Shelburne Granite Boulders

There was an unusual granite quarry in Shelburne that did not extract bedrock, as virtually all quarries do. Instead, it extracted stone from giant boulders!

The Shelburne Granite and Marble Works was owned by C. G. Reid. The company’s quarry was located 1.5 miles northeast of Shelburne.

According to a government memo written in 1940, the granite was extracted from “immense boulders which are resting on top of the main body of granite. There is a very large number of these big boulders within a short radius.”

The boulders were erratics. Glaciers erode land as they move slowly over it, and carry eroded rocks, sand and clay along with them. When glaciers melt/retreat, they deposit the rocks, sand and clay.

Some of the rocks they carry are boulders called erratics (from the Latin word errare, meaning to wander.) We have all seen many erratics, even if we didn’t know it. For example, there are many around Peggy's Cove and in other areas of Nova Scotia.

Due to varying flow movements of the ice, erratics sometimes end up concentrated in some areas, the result of boulders dropping wherever they happen to be as the ice sheet melts.

Such boulders were Mr. Reid’s quarry.

The boulder being worked at the time of the government official’s 1940 visit was 25 feet high (pictured below).

The memo said the erratics “make easy quarrying and provide a fine grained grey granite suitable for monumental purposes. It is exceptionally free from seams and inclusions (shakes and knots) and splits in either direction equally well.”

Building stone and stone used for decorative purposes (i.e. monuments, headstones, trim on buildings, etc.) needs to be solid and attractive, without joints/cracks, veins or other characteristics that are considered undesirable. When we blast and crush rock like gypsum for use in wallboard, or aggregate for use in construction, things like cracks do not matter because we break the rock down anyway. But stone used to erect buildings or for decorative purposes needs to be as flawless as possible, as the Shelburne boulders were.

A “double team” (of horses, presumably) hauled six-tons of granite per day, in three trips, from Reid’s quarry to his facility in Shelburne where the stone was prepared.

Much of the finished stone was shipped via Shelburne’s “splendid natural harbor.”

After seeing the erratics at Reid’s unusual quarry, the government official concluded that “There will be no difficulty experienced in obtaining any quantity of granite that may be desired.”

According to the memo, “There is no difficulty in obtaining plenty of labor for quarrying purposes and there are many in the district who are experienced paving block cutters, and who work on a contract basis of so much per finished block.”

Some of that experience was likely gained across the harbour from Shelburne, at the Dauphinee family’s quarry in what we now call the Islands Provincial Park, one of the many examples of parks and protected areas that contain former mines and quarries. The Island Park quarry started operating in 1890 and closed in the 1960s.