Mooseland: Nova Scotia’s first Gold Discovery

Nova Scotia's first documented gold discovery was in 1858 at Mooseland on the Tangier River, Halifax County. The discovery was made by a British army officer, Captain Champagn L'Estrange of the Royal Artillery, out for a day of moose hunting with a Mi'kmaq guide named Joe Paul.

Not much happened until two years later when Paul returned to the same site, this time bringing a prospector named John G. Pulsifer. Pulsifer wasted no time reporting the discovery of gold to government officials in Halifax and staking his own claim.

In 1860, John Morrell started mining on the Furnace Lead, making it the first gold lead worked in Nova Scotia. A 4-stamp mill was built in 1862 to process ore. This mill was eventually taken to the mines in Tangier and later in Chezzetcook. A second mill was built at Mooseland in 1863.

Early miners also used an arrastra, a simple machine that used a giant stone attached to a wooden arm to crush the gold-bearing rock. Arrastras were powered by animals or motors. The ore was placed in the bottom of the arrastra over which were placed large rocks. The rocks were ground over the ore, crushing it and releasing the gold. Below is a picture of the rock base of a primitive arrastra crusher used at Mooseland. This was the first gold mining crusher in Nova Scotia and one of the earliest in Canada.

Despite the initial excitement, gold mining in Mooseland was slow to develop. The reason is a reminder of what Nova Scotia was like in that era - Mooseland was remote and very hard to get to.

When Provincial Secretary Joseph Howe visited Mooseland in early July 1860 to see the gold mining activity for himself, it took him 2.5 days to get there from Halifax, a distance we would drive in about 1.5 hours today. He travelled to Jeddore, then inland via boat to the head of Lake Charlotte and then 29 kilometres on foot through wilderness to the gold camp.

Nova Scotia was mostly wilderness back then and these were primitive, pioneering times. It’s no wonder that early gold miners did not properly take care of the environment and that there are still, unfortunately, environmental legacies from gold mining in the 1800s. (Learn about differences between historical and modern gold mining at

A road was built from Mooseland to Tangier in 1866 and mining picked up as a result, but in 1867, there was still only one small hotel in the area, “of the backwoods kind.”

Two companies were particularly active in the late 1860s and early 1870s. The Beneficiary Gold Mining Company worked the Furnace, Cumminger and Specimen leads from 1866-68, sinking several shafts. The company sold its interests to the Humber Gold Mining Company in 1869 which carried on work on those leads and also mined the newly-discovered Irving lead.

In the early 1870s, tributers took over most of the work in Mooseland. 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.

Mining activity in Mooseland tapered off until 1884 when a new vein was discovered 300 metres north of the existing workings. This new vein became known as the Bismark Lead and was worked by the Mooseland Gold Mining Company from a site along the river.

Mining was continued in the 1890s by several people. One of them was William Yeadon who did some work on the Cummings lead. Yeadon was also involved gold mining in the Beaver Dam Gold District but he was better-known as the owner of a quarry in Spryfield that provided stone for landmarks like St. Mary’s Cathedral in Halifax and the Grande Parade wall along Barrington Street (

In total, production in the Mooseland Gold District from 1872-1911 was 3,865 ounces of gold.

Exploration for gold in Mooseland started again in 1937 and has continued in most decades since. Despite the area’s potential to be returned to production and to create jobs for Nova Scotians, the Mooseland Gold District is now partly overlapped by the Tangier Grand Lake Wilderness Area, which limits its potential value as a modern mine.

In the mining industry, we often say new mines are often found next to old mines because historical sites worked with basic tools and little science can today be mined profitably and environmentally-responsibly with modern science and engineering. That is why almost all the activity in Nova Scotia’s gold sector is at historical gold mines like Mooseland that still have the potential to return to production and create jobs.