Smithfield, Guysborough County

Nova Scotia has two communities named Smithfield that both hosted historical lead mines – an odd coincidence considering that the province has not had many lead mines.

Lead was discovered in Smithfield, Guysborough County, in 1873 along the south bank of the West River St. Marys.

David Smith made the find and by 1875 an adit (tunnel) 40 metres long had been driven.

In 1876, the adit was extended 49 metres. According to a Department of Mines report, a shaft was also sunk that year between the mine’s entrance and the river, and a tunnel was driven north under the river. There is no other record that mentions the shaft and no confirmation that it was actually dug. An inspection in the modern era found that the space between the tunnel and river is quite small, pretty tight for such a shaft to have been dug there. That area is now covered by waste rock so confirming whether the shaft existed would require heavy equipment. (In mining, the term “waste rock” means rock leftover from extraction and processing, not that there is anything wrong with the rock.)

In 1904, a second adit was driven south from the bank to intersect the main adit.

A 1931 report tells us that the main adit’s present length (230 metres) had been achieved by that time.

After the 1930s, Smithfield was largely inactive. An examination of the mine in 1988 found that the adits were still mostly open except for the entrance to the second one which had partially collapsed.

The site is usually referred to as the Hirschfield Mine, named for George A. Hirschfield, who was one of the mine’s operators. He was involved in it as early as 1910 when the Department of Mines annual report mentions that he represented the mine at the provincial exhibition that year. He was still involved in the mine in the early 1930s when a Department memo discussed his future plans for the site. The mine is also sometimes called the Smithfield Mine or the Glenelg Mine because it is just west of the community of Glenelg.

Today, the mine’s adits have grates on them to keep people out but allow bats in. Historical mine shafts often provide an important habitat for Nova Scotia’s bats during winter hibernation. Bats need very specific environmental and climatic conditions and need to be in a place where they are undisturbed during the winter.

Why do mine shafts make for perfect winter hibernation sites for bats?

For winter hibernation, bats require:

• 100% relative humidity
• areas that do not flood
• areas with no wind or air movement
• baffling from outside, so that if there is a temperature change it is gradual
• complexity of habitat - so they can select, at any given time, spots that meet their immediate roosting requirements; and
• protection from predators (including people) - that is why total darkness is best

People are urged to stay away from former mines for their own safety as well as for the health of Nova Scotia’s bat population.