Moose River’s Touquoy Mine

The story of Moose River's Touquoy gold mine has its roots in the 1860s, but it illustrates how modern mining is completely different from what it was historically, and the exciting economic potential of Nova Scotia’s historical gold mines.

Gold was first discovered in Moose River in 1866 by some lumbermen who were blasting rock from the river.

Interestingly, Halifax newspaper, the Critic, quoted the Truro News on September 8, 1893, saying the discovery was made by John Pulsifer and two men whose last names were Taylor. Pulsifer was one of the first prospectors to find gold in Nova Scotia, at nearby Mooseland, so it is likely that the newspapers conflated Moose River and Mooseland in attributing the Moose River discovery to him. There is no record of Pulsifer working in Moose River, but two men named Taylor did in the 1880s.

Despite the 1866 discovery having occurred during Nova Scotia’s first gold rush, Moose River did not immediately draw much attention. It was not until 1876-77 that a number of prospectors began working there seriously, including Damas Touquoy, a prospector from France whose name has been linked with the area ever since.

Relatively small-scale mining was done until 1881 when it looked like new investment would take activity to a new level. A company, likely the Moose River Gold Mining Company which was later also referred to as the Montreal Mining Company, bought several claims and installed a new, 20-stamp, steam-powered mill for processing ore, an air compressor and equipment for reprocessing tailings.

However, the company ceased operations in 1883, perhaps another example of the many historical gold mining companies that spent too much, too quickly, and did not generate sufficient revenue to be viable. The company’s properties were then worked by tributers for several decades.

Tributers were men who leased mines from their owners and worked them. They were common in Nova Scotia’s gold districts in the 1800s but were notorious for poor record keeping, low gold recovery and for paying little or no attention to safety and the environment. Because tributers did not own the mines, their focus was entirely short-term and they had no stake in the longer-term development of a mine or the community. The tribute system helped keep gold mining alive in lean years, but it was arguably not good for the industry overall.

Most historical gold mining in Nova Scotia focussed on gold-bearing (auriferous) quartz veins. In the province’s first gold rush, this meant digging shallow trenches and using hammers and chisels to smash quartz veins and extract them from their host rock. As mining became more sophisticated, the veins were followed underground through shafts and tunnels.

Most historical Nova Scotian gold miners focussed on finding visible gold nuggets in quartz, and either did not know how, or did not have the tools, to extract fine-grained gold that was also present in the quartz veins and/or the rock that hosted the quartz veins. Damas Touquoy, more sophisticated and visionary than most of his contemporaries, recognized that Moose River also had significant potential for fine-grained gold in host rock, also known as disseminated gold or invisible gold.

All gold on Earth formed billions of years ago in stars that over-heated and exploded. Gold formed in the heat of the explosions and gathered in clouds in space. The clouds eventually condensed, forming Earth 4.5 billion years ago and distributing gold around the planet. As a result, all rock contains at least some tiny amount of gold, but to mine it, we need a geological anomaly like a tectonic plate collision to form a deposit - to concentrate the gold so a mine is economically viable.

That is what happened: 400 million years ago, the tectonic plates that host North Africa and North America started colliding. Layers of horizontal sedimentary rock were crumpled into anticlines (domes) and synclines (troughs) - a series of rock waves. Fluid leached gold from rock deep underground and flowed into cracks in rock closer to surface, forming veins of gold-bearing quartz as the fluid eventually cooled and hardened. This is how most of Nova Scotia’s gold deposits formed.

In addition to auriferous quartz veins, some of Nova Scotia’s gold deposits also have tiny flecks of gold, often microscopically small, scattered throughout the rock that hosts the quartz veins. However, historical attempts to extract it were limited due to the rudimentary science of the day. Metallurgy - the science of separating metals from their ores, or host rock – is much more sophisticated and environmentally-friendly now.

Touquoy, who was ahead of his time, mined both quartz veins and fine-grained gold.

In addition to underground mining, he also did some extraction via “open cut” – what we call a surface mine today – which was not common in that era. The vast majority of historical gold mining was done in underground mines, but it was difficult and expensive work. In some exceptional cases, surface mines let historical miners access lower-grade ore but much more of it, making it a viable method.

It is still true today that underground mines are generally much more expensive to operate, and it is a big advantage when mineralization is close to surface so surface mining can be done. Today, most of Nova Scotia’s mines, including the modern Touquoy mine, are surface mines.

Mining in Moose River became intermittent in the 1900s, as it did in many of Nova Scotia’s historical gold districts. A particularly noteworthy event occurred in 1936 when the Moose River Disaster, and the story of three men trapped underground, gripped the world (

Historical mining in Moose River came to an end in the 1940s.

Moose River was explored on and off for decades afterwards. It was in the 1980s that exploration by Seabright Resources revealed the extent to which the area’s wall rock (the rock that hosts the quartz veins) contained fine-grained gold particles. The site’s combination of auriferous quartz veins and disseminated gold created an unusual opportunity for bulk mining: for a modern surface mine to extract the entire rock orebody and process it with sophisticated metallurgy.

The project passed through several owners in subsequent years before Atlantic Gold opened the modern Touquoy gold mine in 2017, on time and on budget. It was considered one of the lowest-cost, most efficient gold mines in the world in 2019, the year Atlantic Gold was bought by St. Barbara for $722 million.

The modern mine used several methods employed by Damas Touquoy in the 1800s, but which he was not able to fully implement because of the limited science and technology of his day. The modern mine extracted both quartz veins and disseminated gold, and did it via bulk surface mining.

The modern mine showed that Nova Scotia has greater potential for gold than was previously thought by many in the global mining industry. It disproved the stereotypical image of Nova Scotia’s gold deposits only containing gold in erratic, narrow quartz veins, that were difficult and expensive to mine and mill. It triggered a rush of exploration for gold in Nova Scotia.

The Touquoy mine completed extraction in 2023. Because it was the first historical Nova Scotian gold district to be fully worked again in the modern era, its extraordinary success is a case study in how modern gold mining can benefit Nova Scotians both economically and environmentally.

In the seven years during which it extracted gold, the mine created over 300 direct jobs and over 900 spinoff jobs. The average salary at the mine was $84,000 per year. It generated $7.4 million in provincial tax revenue, $3.7 million in municipal tax revenue, and $100 million in economic spinoffs to local businesses. The company donated $1.6 million to community and non-profit organizations.

Environmentally, the Touquoy mine is an excellent example of how modern mining is completely different from what it was historically.

The mine has the largest reclamation bond in Nova Scotia: $41.2 million. Before getting operating permits today, mining companies must get government approval of reclamation plans and post reclamation bonds (money in escrow, basically) that ensure funds are available to properly take care of sites. In fact, reclamation is a key part of the mining process today.

The mine remediated two historical mine sites and 61,000 tonnes of contaminated soil from past operations by digging them up and moving them into the modern mine’s tailings facility, where they can no longer interact with the environment.

96% of the water the mine used was recycled on-site, minimizing the amount it had to draw from local water sources.

In the mining industry, we say new mines are often found next to old mines because historical sites worked with basic tools and little science can now be mined profitably and environmentally-responsibly with modern science and engineering. That is why most of the activity in Nova Scotia’s gold sector is at former mines discovered in the 1800s.

Moose River is an excellent example. A century and a half after gold was discovered there, Moose River was mined again, creating jobs for Nova Scotians and government revenues to help pay for programs like health and education, and to clean up historical tailings.

Damas Touquoy, after working in a number of Nova Scotia’s historical gold districts for a quarter of a century, eventually returned to France. It is said that he passed away there in 1898 and was buried with nuggets of Nova Scotian gold.

See how historical miners separated gold from its host rock at

Damas Touquoy at his Moose River house in 1897.

Damas Touquoy at his surface mine in 1897.

White quartz vein underground at Moose River.

The modern Touquoy surface mine.