Rosario Siroy and the South Uniacke Gold District

Nova Scotia’s mining history is full of colourful characters like Rosario Siroy…or Joe Siroy…or Joseph Rosariere. Whatever his real name was.

Gold was discovered in South Uniacke, Hants County, in 1887 and the district was worked every year through to 1948. Its peak production was in the 1890s when South Uniacke produced 18,060 ounces of gold from some of the richest ore ever found in Nova Scotia.

Rosario Siroy prospected in South Uniacke in the mid-1900s, long after the district’s heyday.

Siroy’s name starts appearing in government mining records in the 1950s. He comes across in memos as a bit of a character who, like many who dreamed of making their fortunes in gold prospecting, was ultimately unsuccessful.

The memos are both intriguing and frustrating because government geologists and mining engineers inspecting Siroy’s work dutifully recorded factual information about his efforts, but do not tell the stories about other aspects of his life that are hinted at in the documents.

By 1959, Siroy had been working in South Uniacke for several years. According to a government inspector who visited him in July, things were not going well. A memo detailing the visit said the quartz Siroy was working had “a very thin coating of sericite or secondary mica. This mica has a bronze colour and Mr. Siroy is definitely mistaking this material for gold.” The inspector and the Department of Mine’s Chief Geologist, Dr. J. D. Wright, studied a sample back at their office and confirmed that the material was mica/sericite, not gold.

The memo went on: “A small stamp mill which was partially erected at the site during our last visit has been completely dismantled. Mr. Siroy advises me that he does not intend to mill any of the material but wishes to sell his property for about $40,000.00”

Siroy asked the inspector for government financial assistance to reopen old shafts nearby, a request the inspector recommended against to his boss. “In my opinion the work being carried on by Mr. Siroy is fruitless. Although he has been prospecting for many years I believe his failure to recognize the bronze material as sericite instead of gold is due to his failing eyesight and also no doubt to a considerable extent from senility.”

The inspector believed a visit the next day by Professor E. Lee Cameron of the Nova Scotia Technical College, and samples Cameron intended to analyse, “should prove beyond doubt to Mr. Siroy that his prospect is not as valuable as he anticipates.”

A memo written two months later, dated September 11, 1959, mentioned an argument between Siroy and Mary Dunbrack, who owned the land on which Siroy was prospecting. The Dunbracks are a mining family who worked in the Mount Uniacke area for decades. Angus MacInnes Dunbrack was listed as a miner in the 1891 census and several of his sons were listed as gold miners in the 1901 census. In the 1930s, four Dunbrack brothers, Arthur, Angus, John and Melvin, owned a mine in South Uniacke and the family did prospecting for many years following.

Despite the family’s familiarity with mining, or perhaps because of its own interests in it, Mary Dunbrack wanted Siroy’s cabin off her land. Siroy had brought the cabin to his prospecting site in April that year, but Mary Dunbrack had arranged for a contractor to move it.

However, Siroy convinced the contractor, who had come two days before the memo was written, that Siroy was “working on behalf of the Government and had written authority from the Minister to remain, both living and working in that area.” Siroy showed the contractor his prospecting license for the claim, which was not proof of what Siroy had said but it was official-looking and the contractor left without touching the cabin.

A December 11, 1959, memo said Siroy’s cabin had burned down. The memo does not say what caused the fire. Siroy’s prospecting involved a small gasoline engine for driving his stamp mill and a gasoline-powered pump. He also used explosives for blasting rock, so in addition to all the common ways a fire might have started, there were items related to his prospecting that could have been the fire’s cause.

At the same time, it is at least a coincidence that the cabin burned down a few months after Mary Dunbrack’s unsuccessful attempt to have it removed.

Siroy was relatively lucky – the fire only destroyed small tools like hammers, not more expensive equipment, and according to the memo, “Mr. Siroy has every intention of returning to work on his licenses in the early spring.”

The following spring, Siroy had to repair damage caused by vandalism before he could start prospecting again: “The drive pulleys for his Matheson triple-stamp mill have been thrown into nearby pits together with a kibble [an iron bucket] and numerous other small items. The gasoline engine used for driving the stamps will require considerable repair, the fuel tank having been slit open down one side, apparently with a pick.” There is no explanation in the memo about who was responsible for the vandalism.

A May 5, 1960, memo reported that “There is no evidence to support any rumour that Mr. Siroy has commenced building a house on the license. No materials have been taken in and no effort has been made to clear the site of the old house previously burnt down.”

However, a November 22, 1960, memo says Siroy had moved an old shack, 7x12 feet, to his prospecting site to replace the one that had burned down. Its estimated value was $50. A small new test mill had also been installed along with a new mine bucket and a hand hoist. Some of the rock crushed in the milling process had been placed in ruts in the 300-feet road leading into the site.

Despite the disagreement with Mary Dunbrack, his cabin burning down and his equipment being vandalized, Siroy was not going anywhere.

The inspector visited Siroy at his residence in Mount Uniacke. Siroy claimed that he had renewed his two mineral claims in South Uniacke but the inspector noted that Siroy had not done enough work to renew both licenses. Siroy declined to choose which license he would renew. (Mineral claim holders are required by government to work their claims so they cannot just stake the ground and leave it idle. Fulfilling minimum work requirements is necessary to keeping claims in good standing and Siroy had not done enough, which was perhaps understandable considering his misfortunes.)

Siroy also showed the inspector a writ from the sheriff at Windsor which was addressed to “Joseph Rosariere, alias Joe Siroy.” Since all Department of Mines records refer to him as Rosario Siroy, the writ’s reference to these other names is puzzling and suggests that Siroy had at least one alias. It is not clear which is his legal name.

The writ required that Siroy/Rosariere appear before the supreme court in Windsor on July 15, 1960 (four months earlier) to answer charges of trespassing, digging holes, cutting trees and tearing down fences on the property of Mary Dunbrack of South Uniacke. Activities like digging holes and cutting trees are commonly done in prospecting. Siroy ignored the notice and had heard nothing about it since, but it is seems his feud with the Dunbracks was ongoing.

In August 1961, a memo says Siroy had hired Sydney Negus in June that year to work in South Uniacke. Negus was living in Siroy’s shack while Siroy was at his home in Mount Uniacke.

Another memo, dated two weeks later on August 30, 1961, said an inspector had spoken to Siroy at his South Uniacke property. The inspector noted that quartz being fed into Siroy’s stamp mill was from dumps (waste rock piles) at old Mount Uniacke mines and “shows little mineralization other than pyrite and cerussite.” This harkens back to the July 1959 memo which suggested that Siroy’s failing eyesight and possible senility were resulting in him milling rock that clearly did not contain any gold.

A year later, Siroy had apparently accepted that the rock he had been milling was not going to produce gold. An August 9, 1962, memo said, “The pyritic, sericitic materials that have been on the stamp feed bed for the last two years are no longer in evidence.”

Siroy told the inspector that he had employed two men for 37 days to work the site. However, he had no written records to substantiate this, which would have been required to count the expenditure against his claim’s regulated work requirements. The inspector suggested that the two men were hired because Siroy’s arms had become “completely useless due to arthritis.”

The last memo that mentions Siroy was written on May 27, 1963. An inspector visited South Uniacke and confirmed rumours that Siroy had passed away.

Siroy’s shack had been taken to the South Uniacke “settlement area as a dwelling.” The inspector believed the equipment had been taken for its scrap value.

In a final intriguing comment on the life of Siroy, the inspector said, “The house at Mt. Uniacke formerly occupied by the deceased and possibly containing equipment was totally destroyed by fire about two weeks ago.” Again, the memo says nothing about what caused the fire.

A total of 20,762 ounces of gold were produced in South Uniacke between 1888-1948. No gold was reported as having been produced in the years that Siroy worked there.

Like many of Nova Scotia’s historical gold districts, South Uniacke has been explored intermittently ever since and it has the potential to be mined again, to create jobs for Nova Scotians and provide an essential material we all use every day (it’s in the device you’re using now!). In fact, almost all the activity in Nova Scotia’s gold sector is at historical mines where deposits were proven during our early gold rushes but modern science and technology make it possible to mine profitably while, of course, taking proper care of the environment.

See the story of the Mount Uniacke gold district at