Prospector Joe Cope

Joseph C. Cope (Joe) was a Mi’kmaw prospector whose story, and that of his family, was remarkable.

Joe Cope was described in the Chronicle-Herald as “one of Nova Scotia’s best-known citizens” when he passed away in 1951 at the age of 93. According to the newspaper, “During his early years, Joe, and his brother Isaac, travelled throughout the province prospecting for gold and other valuable minerals.”

For example, Joe discovered tungsten in Goffs, Halifax County, when he was prospecting for arsenic. He noted scheelite, a mineral from which tungsten is often extracted, in several quartz veins at the site. (See the story of the Goffs tungsten deposit at

Cope is also said to have been the first professional Mi’kmaq photographer. According to Harry Piers, the curator of the Provincial Museum (now called the Nova Scotia Museum), Cope “took many photographs, during 2 or 3 years, including many portraits of Indians, who were bad pay. When he could not afford to buy chemicals for his work, he gave it up.” (Please note that the word “Indian” is not considered appropriate today but we use it here to be true to the original texts. The word “Micmac” also appears below for the same reason.)

Piers said, “Joe Cope was well-educated and could write well. For a time he was employed in [the railway] baggage-room in Halifax. He now is camping 6 or 7 miles above Bridgewater, being now interested in prospecting for minerals. No doubt he was born at Dartmouth.”

Piers also wrote that in 1916, during WWI, he received from Cope “a letter and drawings describing a device for guiding bombs dropped from aeroplanes, which he had devised, and which he had constructed a demonstration piece of apparatus. He says, ‘I am one of your Halifax Micmac Indians, unfortunately too old to shoulder musket to defend my King and Country, but if my idea or invention is of any use, I will gladly offer it to my King and Country free of charge.’”

Piers sent Cope's letter and drawings “to the Comptroller of Munitions Inventions, London, England; and on 6 April the Comptroller sent to Cope a long and appreciative letter, which also pointed out in detail the weak points in Cope's device.”

Parks Canada honours the sacrifice of Joe Cope’s sons in WWI and WWII and calls them “hometown heroes.” Joe and his sons, James and John, enlisted with the 106th Battalion at Truro during WWI. Joe was too ill to go overseas but James served as a Private in the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles). He was killed in France in 1918. John was crippled by enemy fire and suffered from exposure to mustard gas. He passed away in 1952.

Another son, Leo, only an infant when his siblings served in WWI, served with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders during WWII. He fell in battle in 1944.

According to Parks Canada, relatives only discovered the full extent of the Cope family’s sacrifice for Canada during the World Wars many years later. The brothers are now honoured by veterans groups in Windsor and Millbrook First Nation

Joe was the son of Peter Cope, who had, according to the Chronicle-Herald, “journeyed to England to see Queen Victoria shortly before Confederation to settle Indian troubles.” Piers wrote that Peter Cope “went by himself to England to see the Queen, but was not able to meet her, only catching a glimpse of her as she passed in a carriage.” It was rare for people to travel such long distances in that era so Peter Cope’s journey to England was remarkable.

Our thanks also to the West Hants Historical Society for its assistance with research. Nova Scotia has many excellent local museums and historical societies that help keep our stories alive. Many of them are focussed on the province’s geology and mining history and are great sources of information.