Nova Rich Mines

Nova Rich Mines Ltd. started working in Forest Hill in 1938. The company’s story illustrates how Nova Scotia’s third gold rush produced a lot of activity but often not much actual gold due to various challenges.

Nova Scotia’s first gold rush took place from 1861-74, triggered by the province’s first documented discovery of gold at Mooseland in 1858. Its second gold rush was from 1896-1903 as technological advancements, such as the adoption of dynamite and better milling techniques, were occurring. Gold prospecting and mining continued before and after these rushes, but the rushes were periods of particularly intense activity.

The third gold rush, from 1932-1942, was triggered by a significant increase in the price of gold. Gold had been valued at about US$18-21 per ounce since the mid 1800s but jumped to US$34-35 per ounce in the early 1930s. Gold has always been considered a safe investment in troubled economic times and its value soared during the Great Depression.

However, many companies struggled to make a profit during the third gold rush. The province produced 1.2 million ounces of gold in the century after it was discovered in Mooseland, but the third gold rush only produced 158,000 ounces despite its more sophisticated science and technology.

Guysborough County’s Forest Hill gold district, where gold was first discovered in 1893, had been inactive since 1909 but was one of the places where prospecting and mining started again in the 1930s.

Nova Rich Mines was founded in 1938 and bought property in Forest Hill. The company built a bunk house and office in July that year and did prospecting work during the balance of the season.

The next several years were spent prospecting, repairing old equipment and buildings and, where necessary, installing new equipment. However, things did not go smoothly.

In August 1940, lightning struck the mine’s new bunk house. The ensuing fire destroyed the building and almost all the equipment that had been shipped to the mine in the previous year.

A Department of Mines inspector visited the mine on October 15, 1941, and found that no mining operations were being carried out because the men who worked at the mine had left to cut Christmas trees.

Work was temporarily suspended in July 1943 due to difficulties in obtaining mining equipment. It was common during the first and second world wars for Nova Scotia mines and quarries to struggle due to labour, material and transportation challenges (

In December 1947, the Department of Mines informed the company that its mining plans raised safety concerns because planned tunnelling would approach old, water-filled workings. It was common at historical mines that plans were inaccurate or just not made at all. As a result, subsequent operators had to be extremely careful not to accidentally tunnel into old shafts and tunnels for fear of causing flooding and injuries. The Department told Nova Rich Mines it had to pump out old workings near any new tunnelling because they might be closer than indicated on old mine plans. The Department wrote, “It is appreciated that these requirements will increase your mining costs…However, they are considered necessary and when fulfilled will give you more scope for development work.”

On August 22, 1948, the mill was repaired and milling of ore had just started when a fire destroyed several buildings and equipment. According to a Department of Mines memo, “It would appear that their insurance will only cover a fraction of the loss.” After the fire, “the pumps were removed and the shafts allowed to fill with water. There is only a caretaker on the property now.”

On December 29, 1949, M. G. Goudge, an engineer at the Department of Mines, wrote a memo about a phone call he had received from “Mr. Lewis Lockhart of 35 Fenwick Street, Halifax, regarding the selling of mining stock, of the Nova Rich Gold Mines Limited… Mr. Lockhart informed me that a Mr. MacDonald (initials not given), who is associated with the Nova Rich Gold Mines, approached him for the purpose of obtaining his services for the selling of gold mining stock in the above mentioned mine. Mr. Lockhart stated that for several days he travelled to various points in the Province with Mr. MacDonald to become acquainted with the sales talk associated with the selling of the stock. He informed me that Mr. MacDonald’s main selling point to the prospective stock holders was a statement to the effect that, the Nova Scotia government, through the Department of Mines, was putting up a sum of money equal to that raised by the sale of stock…and, that the government was financially backing the mine.”

Goudge had confirmed with others that Mr. MacDonald was making this pitch even though it was not true – the government was not financially supporting the mine. Department of Mines files contain no other references to this issue, so we do not know what became of the allegations.

In 1950, a derrick (crane) collapsed at the mine, “narrowly missing men working in the shaft,” according to a Department memo. The same derrick had collapsed during the dewatering of Cape Breton’s Coxheath copper mine so the memo “recommended that this derrick be disposed of entirely because of a faulty design.”

Work continued at the mine, but the company’s efforts were largely focussed on prospecting, not actually producing gold.

After 15 years of work in Forest Hill, a 1953 prospectus from Nova Rich Mines tried to put a positive spin on the company’s situation. It described its mining operation as “so fantastic and startling that unless witnessed, it is almost unbelievable.” The company’s prospecting work “borders on the miraculous….”

However, the truth of the situation is made clear by a few numbers.

A total of 25,102 ounces of gold were produced in Forest Hill from 1895-1957. However, from 1938 to 1953 only 302 ounces were produced by the several companies, including Nova Rich Mines, that worked there during that period. That would have generated about US$10,500 in total revenue.

Nova Rich Mines’ expenses from its founding in 1938 to the time of the 1953 prospectus included over $181,000 in mining and administration costs, losses caused by the fires and theft of equipment and damage to buildings. In other words, the company was losing money.

In 1954-55, the Macson Development Company worked in Forest Hill, mostly on Nova Rich Mines’ property. The company invested heavily, installing major new equipment and building a new mill building, a garage-workshop and two additional bungalows. A dam was built to store sufficient water for future mill operations. About three miles of roads were built on the property and an electricity transmission line was brought in from Salmon River, a distance of five miles.

By December 1955, work had been taken over by the Canso Mining Corporation. The change was indicated on a Department of Mines memo which crossed out Macson’s typed name and wrote in Canso Mining’s by hand.

However, the Department of Mines was not aware of any legal agreement between Nova Rich Mines and Macson or Canso Mining, and the mining leases were still in Nova Rich’s name.

A government memo dated May 15, 1956, said, “There is no record of transfer in the Mines office of the above leases from Nova Rich to the Canso Mining Corporation, nor is there any record of agreement between the two parties whereby Nova Rich is permitting the Canso Mining Corporation to carry out mining operations on its leases. This question was brought to the attention of the principals of the Canso Mining Corporation many months ago, but so far the matter has not been settled. The question arises in our records as to which party is responsible for the royalty on the gold recovered and as to whether this Department should continue to permit Canso Mining Corporation to continue operations on the Nova Rich leases without any record of permission in our files.”

A handwritten note on the memo, apparently by the deputy minister of the Department of Mines, suggests that “the majority of Nova Rich stock has been acquired by Canso, which will enable transfer of the mineral rights to be made. Check again on next visit.”

By the end of 1956, Canso Mining Corporation had ceased operations in Forest Hill and at several other properties. Instead, it was focussing on finding alumina, which is used to make aluminum. This new focus resulted in it being bought by the Canadian Alumina Company (

Records do not make clear when exactly Nova Rich Mines ceased to exist, and its Forest Hill leases were never formally transferred to Canso Mining, but the purchase of Canso Mining by the Canadian Alumina Company effectively brought Nova Rich’s story to an end.

Historical gold districts like Forest Hill often have the potential to be mined again in the modern era, to create jobs for Nova Scotians while also taking excellent care of the environment.

See the story of the Forest Hill gold district at

Underground at Forest Hill.

Forest Hill in 1911.