Middle River Gold District

A broken-hearted Pennsylvanian came to Nova Scotia to mine gold and live alone in the woods after an “unfortunate love affair” back home. Here’s the story:

Two people - A farmer called Morrison and a J.G. McLeod – are credited in historical records with discovering gold in Middle River and they were each given free claims for the discovery. A free claim (no staking fees for 21 years) was awarded to the discoverer of gold in an area, but by definition there can’t have been two discoverers.

McLeod received his free claim in April 1864 and the area was declared a gold district in 1863, which suggests that Morrison was the true discoverer.

Another oddity in the records is that there are no recorded production figures until 1908, about 45 years after the discovery of gold in the area. That is likely due, at least partly, to the fact that Middle River was not a big producer, but it’s still unusual.

Panning for gold was the mining method for the first several years. Morrison was reputed to be one of the most successful in “washing out gold” from Second Brook, one of four tributaries that fed the river. Second Brook was always the main focus of mining activity at Middle River.

The first attempt at larger scale mining was made in 1867 by an American company. It constructed sluices near McLennan's Bridge, on the Margaree Road, washed the alluvium (gravel from the river) during the summer, but gave up because revenues did not cover expenses.

In 1870, a Mr. Wright and others tested all the brooks above McLennan's Bridge by means of cradles, sluices, and pans. They also started a shaft in the main river to reach bedrock, but an influx of water forced them to stop. The largest nugget found is said to have been worth $12-S15 (in 1870 dollars) but generally they ranged in value from 50 cents to $2.

In 1868, several auriferous (gold-bearing) veins were found and a crusher was built, but there are no records indicating whether it produced.

In 1902 the river gravel was worked by “Chinese” (records don’t indicate who this referred to).

Also in 1902, a Mr. W. C. Scranton mined the Lizard lode, a deposit in Second Brook, into which he drove a long tunnel. According to Cape Breton Magazine, Scranton was from Pennsylvania and he told friends that he came to Nova Scotia’s wilderness after an “unfortunate love affair at home.” He was described as “a pleasant, gentle man, distinguished by his good manners and fine penmanship.”

Despite his admirable penmanship, Scranton didn’t have the capital to operate a mine properly so the Great Bras d'Or Gold Mining Company entered the picture. It invested in more modern machinery, including a steam engine, crusher, stamp mill and concentrating table. After arriving in Nyanza by boat, the machinery was hauled by horse and wagon up West Middle River Road. A mine building was built along with an office, bunkhouse, cookhouse and other living quarters. Adits (tunnel entrances) were driven on the vein on both sides of Second Brook, an inclined shaft was dug to a depth of 140 feet, and mining took place on three levels.

Despite all that effort and expense, the Great Bras d'Or Gold Mining Company reportedly only produced three ounces of gold in 1906.

Mining continued in 1907 and 1908 and production improved. The miners went on strike in February 1908 after the company threatened to reduce wages. Miners were getting $2 per day at the time and the company cut pay by 25 cents for some of the men. In Nova Scotia style, they marched out to the tune of bagpipes played by Duncan MacKenzie of Margaree.

There was no crushing of ore done 1910-11 because the company had lost the lead. According to miners, the gold was usually in pockets and after one pocket ended, the company struggled to find the next one. The Great Bras d'Or Gold Mining Company shut down in mid-1914.

Mr. Scranton continued to live in his house near the mine, occasionally walking to Finlayson Post Office for supplies. In the early 1920s, when winter set in early and no on had seen Scranton for a while, Sandy MacLennan and Tom MacLean set out in snowshoes to check on him and found him sick and running low on food and kerosene. They helped him walk out of the woods and nursed him back to health. Scranton then moved to Baddeck where he died some years later. He never returned to Pennsylvania and that “unfortunate love affair.”

Exploration in Middle River occasionally took place from the 1950s-1980s but there was no actual mining.

Middle River produced a total of 1670 ounces of gold between 1908-1916. As above, records do not exist for years prior to 1908.

Today, like many former mines/quarries, the area is a lovely greenspace and trail.

Middle River’s Second Brook also has a platinum occurrence. As with gold, erosion of bedrock deposits of platinum can result in nuggets of the metals being released and deposited in stream sediments adjacent to where the bedrock deposits are found. That’s why Middle River had both underground gold mining and panning/washing: the gold was both in quartz veins underground and in river gravel.

Middle River could potentially be mined for platinum as well as gold, but the site is now part of a protected area which prevents it being used to create jobs for Nova Scotians.

While we support protecting natural lands, we also believe it’s important to create jobs and grow government revenues to pay for programs such as health and education. Protecting sites like the Middle River gold district, which were historically economic lands, limits our ability to create jobs for Nova Scotians.

Great Bras D'Or Gold Mining Co.'s crusher, 1912