Mill Village

It turns out that if you leave gold lying around unguarded, people might help themselves to it! At least that was the experience of some miners in Mill Village decades ago.

Gold was discovered in Mill Village, Queens County, around 1885 by Saul Newell, a Mi’kmaq who hunted in the area.

He spent several years smashing quartz veins to extract gold-bearing quartz. Much of his effort focussed on a 16-inch-wide vein that reportedly produced 6-10 ounces of gold per ton, an excellent output in an era when one ounce per ton was considered very good. The location of this rich vein was later lost, and subsequent prospectors spent years trying to find it again.

Newell’s success drew attention from others. B. H. Porter and G. W. Goddard from Bridgewater started prospecting in the area in 1886 and found several veins, but 20-feet-thick overburden (the dirt on top of the bedrock that had to be dug through) made prospecting expensive and difficult. They dug a total of 300 feet of trenches and tunnels before giving up.

Other prospectors also found small, gold-bearing veins in the years that followed.

In 1889-90, legendary Nova Scotia prospector Walter H. Prest (1856-1920) tried to find Newell’s 16-inch vein. Working with Captain William Cashon of Bridgewater, Prest found a small vein but it was under too much overburden to be extracted economically and he quit the area.

Efforts to again find the 16-inch vein continued but thick overburden remained a significant challenge – the cost and effort of digging through 20 or 30 feet of dirt often made the search impractical.

Still, the search for Newell’s vein led to the discovery of a number of other smaller veins, including in 1898 when Jason Munroe found a 12-inch-wide vein. This discovery led to what would become known as the Gold Eagle Mine.

In 1899, the Gold Eagle Company was established to work the site. It quickly built a 10- stamp mill and sank two shafts. However, things did not go well for the company.

In 1910, Walter Prest shared his thoughts on how the Gold Eagle Company was managed: “With economical management this mine was a good proposition, but over-capitalization, that sure accompaniment of American management, killed it at birth. Where $50,000 to $100,000 would have been rewarded with a good dividend it bore a burden of $1,000,000. The promoters sold stock to their American friends and, as if that was not enough, a small find of very rich ore caused it to be recapitalized in 1900 at $2,000,000.”

The amount of money invested into the mine was more than could be justified by its profits and “hundreds of disappointed investors bewailed the dishonesty of Nova Scotia miners and mining men, and the general worthlessness of everything Nova Scotian.”

Gold Eagle’s mill burned down in 1902 and, despite its significant capitalization, the company could not afford to replace it, so its time in Mill Village came to an end.

While many companies struggled to raise capital, some, like Gold Eagle, spent more than was sensible. Prest believed this “only created a feeling of distrust in Nova Scotia gold mines among capitalists abroad but it has discouraged home investment, and our own people practiced in economy in everything they undertake imagine that where foreign skill (and extravagance) has failed it is no use for them to try.”

While his view of foreign capital is unnecessarily negative – a small jurisdiction like Nova Scotia needs investment from outside its borders to fund job-creating projects in many industries - Gold Eagle’s results suggest that Prest was right that the mine could have operated profitably with lower expenses. During its two years of operation, the Gold Eagle mine produced 778 ounces of gold from 1149 tons of ore. Many historical Nova Scotia gold mines were viable with production in that range.

In 1916, D. M. Thompson found a quartz vein with visible gold about 520 metres southwest of the Gold Eagle mine and opened the Thompson mine. He reportedly extracted 30 tons of ore in the next several years. Thompson continued to work in the district into the 1930s.

Mining and prospecting continued in Mill Village until the late 1940s, but only intermittently and on a small scale. The last historical operator was James Kenmey and his partner, E. A. Vacheresse, who worked at the Mersey Paper Company in Liverpool.

Kenmey, a geologist with mining company Noranda, joined the Navy in 1940. In 1944, he was stationed in Halifax where he met Vacheresse. Because Kenmey was a “mining man,” as Vacheresse put it, he was studying Nova Scotia’s geology and wanted to visit as many mines as possible, regardless of whether they were operating. The two men toured about ten mines on January 1, 1945, and found showings of gold while looking through waste rock dumps in Mill Village.

K-V Mines, as they called their company, spent the months following pumping out various old mine shafts and looking for gold. In June 1945, they sent a half-ton sample of quartz to the Nova Scotia Technical College for milling. It produced $903 worth of gold, sufficient incentive to keep working.

They hired a miner to work with Kenmey and Vacheresse joined them when he could. They did small-scale extraction but did not have a decent mill for processing the ore or other necessary equipment. They were losing half of the gold in the milling process, so they stopped milling and focussed again on mining.

In late fall 1945, they had about 15 tons of ore – some of the quartz pieces were so large that it took two men to lift them – but no way to mill it. So, they left the ore in bins at surface, planning to mill it in the spring.

There was not enough room in the old mine buildings so one bin of ore was left outside. Vacheresse described what happened: “Everyone going past must have had a hammer because, by spring, there was not a piece of quartz larger than six inches square and not one nugget to see except on [the] dump where they had rolled a piece out of [the] bin, and broke it up taking out large nuggets….”

In 1946, between four and seven men were employed at the mine at different times but the operators continued to struggle to find decent equipment. They eventually got three stamps on an old 5-stamp mill in working order, but the months of August-October 1946 were so dry that they were not able to operate the mill steadily, water being essential to the process.

They appealed to the provincial government for help, saying: “there is no work for men at Mill Village due to Pulp Mill burning down in September.” However, the government turned them down.

They did not do any mining in 1947 but milled 60 tons of previously extracted ore, producing only 6.3 ounces of gold. No substantive work was done after that. (Kenmey passed away from a heart ailment in 1955 at the age of 38 after making a fortune in uranium in Ontario.)

In total, the Mill Village gold district produced 910 ounces from 1901 on, the period for which records are available.

Since then, Mill Village has seen intermittent exploration because mining there, as with many historical Nova Scotia gold districts, did not end because the resource was depleted. Other factors were often the cause of gold mines shutting down, including inefficient historical mining and milling techniques, lack of capital (or too much in the case of Gold Eagle!), lack of access to inexpensive electricity, challenges associated with transporting equipment and supplies through the wilderness, and lack of labour.

Historical gold districts like Mill Village are therefore seen as having potential to be returned to production in the modern era since all of the above challenges are now easily addressed. 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.