Richmond County

This is the story of Richmond County’s three historical coal mines and how one young man learned not to offend the people giving him a lift!


In 1856, Hypolite (sometimes spelled Hyppolite in records) Marmaud was granted 200 acres of land to develop a coal mine on the Little River.

Marmaud (1789-1866) was a shipbuilder in Arichat who built several vessels, including the “H. M.”, 326 tons, which launched in Arichat in 1852, and the “Lady Mulgrave,” 168 tons, built in 1857. He was also a Justice of the Peace.

He was one of a large number of entrepreneurs who applied for the right to explore for and mine coal after the General Mining Association lost the monopoly it had on most Nova Scotia minerals from 1827-57.

A coal lease was issued to Marmaud in 1859 and he dug an 85-foot shaft to work near vertical three- and four-foot coal seams on the Little River, approximately four miles east of Port Hawkesbury. A railway almost three miles long was built to Port Richmond to carry the coal to tidewater for shipping. Most of the first mile of that railway now lies under the Little River Reservoir.

In 1862, Marmaud transferred his lease to an American Company known as Richmond Coal Mines Ltd. (Interestingly, Marmaud is still listed as the owner of the land today, the 1856 grant from the legislature being the deed that is still in effect. It is not unusual for land around historical Cape Breton coal mines to still be listed as belonging to coal entrepreneurs from that era.)

Richmond Coal Mines Ltd. sunk slopes (decline tunnels) on each seam and a new shaft to a depth of 135-feet. The shaft was deepened to 200-feet in 1867 but operations then ceased. According to Richard Brown, former manager of the General Mining Association, the “great cost” of working the coal was likely the reason the mine shut down. A decline in American demand for Cape Breton coal, caused by the end of the American Civil War, may also have played a role.

Historical reports of the mine’s production until 1866 vary, ranging from an estimated 3,500 tons of coal to as much as 15,000 tons. The most accurate figure is believed to be around 8,000 tons.

Four decades later, in 1906, a new shaft was sunk to 84-feet by Milligan and Brown. This shaft is located approximately 1,000-feet east of Marmaud’s workings. The 200-foot-deep shaft abandoned in 1867 by Richmond Coal Mines Ltd. was also pumped out.

In 1907, the Canadian Consolidated Coal Mine Company deepened the 84-foot shaft to 200-feet. The shaft was 15’ by 6’ with three compartments.

Work in the 200-foot-deep shaft stopped in September 1908 as the miners approached un-surveyed workings to the West. This was not unusual. In some cases, reopening old workings in abandoned mines could have advantages (i.e. additional ventilation, reducing the amount of digging required, potentially making more unmined coal accessible), but old workings could also be a safety risk (i.e. they might be flooded or filled with gas). Part of the problem was that historical mines often had no written plans, or plans that were very inaccurate, and this could make tunnelling into them very dangerous. Encountering old tunnels also sometimes happened unexpectedly. A number of accidents and deaths occurred in historical Nova Scotia mines as a result of tunnelling into old workings.

(Dominion No. 25 is an example. Two men drowned on May 22, 1943, when miners accidentally broke through into the flooded workings of the Old Gardiner Mine. An inquiry found that the workings in the Old Gardiner Mine had advanced 325 feet beyond the location shown on the mine’s plans. As a result, the miners in No. 25 did not know that the old mine was in their path. See the story at

A new slope was sunk to a depth of 300-feet on the west side of the Little River. However, the slope operations were abandoned at the end of the year. Production for the year was recorded as 2,600 tons (100 tons from the slope-digging), and 25 men were employed.

In August 1914, 30 men were employed with the intent to sink the main shaft to 450-feet to avoid encountering the 1860s workings. John McDonald was managing this mine, and the activities at Whiteside, for the Canadian Consolidated Coal Mine Company.

In 1915, the shaft was deepened to 300-feet and trial pits were sunk as far as 3,000 feet to the east. However, operations shut down in April.

At one point, the Springhill Company of Cumberland County considered opening a coal mine in Cape Breton and had Alexander (Sandy) Dick inspect and report on the Little River mine. Dick arrived at Port Hawkesbury, reportedly wearing “knickerbockers, with regulation stockings, large buckle low shoes, deer-stalker hat, and all else ad lib. Suspended in festoons around him were the usual small leather cases containing compass, barometer, thermometer, micrometer, and every other ‘ometer’ known to science.”

He was met by men from the mine and travelled with them by horse-drawn wagon to see it. Dick, who was a young man at the time, did not win himself any friends when he criticized the old horse, its harness and even the wagon driver’s beard.

At the mine, Dick declined to wear water-proof oilskins because he was told that the mine was pumped out. However, when he got to the bottom of the shaft, he found himself standing in two feet of water. Dick’s criticism of the wagon was mild compared to how he now mouthed off about the mine, the water and the owners (three of whom were present).

After his inspection, one of the owners asked, "Then you don't think you'll buy the mine?" Dick’s reply was both colourful and negative.

The owners had had enough of Alexander Dick at that point. One of them said, "Then you walk home, you son of a…." The owners then climbed into the old wagon and left dripping-wet Alexander, with all his gear, to walk back. Young Alexander learned that day to keep his opinions to himself until safely back in his office!


In 1860, John A. Campbell sunk two 50-foot shafts and drove a 350-foot-long adit (tunnel) from the shoreline in Seacoal Bay. Mining continued intermittently for the next eight years, yielding approximately 1,200 tons of coal, which was considered to be of very poor quality, i.e., greater than 30% ash. By comparison, some coal in Mabou Mines contained just 2.34% ash, making it some of the best coal in Nova Scotia.

In 1888, a proposal was made to deepen the shafts at Seacoal Bay to 400 and 600-feet and in 1891 a Rhode Island Company, under the leadership of W.B. Gincks, employed 22 men to start the work. One shaft was deepened to 130-feet and a new adit was driven 125-feet. The shaft was 14’ x 6’ and had three compartments.

In 1905-06, the Breton Coal Company employed 50 men and deepened the 130-foot shaft to 300-feet. However, the shaft encountered water problems in November 1906 and flooded within 24 hours, bringing work in the area to an end.


The first written mention of prospecting for coal at Whiteside was in 1880. Reports indicate less than 100 tons was produced.

The area then lay idle until the period from 1914-30 when several prospect pits and slopes were driven at Coalmine Brook near Whiteside. One of the slopes driven in 1914 reached a depth of 325-feet. The work was conducted by the Canadian Consolidated Coal Mine Company. As mentioned above, John McDonald oversaw this work for the company, in addition to running the Little River mine.

In 1921, the Whiteside operation was referred to as the Basin Mine and was operated between 1921 and 1922 by the Tidewater Coal Company. 47 men were employed, producing 1,320 tons.

In 1928, the Tidewater Fuel & Navigation Company employed 21 men to pump out and extend the 1922 slope to 520-feet in depth. 900 tons were produced.

In 1930, a trial slope was sunk 120-feet but was abandoned due to structural issues, the last work done in the mine.