Port Hood

Mining built Nova Scotia!

The Peter Smyth House in Port Hood, Inverness County, was built in 1859-60 using sandstone quarried locally. The exact location where it was extracted is not known but historical records offer some key clues.

Geologist William Parks wrote in a 1914 report that he thought very highly of the quality of the sandstone in the area, especially stone extracted at Graham River, on the land of Angus McMillan: “From observations on buildings, from the results of physical and chemical tests, and from the general appearance of the samples, I cannot but regard these Judique stones as among the very finest in the Maritime Province.”

The extraction site on McMillan’s property was on the southern bank of the Graham River, 700 metres south of Rear Judique Chapel. The stone was grey upstream, and reddish-brown to the west.

Graham River stone was used in the version of Judique’s St. Andrew’s Church that burned down in 1918 and Parks said: “the red stone cut 32 years ago has preserved all the marks of the chisel and has suffered no deterioration except that it has assumed a more mellow colour.”

Parks also said the grey sandstone, used as doorsteps in the church, had not deteriorated and was “particularly free from injury by abrasion.”

Despite the excellent quality of the stone, no regular quarry was established on MacMillan’s property or anywhere in the Port Hood-Judique area in the 1800s. Only small amounts of sandstone were extracted as-needed for use in local building construction, mainly as basement course.

Some small-scale extraction also took place along the ridge east of Port Hood at several points. Stone for the Peter Smyth house likely came from the ridge since Parks says stone from this area was “employed for the construction of a house in Port Hood 50 years ago.” There are only two stone houses in Port Hood and the 50-year timeline roughly coincides with the building of Smyth’s house, so Parks must have been referring to the Smyth residence.

Parks examined the house and wrote that despite some “unsightly stains” caused by the oxidation (rusting) of iron pyrites in the sandstone, “the general durability of the stone, however, is good, as angles and chisel marks are well preserved.” He also noted that some of the stone did not have any staining or deterioration.

Even in the early 1900s Parks could not confirm where exactly the stone had been quarried for the Smyth house: “As far as can be learned, these blocks were obtained locally and must be taken as evidence that a highly desirable stone exists somewhere in the vicinity.”

Additional evidence that the stone was quarried locally is a contract to supply the stone signed by Smyth with brothers Malcolm and James McIsaac of Judique Intervale.

The contract required Smyth to pay the McIsaac brothers “eighteen pounds, one third cash & the other two thirds in goods out of the store” for an anticipated 120 days of labour. Smyth agreed to pay them an additional two pounds if the work required more than 120 days. The McIsaacs had to provide “their own tools and boarding and lodging.”

There was one regular sandstone quarry in Port Hood but it operated much earlier. In the 1740s-1750s, a quarry on Port Hood Island was the main supply of finished (or dressed) sandstone for Fortress Louisbourg’s window and door casements. About 60 men worked there in summer and the stone was sent by barge through the Strait of Canso to Louisbourg.

William Parks (1868-1936) was Head of the Department of Geology at the University of Toronto. He was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and his first job was as a chemist with the Canadian Copper Company. Many of our posts about historical quarries include information from his “Report on the Building and Ornamental Stones of Canada.”

Peter Smyth was a prominent Port Hood merchant and politicians in the 1800s. Smyth was born in Dublin, Ireland and came to Port Hood circa 1830 where he established himself as a fish and cattle merchant. He owned at least two stores for both retail and wholesale businesses and he also dealt extensively in land. Smyth first represented the County of Inverness in the Provincial House of Assembly during various sessions of the Assembly between 1847 and 1863. In 1867 he was appointed to a seat in the Legislative Council, which he held until his death in 1879. Smyth was also made a justice of the peace and later served as Chief Magistrate.