Port Morien, 1720

The first commercial coal mine in North America started 300 years ago in Port Morien when, in 1720, the French started it to supply Fortress Louisbourg.

To commemorate the anniversary, here is part 1 of the history of mining around Port Morien:
Port Morien’s original French name was Baye de Mordienne but it was changed to Cow Bay in the 1800s. The legend is that a cow escaped from a ship and was found there. The name was changed to Port Morien in 1895.

1724 - Coal from Port Morien was shipped to Boston in Canada’s first international trade of minerals. Coal was traded for bricks, lumber and provisions.

1725 - A blockhouse fort was built at the mine to protect it. Mining continued on a fairly regular basis until 1758 when the English captured Fortress Louisbourg. For the next ten years or so the mine produced on a sporadic basis and then fell into disrepair.

1859 – The former Blockhouse site was leased to Marshall Bourinot who sold the lease to New York’s Blockhouse Mining Company in 1863.

1862 – A slope was opened near the shoreline by Mr. T.D. Archibald & Company on the Gowrie Seam. This was the first official record of production from the seam but coal was likely taken from the shoreline outcrop in the 1700s.

1863 – At the Blockhouse site, coal was being hauled from the Dawson pit located near 6 Mines Road (present day baseball field) to Donkin.

The Dawson pit was mainly used to bank coal during the winter months, while in the summer months most of the coal was hauled directly out of the slopes onto a pier. Many piers had to be repaired or reconstructed over the life of the mine due to the fierce winter weather conditions along the shoreline at this location.

It was noted as early as 1863 that considerable trouble was encountered with water seeping into the mine due to surface subsidence.

A shaft known as the Odiorne Pit was started in 1863 on the site of what would later be a number of beehive coking ovens at Morien, just West of Port Morien.

A small mine known as the Mira Bay Colliery was opened at Waddens Cove, near Homeville, on the Tracy Seam.

1864 – The Caledonia Mine was opened by a man named Wilson at Baird Cove, south of Port Morien on the opposite side of Morien Bay from the town.

1866 – The Caledonia Mine was now called the South Head Colliery. Over the course of its life, numerous wharfs were constructed and destroyed by rough seas.

The Mira Bay Colliery was closed.

1867 – Production on the Gowrie Seam was primarily from the Odiorne Pit.

1871 – The Blockhouse mine was closed for most of the year due to a storm destroying the shipping facilities. Mining then continued but water troubles associated with surface subsidence plagued operations.

1872 – A shaft was started nearly 1.4-kilometres to the West of the Odiorne Pit to work the Westerly portion of the Gowrie seam near present day Morien Junction.

1877 – After 14 years of sporadic production, the South Head Colliery was closed.

1882-82 – The Blockhouse Mining Company sank a shaft 250 feet to the Gowrie seam just west of the present-day Bell Aliant building on the north side of town. It was abandoned due to equipment troubles.

1886 - The Blockhouse site was seized by the sheriff and sold due to the company being in arrears in royalty payments. The mine was almost lost in March to due a break at surface near Hugh MacDonald brook. In August the mine was sold to Mr. C. Belloni and production continued but the lower workings were permitted to flood.

1888 – Production ceased at the Blockhouse Colliery.

1893 – The Gowrie Mine, main shaft at Morien Junction, was taken over by the Dominion Coal Company, which built a coal wash plant along the Sydney-Louisbourg railway, approximately 2-kilometres south of Morien Junction.

1897 – The Gowrie Mine was closed and it is believed the wash plant was as well.

1899 – A new sub-sea colliery was started by the Gowrie & Blockhouse Mining Company in the Gowrie Seam with the main shafts adjacent to the site of the present-day Port Morien Legion.

1907 - North Atlantic Collieries Ltd., took over the sub-sea Gowrie Mine and started sinking a shaft on the shore at Long Beach with the intention of working both the Blockhouse and Gowrie seams offshore.

1910 – The Dominion Coal Company opened the No. 21 Colliery by driving two slopes to the South from the outcrop at Tower Road. Ultimately the slopes extended to the outcrop on the road to John Allen Lake.

1912 – The sub-sea Gowrie seam workings extended almost 3 kilometres out under Morien Bay when production ceased.

The Dominion Coal Company initiated construction of the Dominion No. 22 Slopes at the East end of Birch Grove.

1920 – The Hiawatha Coal Company re-opened the Mira Bay Colliery at Waddens Cove, but it closes after only 6-months of operation.

1922 – Dominion Coal’s No. 22 Colliery and the No. 21 continued mining but both had water issues associated with ground water seepage due to surface subsidence.

1925 – Dominion Coal’s No. 21 Colliery was closed.

1926 – The easterly extent of the No. 21 Colliery was connected to the old Gowrie Colliery by a level driven through a fault. Again, water problems due to surface subsidence plagued operations.

1928 – A slope was sunk just north of the Gowrie mine dump on the Spencer Seam. The slope reached a depth of 200 feet before being abandoned due to what was considered inferior coal. A test shaft was sunk on the same seam, approximately 2 kilometres to the West, near the present-day sewage treatment facility, but no development was initiated due to what was deemed inferior coal.

1930 – The No. 22 Colliery was closed.

1956 – 800 tons was reclaimed from coal fines along the shoreline about 1 kilometre south of Port Morien Beach. The work is conducted by the Crystal Coal Company and the fines were conveyed, via a sluice and stream, to the shore during the operation of the old Gowrie wash plant dump, approximately 1 kilometre to the west.

1962 – Operations of the Crystal Coal Company ceased. Over the course of the 7-year reclamation project, more than 16,000 tons of coal were recovered.

1967 – The Wadden Cove Coal Company re-opened the old Mira Bay Colliery but abandoned the operation in the same year.

Coal still provides over half of Nova Scotia's power. Mining it here creates jobs, government revenues to help pay for health and education, and keeps power bills down because local coal is cheaper than imported.