Port Hastings

Port Hastings, in Inverness County on the Strait of Canso, used to be called Plaster Cove (sometimes spelled Plaister Cove) because of its gypsum outcrops. Gypsum was often called plaster historically because it is a key ingredient in plaster of Paris.

The name Port Hastings was adopted by an act of parliament in 1869. It comes from Sir Charles Hastings Doyle, Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia from 1867-73.

A body of water in Port Hastings still bears the name, Plaster Cove. There are also Plaster Coves in Antigonish County and Victoria County.

Despite its gypsum deposits, little gypsum mining has taken place in Port Hastings. The exception is a quarry owned Douce Belhaché, who was likely the first woman in Nova Scotia to own a quarry.

Captain Phillip Belhaché and his wife, Douce, married in 1786 on the Channel Island of Jersey. They were granted 200 acres of land at Port Hastings in 1788 after immigrating there.

Douce became a widow in 1801 when Captain Belhaché was lost at sea. Instead of returning to her family in Jersey after her husband’s death, Douce became Cape Breton’s first female entrepreneur - a trader of cattle and sheep, a landlord and owner of a gypsum quarry and a weaving business. Douce played a significant role in community and business affairs in Port Hastings until her death in 1834.

Douce's quarry was in Port Hastings at Plaster Cove. Before the railway and roadways crossing the cove were built, ships would sail into Plaster Cove to be loaded and then carried the gypsum to places like Boston.

There is a significant gypsum quarry not far from Port Hastings, in Sugar Camp, about 10 kilometres to the northeast, that also used the Strait for shipping. The quarry opened in 1992 and trucked gypsum to shipping facilities at Point Tupper where it was shipped to factories along the east coast of the United States. Sugar Camp shut down in 2011 due to economic conditions related to the 2009 collapse of the US housing market. However, the gypsum is still in the ground so we are hopeful the site will return to production as demand for gypsum increases.