Nova Scotia had many historical mines that extracted what are now called “critical minerals” – minerals needed for things like electric vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels and electronics. Those early mines proved that we have the geology for critical minerals, and that Nova Scotia can contribute to global supply of these essential materials today.

It is not known when manganese was first discovered in Nicholsville, Kings County. Records about Nova Scotia’s early manganese mines are sometimes spotty because it was not until 1918 that manganese was formally declared a mineral under the Mines Act. No documentation was required by government prior to then.

The first report of manganese being mined in Nicholsville was in 1885 when Alex McPhail produced three barrels of ore by extracting a vein for 123 metres along Zebe Brook.

In 1908, an eight-foot test pit was sunk by A. Banks of Morristown.

W. E. Bishop of Aylesford sank a 7.5 metre shaft in 1918 and dug a small, 2.5 metre tunnel at the bottom. Bishop also sank a second, 18-metre shaft 18.3 metres to the east hoping to find that the vein continued in that direction, but the second shaft missed the mineralized zone completely and was abandoned.

In 1919, mining engineer W. F. Jennison wrote a memo to W. E. Bishop in which he said, “The prospecting work done here on this mineral has been very expensive and gives but little information regarding the extent of the deposit or its true value, which the surface conditions would indicate. It has, however, shown sufficient encouragement to warrant further expenditure.”

Jennison blamed the lack of exploration success on the men who had been running the site: “This is due principally to the lack of knowledge, on the part of the operators, in this kind of work. Therefore, if this work is to proceed, the first recommendation is to secure the services of one or more men who are familiar with prospecting and preliminary mine development, as well as someone to advise as the work proceeds.”

Since Bishop operated the site in 1918, and Jennison criticized the site’s past operators in 1919, his comments appear to rebuke Bishop as well as those who worked the deposit before him. It is not known how Bishop reacted to Jennison’s comments.

In 1920, Bishop formed the Aylesford Manganese Company to carry on development and mining, but nothing further was done.

According to a 1920 Geological Survey of Canada report, “ten feet west of the shaft the vein is said to be cut by a fault that appears to extend northwesterly along the eastern side of Palmer Road and to cut the belt of quartzites with a right-hand displacement of over 100 feet.” In geology, a fault is a fracture, or zone of fractures, between two blocks of rock. Faults are caused by geological forces like tectonic plate movement and they allow the blocks of rock to move relative to each other. Faults are a challenge in mining because they can cause deposits to be split, moving part of the deposit to a different, often hard-to-find, location. In this case, the suggestion was that the extension of the manganese vein was about 100 feet to the northwest.

The property was inactive until 1953 when G. Bowlby did some trenching, bulldozing, blasting and minor diamond drilling.

In late 1960s and early 1970s, the Nova Scotia Department of Mines carried out an inventory of manganese deposits throughout the province. The Nicholsville property was deemed to warrant special attention so in 1972 the Department carried out an eight-hole, diamond-drilling program. The drilling found that the deposit also contains barite and sulphide-rich zones of pyrite with minor levels of copper, lead and silver. All of this makes the site interesting geologically. It is not just a simple manganese deposit and it may have potential to produce other metals.

Manganese is a critical mineral today because it is in steel alloys and in lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles and electronics.