Lower Seal Harbour

In Lower Seal Harbour, Guysborough County, a Golden Stair led to the discovery of gold!

The Golden Stair was a line of boulders that contained gold-bearing quartz. It was found on the barrens behind the settlement in the 1860s and it extended for about two miles, from the harbour near Cook's Cove to Seal Harbour Lake. The boulders were so rich that the name "Golden Stair" was given to the unusual geological formation.

Despite this obvious sign of a gold deposit in the area, prospectors failed for years to find the source of the gold-bearing boulders.

At one point Messrs. Penrose and Robert McNaughton found a gold-bearing quartz vein at the head of Seal Harbour Lake, built a rock crusher and did some development work.

However, it was not until October 1904 that Percy J. White discovered the main lode in a 70-foot trench when he followed several veins discovered by McNaughton and found that they were part of a larger belt of veins.

White’s discovery was close to the boundary line between his property and that of G. J. Partington to the west. Almost immediately after White’s discovery, Partington discovered the same ore body on his side of the line.

In 1905, two companies were working, the Beaver Hat Gold Mining Company and the Seal Harbour Mining Company.

The Beaver Hat Gold Mining Company, mainly funded with capital from Sydney and Glace Bay and working Percy White’s property, sank a shaft 55 feet and dug several tunnels off it. The company also built a 5-stamp mill to process the ore. (Stamp mills were large machines that crushed gold-bearing rock, the first step in the process of separating gold from the quartz in which it is usually found. Learn more about stamp mills at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/cow-bay-gold-district).

The Seal Harbour Mining Company, run by G. J. Partington, sank a 65-foot shaft just a few feet west of the boundary line separating the two companies’ properties and drove a tunnel south from the 35-foot level. The company also sank another shaft 70 feet to the west and connected it to the first shaft via tunnel. A 10-stamp mill and Wilfley concentrator were also built.

Both companies continued work in 1906 but ran into troubles. Beaver Hat sank a new 100-foot shaft and did some tunnelling, but little production resulted. Seal Harbour Mining employed 35 men early in the year but operations ceased in May and the mine was allowed to fill with water.

In 1907, Beaver Hat employed 20 men and produced 625 ounces of gold using a new 10-stamp mill. In 1908, the mine produced another 624 ounces but shut down in May.

The Seal Harbour Mining Company’s mine was taken over by the Seal Harbour Leasing Company. Dan McAskill, who had had worked as Partington’s foreman, managed the mine for the company. 1741 ounces were produced in 1911 but only 117 ounces in 1912. Another 132 ounces were produced in 1915 but then work stopped.

In 1927, the Victoria Gold Mines Ltd. took over Percy White’s property and sank a new 100-foot shaft. The company did considerable tunnelling in 1928 but produced little.

From about 1936-42, the area was active again. Seal Harbour Gold Mines Ltd. worked the old properties and produced 12,806 ounces of gold. One sad note from that period was that Bertram Cooke, a hoistman, was killed on September 27, 1941. He was struck across the chest by a heavy steel cable when an electric hoist clutch band broke. The cable pierced his heart and killed him almost instantly. He was 43 years old and the son of ship captain Marcus Cooke. According to “History and stories of Isaac's Harbour & Goldboro” by Findlay Cooke, who is Bertram’s nephew, Bertram was one of the most popular men in the community and his funeral had the largest attendance of a funeral in the area for many years. He was buried in the Isaac Harbour Cemetery.

In total, Lower Seal Harbour produced 34,188 ounces of gold.

Like so many of Nova Scotia’s historical gold districts, Lower Seal Harbour has the potential to be returned to production and to create jobs for Nova Scotians. In fact, almost all the activity in Nova Scotia’s gold sector is at historical mines where deposits were proven during our early gold rushes but modern science and technology make it possible to mine profitably while, of course, taking proper care of the environment.

According to a 1929 report, Lower Seal Harbour has gold in both quartz veins and in the wallrock. (Wallrock is the rock the veins are hosted in, also known as country rock. In the picture below, which is from the Percy mine, the white strips are gold-bearing quartz veins and the wallrock is the dark rock around the veins.)

Having gold in the wallrock is a major advantage for a gold mine for two reasons. First, it increases the overall amount of gold available to be extracted. Second, it often means a deposit can be mined with a surface mine since gold disseminated throughout the rock can be extracted and milled relatively inexpensively from surface, compared to the challenge of chasing narrow veins in an underground mine. Underground mines are more expensive to operate than surface mines.

It is unusual for it to have been known a century ago that Lower Seal Harbour had disseminated gold in its wallrock. There were presumably small pieces of gold in the mine’s walls that were visible to the naked eye.

Today, many of Nova Scotia’s gold deposits have potential for gold in wallrock that was not visible to early miners. Modern science makes it possible to target this disseminated gold – tiny flecks, often microscopically small – as is being done today at the Moose River surface gold mine, which opened in 2017 and has proven to be one of the world’s most efficient and low-cost gold mines, partly because it has gold in the wallrock as well as in veins.