Pleasant Bay

An old map shows the location of a silver mine in Pleasant Bay, Inverness County, but knowledge of the mine has been largely lost to time. Here is its story.

An 1884 map and report by the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) describe the mine as being near the mouth of MacKenzie River. The site had quartz veins that contained galena, an ore of lead (meaning that lead is often extracted from it). According to the report, “The galena occurs chiefly in two veins 5.5 and 3 feet thick respectively and a shaft 15-20 feet deep has been sunk on each.”

In addition to galena, the veins also contained silver, gold and copper. Metals deposits almost always have multiple metals in them because of how they form and because certain metals tend to be associated with each other. Members of the various periods in the Periodic Table often have almost identical chemical characteristics and behaviors, so they often form in close proximity to each other. For example, silver and lead are often associated with each other, and gold deposits often have at least small amounts of silver and copper in them, and they may contain other metals as well.

Additional metals in deposits are often in such small quantities that it is not economical to recover them, but some deposits have enough of the other metals that it makes sense to recover them in the milling process. This generates additional revenue for a mine and more of the materials that society needs. There have also been cases where challenges with separating the various metals prevented the successful operation of a mine, such as at the historical Galena Mine in Cheticamp (

The GSC report stated, “This ‘mine’ has been known for many years and a large sum of money spent in exploring it,” so we know that the discovery of the Pleasant Bay deposit occurred a number of years prior to 1884, the year the report was written.

The report has the word mine in quotation marks, likely because the site produced little actual ore. In fact, a 1963 GSC report said, “This lead prospect was unsuccessfully explored by test pits 75 years ago."

This sentence suggests two discrepancies between the 1884 and 1963 GSC reports. First, the 1884 report said the site had been explored many years earlier, but the timeline in the 1963 report implies the exploration took place around the time the 1884 report was written.

Second, the 1963 report calls the site a lead prospect but the 1884 map calls it primarily a silver mine, although the map notes that the deposit contains both silver (chemical symbol: Ag) and lead (Pb). Since the site produced little of either metal, the discrepancy is perhaps not significant.

Nova Scotia Department of Mines staff visited the site in 1991. However, their inspection was limited “because of the high tide and storm wave conditions encountered along the beach.”

While the GSC called it a mine, the Pleasant Bay workings, like many other historical operations, were not a mine in the sense that we use the word now. Historical mines were often pits just a couple feet deep, or a small shaft or two, often even without a mill for processing. There was often very little actual mining or production at such sites.

In 1863, John Campbell, the provincial government’s geologist, reported that “small grains and nuggets” of silver were found throughout much of the MacKenzie River, including a number of miles inland. The source of the silver – the host rock from which it eroded – was never found.

We are told that local lore suggests an Aspy Bay man made two pistols with silver from Pleasant Bay. We could not find documentation to confirm the claim.

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, for example, most of the activity in Nova Scotia’s gold sector is at former mines discovered in the 1800s. However, the site of the Pleasant Bay mine is now within the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, meaning its mineral potential can no longer be explored.