the Union Army in the last year of the Civil War, replacing his married brother who had been drafted. He returned to Nova Scotia in 1866 during the province’s first gold rush and spent the rest of his life prospecting. He died in 1927 at the age of 87.

The memo quotes Reeves saying, “I have lived here steadily for 25 years and before that I tributed with Henry F. and T. V. Donaldson on properties in Oldham for years and we did well.”

Reeves said, “The Quartz we got out of this [Hall] lead ran as high as forty (40) oz. to the ton. We had a dividend for one month’s work of two thousand dollars. There were four (4) of us and we had five hundred dollars each, over and above all expenses. It paid us well from start to finish for two years when water finally drove us out. We had no pump or steam.”

A gold miner’s wages in the late 1800s were about $1-$1.50 per day, so $500 in one month was an excellent profit.

Reeves also said parts of the Britannia lead “ran from 15 oz to 30 oz. to the ton….”

Of the Dunbrack lead, he wrote, “We discovered the east end of this lead where Hardman and Taylor’s works are. We worked it for six months when our lease expired and the owner of the area refused to renew it. This lead deeper down gave from three (3) to one hundred (100) oz. to the ton. It was worked by Hardman and Taylor continuously for several years and an immence [sic] quantity of gold is said to have been taken from this lead. The lead dips on to and will cross two or three areas on the Sterling property adjoining. It was claimed that Hardman and Taylor worked over the line on to the Sterling areas and were stopped by the Sterling people. Hardman and Taylor then ceased operations.”

Reeves also wrote, “I worked on this lead [North Wallace] a number of years all alone and made it pay…It is a very easy lead worked. It has given 4 oz. to the ton.”

While Whidden and Reeves were earning their livings mining gold, they were also raising families and living next door to each other in Oldham at the time of the 1891 census.

Whidden had eight children and Reeves had at least two. Two of their kids – Whidden’s daughter, Effie, and Reeves’ son, Frank – were 17 and 18 years old respectively in 1891. Effie and Frank married on September 30, 1896, in Oldham and had at least four children, according to

We like to think their wedding rings were made of Oldham gold.

Frank followed in his father’s footsteps and became a miner.

For centuries, the mining and quarrying industry has played an important role in building Nova Scotia by providing essential materials and creating jobs that support families. Today, the industry employs over 3000 Nova Scotians and is the highest-paying resource industry in the province. Our average annual total compensation (wages and benefits) is $102,000 per year.

An unusual accident took place in Oldham in 1938 – an explosion of gas at the Avon gold mine. See the story at