South Harbour

From its disappearing shaft and pits to a stolen truck, a mysterious lead mine in South Harbour, Victoria County, has a story to tell.

Hugh Fletcher from the Geological Survey of Canada visited the site on July 26, 1904. He described its location as being “just inside the point of the sand bar at the mouth of the south pond of Aspy Bay, lately worked by Messrs H. C. Carson, Fred E. Carre and Captain Gordon. It lies on a little brook that flows into a salt water marsh east of the house of Mr. Michael Fitzgerald….”

Fletcher reported that “a quantity of loose ore was found near the surface at the little brook mentioned above,” apparently extracted from two shallow pits that were caved in at the time of Fletcher’s visit.

Fletcher noted that in addition to the two pits, “a well-timbered vertical shaft, 9 feet by 6 feet, has been sunk about forty feet.” A house, a small boiler, engine and pump were at the site.

A 7-foot by 4-foot tunnel (aka a level) had been dug at the shaft bottom about twenty feet to the northeast and another tunnel about the same size had also been dug “into the limestone immediately east of the brook. From this excavation, about two tons of picked ore were taken, of which a large sample was sent to Dr. Hoffman for analysis. By Mr. F. H. Mason, who made a report on the deposit, this is estimated to contain about thirty percent of lead, representing not more than three per cent of lead for the total amount of rock mined. Mr. Mason concludes, also, that nothing has been found to warrant further development, but advises, if further development be undertaken, that the existing shaft be sunk to a depth of eighty or a hundred feet and that levels be driven in both directions on the course of the vein. The cost of this work should not be, he thinks, more than ten dollars per foot for sinking and three dollars per foot for driving.”

Per Mason’s advice, exploration at the site stopped and it lay idle for decades.

The Geological Survey of Canada returned in 1963 and noted the lead occurrence (marked “Pb,” the chemical symbol for lead).

In subsequent years, the South Harbour lead occurrence became an example of how difficult it sometimes is to find historical workings for a variety of reasons. For example, sites can become overgrown, landmarks can change over time, and historical records are sometimes inaccurate or just unclear, especially when hand-drawn maps are the main source of information about a deposit’s location. Also, landowners sometimes fill in pit/shaft openings or otherwise alter the landscape. With a site like South Harbour, which is low-lying and near a beach, rises in sea levels or storms can also hide old workings.

In 1974-75, one of South Harbour’s old pits was discovered during exploration work. A subsequent report said the pit was about eight feet deep and a rock sample was found to contain 4.94% lead, 0.52% zinc and 0.52 ounces per ton of silver.

However, the explorationists at that time did not find a second pit: “There is a local tradition of another trial pit having been dug a few hundred feet to the south, but no other pit was found."

Nova Scotia Department of Mines geologists visited the site in 1991 but did not find the lead occurrence: “The area reported to be the site of the test pit was prospected, but no indication of mineralized limestone could be seen. Several pits were observed along the side of a trail which leads to the beach in this area, but they all appear to represent sink holes, and not collapsed survey pits.”

Another visit by the Department in 1998 located the two historical pits. One was 5-10 metres north of White Point Road, a short distance west of a walking trail leading to South Harbour Beach. It was five metres square at the surface and three metres deep, and visible from the shoulder of the road.

The other pit was located three metres northeast of the first. It was four metres square at the surface and three metres deep.

The Department found that the geology in the pits did not match the description of the mineralized zone provided by Fletcher. Also, the two pits were not reinforced with timber, as Fletcher had written. This meant the two pits were not the main mine shaft described by Fletcher, so department geologists searched the area for it.

Despite an intensive search, they found no signs of the shaft. They believed it was likely along the south side of Lily Pond, where the geology matched Fletcher’s description, but suspected that construction of White Point Road had buried all evidence of it.

The challenges of figuring out South Harbour’s mysteries continued. The government geologists collected two rock samples from the pits during their 1998 visit, but the samples were lost when their departmental truck was stolen.

Today, technological advancements allow us to better understand the geology of places like South Harbour. For example, the grey image below was generated using remote sensing technology LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). The red circle on the far left highlights what appears to be at least one and perhaps two candidates for an historical pit or shaft. A visit to the site would likely determine whether they are historical workings since openings as deep as what was reported should have left a pile of extracted rock and dirt beside them. These waste piles help make old diggings easy to find and also provide a hint as to the depth of the workings - deeper workings generate bigger waste piles.

The other two circles show depressions which may be historical pits or the shaft, or which may be the sinkholes noted by the Department of Mines.