Quarry St. Anns

Many in places in Nova Scotia are named for their connections to mining!

Gypsum was quarried in Quarry St. Anns, about 20 kilometres northeast of Baddeck in Victoria County, from 1884-1916.

The Victoria Gypsum Company of Baddeck (later the Victoria Gypsum, Mining and Manufacturing Company Ltd.) operated the quarry, in addition to another quarry in nearby Port Bevis (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/baddeck-bay).

Around 1912, the company opened a second quarry 1.2 miles to the west of its Quarry St. Anns site and in 1913, it was prospecting a third site one mile south.

Business was booming by 1915 and a new warehouse was built. The company also made plans to build a calcining plant at its pier in 1916. (Calcining gypsum means to heat and partially dehydrate it. It's part of the process of turning gypsum into plaster so it can be used in products like wallboard, mouldings and casts.)

A 1915 government report said the main, original quarry had a working face over 80 feet tall at its highest point, and a length of about 300 feet. Both hand augers and drills were used to drill holes into which “low power dynamite” was inserted to blast the gypsum free from the working face.

The main quarry had a shipping platform in the middle and radiating tracks were laid to all parts of the working face. Small one-ton cars hauled the rock and dumped it directly into rail cars or, if no train was waiting, storage bins.

The main quarry had numerous buildings, including the company's office, about 20 shacks and 20 dwellings for the men, a stable large enough to accommodate 15 horses, a large lecture hall, and a residence for the superintendent.

The second quarry used horses and carts to haul the gypsum to the nearest spur of the company’s railway.

According to the report, the company owned 4.5 miles of track and had two locomotives hauling to Munro Point, on St. Anns Bay, where the shipping wharf was located. The wharf was 3.5 miles from the main quarry and four miles from the second.

The 1915 report said the gypsum was being shipped to Chester, Pennsylvania, at that time, presumably to the Keystone Plaster Company which was based there.

Quarry St. Anns gypsum was also used for “land plaster,” meaning it was ground down to powder and used as fertilizer in agriculture.

In 1915, the company was preparing to switch to underground mining at the main quarry and a 180-foot adit (tunnel) was dug. This would likely have been Nova Scotia’s only true underground gypsum quarry. Nova Scotia has world-class gypsum deposits and with so much available near-surface, easily accessible through surface mining, there generally is not any reason to incur the much higher costs of extracting it underground.

However, the plan was not implemented because production declined dramatically in 1915-16 due to a lack of both shipping and men, caused by WWI. To illustrate the problem, the company employed 175 men in 1915 and had been producing an average of 30,000 tons of gypsum per year. In 1916, it employed only 30 men and produced 18,000 tons.

In 1917, the quarries shut down, never to be reopened.

In 1929, the United States Congress’ Ways and Means Committee was told that the Keystone Plaster Company did not own ships so when WWI broke out, it “found itself unable to obtain bottoms in which to transport the gypsum from Nova Scotia except at prohibitive war-time rates of charter. Instead of shutting down the management of this company foolishly continued to operate at a loss in the effort to hold its trade until the war ended. Its capital was insufficient to absorb the losses, and it failed in 1916.” The failure of Keystone likely left the Quarry St. Anns operation without its main customer.

Today, gypsum’s main use is in wallboard/drywall. Safety is the main reason. Gypsum is 21% water at the molecular level so it slows the spread of fire and helps save lives.