Mabou Mines

Coal mining in Mabou Mines, around what became known as Coal Mine Point, began in the 1860s.

In 1866, coal seams at the shoreline were prospected by J. E. Alymer, but no attempt was made to work them in a systematic manner.

From 1867 to 1890, there was no recorded production, but coal is believed to have been extracted from shoreline exposures for local use. For example, the annual Department of Mines report for 1887 indicates 100 tons were sold by W. J. Fraser and H. Ross.

In 1891, the Mabou Gypsum Company, run by a Mr. Rankin, opened the 7-foot coal seam and built a wharf. The previous year the company had started developing a gypsum quarry in the same area.

The Mabou Gypsum Company continued producing both coal and gypsum in 1892 but in 1893, a rock fall in the coal mine forced the company to abandon the workings and drive a new tunnel.

It is not known whether the Mabou Gypsum Company was still operating in 1894 because records indicate that the coal mine was only worked for 22 days and it recorded no gypsum production. There was also no production recorded by the company in 1895. It was around this time that a company called the Mabou Coal and Gypsum Company was liquidated, presumably the same firm, perhaps pushed into bankruptcy by the 1893 rock fall.

1,328 tons of coal were produced in 1896 but it is not known by whom, and there was no significant production in 1897 although a few tons were sold locally.

In 1898, William Penn Hussey’s Broad Cove Coal Company worked the site. Hussey was the driving force behind the Inverness coal mine that today is world-famous golf course, Cabot Links. (Hussey was a colourful figure. It is said that he had Inverness’ cliffs painted black to impress a potential Swiss investor – from a boat, it looked like the cliff was solid coal! See the story of the Inverness mine at

Hussey’s involvement at Mabou Mines was short-lived. R. P. Fraser took over in 1899 and proposed mining offshore – all work to date had been onshore but most Cape Breton coal has been mined from under the sea floor.

Fraser sold the property to American interests in 1901. The buyers were likely a syndicate from Cincinnati that was divested by the Gypsum Manufacturing Company of New York, which operated wallboard plants in Hastings, NY. The Cincinnati group focused on coal interests while the parent company continued to focus on gypsum and wallboard. It is estimated that the Gypsum Manufacturing Company spent about one million dollars in Mabou Mines to build a shipping port with accompanying rail infrastructure for coal and gypsum.

No production was recorded in 1902 but the Mabou Coal Mining Company extended the slope (decline tunnel) on the 7-foot seam and started a slope (later known as the #3 slope) on the “Big seam,” which presumably referred to the 15-foot seam. Ventilation for both slopes was provided by the old workings driven from the shoreline.

It was at this point that the mine began its most productive years. In 1903, 80 men were employed and 6,124 tons were produced. Development started on the 8-foot seam, which lies below the 7-foot seam. The two seams were separated by 14 feet at surface but grew closer at depth.

It is believed that both the 7- and 8-foot seams were worked in 1904 and 5,000 tons were produced. Operations stopped in July 1905, but the company kept the mine pumped out, ready to begin again.

In 1906, it is believed the company changed its name to the Mabou & Gulf Coal Company. 140 miners produced 17,112 tons, focusing on the 8-foot seam which was a better-quality coal. In fact, analysis showed that the 8-foot seam contained some of the best, if not the best, quality coal in Nova Scotia (1.13% sulphur and 2.34% ash).

A fire in February 1907 curtailed production and only 8,303 tons were produced.

In 1908, 19,250 tons were produced by August, the mine’s biggest year of production despite operating only eight months. However, operations shut down at that time and the mine was taken over by the Government of Nova Scotia in September. A financial crisis called the Bank Panic of 1907, which was particularly severe in New York, likely led to the company ceasing operations and surrendering the site to the government.

Operations restarted but stopped again on January 17, 1909, due to a flood in the mine.

Water flowing into the mine was first noticed at 9:00 a.m. that day. The flow in the early stages was estimated to be 1000 gallons per minute. To put that in perspective, the mine pumped out an average of 63,000 gallons of water in a 24-hour period during regular operations, so an inflow of 1000 gallons per minute would put into the mine in one hour roughly the same amount of water that could be pumped out in a day. The pumps were overwhelmed.

John A. Roy, who had been manager of the mine from 1902-05, examined the mine on January 18 and concluded that the inflow, which was sea water, was about 700 gallons per minute at that time, still a very high rate.

Measurements taken over six days determined that the ebb and flow of flooding in the mine roughly corresponded with the tide. The flooding did not rise and fall as much as sea levels - the mine water went up and down about one foot, while the tide varied by about four feet. Also, the high and low water points in the mine occurred a little after the high and low tide times, but there was clearly a link between the tide and the flooding.

Inspectors who studied the incident in 1913 concluded that the mine’s tunnel had insufficient rock cover – rock between the ocean floor and the roof of the tunnel – to prevent leaks of sea water into the mine. There was 110 feet of cover, which fulfilled the Coal Mines Regulation Act’s requirement at that time of a minimum of 100 feet, but it was clearly not enough. (Insufficient rock cover was also a problem at some other Cape Breton subsea mines, such as the Victoria mines:

The inspectors wrote that the geology in Western Cape Breton contained more faults than is the case in the coalfields on the eastern side of Cape Breton, and this was the likely reason that sea water was able to leak into the mine. (In geology, a fault is a fracture, or zone of fractures, between two blocks of rock. Faults are caused by geological forces like tectonic plate movement and they allow the blocks of rock to move relative to each other. The inspectors were saying that these cracks in the mine’s rock cover caused the flood.)

The inspectors went on to recommend against dewatering the mine to continue to operations in the same workings. They instead recommended mining one of the lower coal seams. They argued that mining below the flooded area would not be a safety issue and that it might be more feasible to safely dewater the flooded workings in future.

(In the same report, the inspectors also analyzed a mine flood that took place in Port Hood in 1911:

The flood was the beginning of the end for the mine. No work was reported in 1910 and for several years following, despite the Eastern Trust Company of Halifax taking it over in 1911. Eastern Trust had been the company appointed to liquidate the Mabou Coal and Gypsum Company around 1895, so Eastern Trust may have been performing a similar role after the 1909 flood forced the mine to shut down.

Eastern Trust eventually had some tunnelling done in 1917 and shaft-digging in 1918, but the workings were soon abandoned.

The Greenwood Coal Company drove a tunnel from the shoreline on the 15-foot seam in 1919 but work stopped again.

James R. Porter started a small operation in 1923 that was soon abandoned. Its location and the seam worked is unknown.

In 1948, the Margaree Steamship Company, which operated several mines in the Inverness area, started operations at Finlay Point with the sinking of two slopes. This was the first noteworthy development on the seams at this location, about 1.5 kilometres north of the main workings. The Margaree Steamship Company also sank two shafts at Coal Mine Point in 1949, one of which was abandoned because it encountered old workings. (Coal Mine Point was previously named Coalmine Point but the name was officially changed.)

By 1951, the Margaree Steamship Company had shifted its focus to the development of the Harbourview Mine at Port Hood and it abandoned the Mabou mine in 1954.

Some additional exploration and development work was done at the mine in the next decade but its days as a significant producer were done. In 1964, 447 tons were extracted by the Scotian Coal Company, the last recorded production from the Mabou Mines area.