The Quarry that never was!

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. That was the case with a gypsum quarry in Antigonish County that was never really a quarry!

In the late 1920s, the Nova Scotia Gypsum Company, a subsidiary of the Canada Cement Company, bought a large tract of land in Harbour Centre, on the west side of Antigonish harbour.

In 1927, the company did exploration drilling and a small amount of trenching and concluded that the site contained a significant gypsum deposit. (The red hashtags in the 1911 map below show gypsum deposits around Antigonish Harbour.)

In 1928, extensive investments were made to prepare the site for large-scale production.

A channel was dredged through the sand bar at the mouth of Antigonish harbour to accommodate 5,000-ton vessels. A shipping pier was built.

A one-mile roadbed for a railway was excavated and graded from the pier to the quarries, where a number of working faces had been prepared for quarrying. Steel tracks were also laid.

A concrete powerhouse was built near the shipping pier, and a large Diesel engine with electric generators installed.

Excavation and foundations for the crushing plant were also completed.

However, after spending all that money and doing all that work, the Canada Cement Company made arrangements to obtain gypsum from the Cheticamp gypsum quarry, then operated by the Atlantic Gypsum Products Company.

As a result, the Antigonish property was held in reserve by the company and the gypsum is still there today, never having been extracted.

The extensive gypsum deposits in the area had been known for years but transportation had always been a concern. The harbour had siltation issues at its mouth, which required the expensive dredging that the Canada Cement Company undertook. The other option discussed in a 1911 report was to send the gypsum by rail to the Strait of Canso, but this was considered cost-prohibitive since the distance to Mulgrave, the nearest port, is about 40 miles. The report said it was “regrettable that, while the area contains practically inexhaustible quantities of gypsum of the very best quality, it is inaccessible to transportation facilities.”

The Canada Cement Company needed gypsum because a small amount of it is added in cement manufacturing to control the “setting” of cement. Without gypsum, the cement will harden immediately after mixing in water, leaving no time to transport or place the concrete.

Today, most gypsum is used in manufacturing wallboard/drywall. Nova Scotia has traditionally been one of the world’s biggest producers of gypsum, supplying many plaster, and later wallboard, factories on the US east coast. An average home has about seven tons of gypsum in its walls and the walls of most Nova Scotian homes contain gypsum quarried in the province.

Gypsum is 21% water at the molecular level and is therefore fire-resistant. This is the main reason why it is used in wallboard: safety.

The Canada Cement Company also owned the Ingonish gypsum quarry which operated from 1925-29 ( The Ingonish quarry was also shut down due to the deal to source gypsum from Cheticamp.

See the story of the Cheticamp gypsum quarry: