Monks Head

Several small sandstone quarries were worked in Monks Head, Antigonish County, at the time of the building of the Intercolonial Railway (1860s-1870s). The quarries also provided stone from time to time for local building in Pomquet and other communities in the vicinity.

According to a 1914 report, extraction took place in three areas on a hill on the properties of John Dolores and Alex Beaton – on the shore, on the road and top of the hill.

At the shore, a small amount of stone was extracted from a working face 6-8 feet tall.

Extraction by the road took place about a quarter of a mile further west, at an elevation of about 20 feet above the water.

The site on top of the hill was the most significant but it, too, was small and by the time of the 1914 report the workings were overgrown with vegetation.

The sandstone at Monks Head was not good enough quality to be used as fine building stone, which requires attractive, solid stone without faults in it. However, it was durable and some large blocks were extracted for building purposes. Some blocks eight feet long were still at the site in 1914.

There are countless small, historical quarries like these throughout Nova Scotia that helped build the province but about which little is known.

It was common historically for landowners to open small quarries to address their own needs or to provide relatively small amounts of stone for building in the local area. For example, a property owner might open a quarry on his land to get stone for building a home, a barn or rock walls. Farmers often quarried limestone because it sweetens soil (increases its pH) or gypsum because it is a fertilizer. (This is why farmers were the first to mine gypsum in Nova Scotia.)

Landowners could do this in the distant past because there were basically no environmental or safety regulations pertaining to quarrying – if you owned the land, you could quarry it.

Mining had more regulations than quarrying in the 1800s and early 1900s, but still very few and they were mostly focused on mineral ownership, claim staking and royalties – in other words, a legal framework for managing who mined and where they did it, not for addressing things like environmental impacts. This partly stemmed from the fact that minerals are owned by the Crown, so governments had good reason to regulate mining to protect their own interests.

Today, mines and quarries have substantively the same, very stringent regulatory regime. In the 1990s, Nova Scotia started doing environmental assessments and better-regulating industrial projects to protect the environment. A mine’s environmental assessment often takes 3-5 years and costs over a million dollars. It generates dozens of scientific studies and governments often ask for even more studies and data - proof of how stringently modern mining is regulated to protect the environment and how different standards are today from historical periods.