Avon Peninsula 1: Shaw Quarries

The Shaw family, known for Nova Scotia companies such as Shaw Brick, Shaw Resources and Clayton Developments, moved to Avondale, West Hants, in 1760 and were among the first wave of New England Planters to settle in the area. (Avondale used to be called Newport Landing because it is where immigrants from Rhode Island landed in 1760.) The Shaws operated the Shaw Plaster Quarry a few kilometres east of Avondale.

While the age of the Shaw Quarry has not been established, it is one of the oldest quarries in the area. In a December 1818 conveyance between Archibald Smith and Thomas Chandler Haliburton, references to “Mr. Shaw’s Quarry”, an existing “Plaster Road” and “shipping” facilities, clearly indicate that the quarry was already in operation by that time. (Gypsum was often referred to as “plaster” historically because it’s the key ingredient in Plaster of Paris).

The Old Plaster Road is mentioned in numerous Shaw family deeds and legal documents, including the 1920 will of Charles A. Shaw, which includes a description of the property dated 1879, noting that the Old Plaster Road led directly to Shaw’s Plaster Quarries.

Of particular interest is the reference to “quarries,” suggesting that the Shaws had multiple operations. This may account for the other small quarries associated with the Old Plaster Road whose histories are not known.

The Old Plaster Road, only a portion of which still exists, originally ran from a wharf on the St. Croix River, north through a small valley known as “Shaw’s Hollow,” past the quarries, to a small lake known as Shaw’s Lake. Ice was cut from this lake in the winter and hauled back to the community by horse and sleigh.

Many of the older homes in the area were plastered with Plaster of Paris, with the gypsum having come from this quarry.

There were likely facilities, such as a cook shanty and temporary housing for the workers, constructed near the quarry.

Charles Shaw sold the mineral rights to the northern portion of the property, including the quarry, to the J.B. King Company in 1906 and signed a 15-year land and timber lease to King in
1907. It is not known if the J.B. King Company ever mined the Shaw Plaster Quarry.

Jerome Berre King comes up repeatedly in the history of gypsum mining in Hants County because he was such an important figure. King built his first wallboard factory in 1876 on New York’s Staten Island and built a business empire that relied heavily on exports of Nova Scotia gypsum, a key ingredient in wallboard.