Stanburne’s Puzzling Gold Mine

An historical gold mine in Stanburne did not produce much gold. In fact, the Royal Canadian Mint refused to work with the mysterious combination of metals produced at the mine because its gold content was too low. This is the story of Stanburne’s puzzling gold mine.

Gold was discovered in Stanburne, Lunenburg County, in 1892 by Thomas Acker. The first recorded work at the site took place in 1897 when three shafts were dug, ranging from 18 to 24 feet, on what was called the Little Klondike vein. A small five-stamp mill was built to process the ore.

By the time of a 1911 Geological Survey of Canada report, a large number of additional veins had been discovered and the mine had reached a depth of 40 feet. Sixty tons of ore had been extracted but there are no records of how much gold was recovered.

The site lay idle for several decades until it was worked again, starting in 1931, by V. T. Prichard of Saint John, New Brunswick, who prospected the “Indian Hole” or “Mine Lead” and several parallel veins. Prichard (spelled Pritchard in some records) uncovered the Mine Lead with 200 feet of trenching, and he rebuilt the old five-stamp mill. A 1933 report says 1.3 ounces of gold were recovered from 2.5 tons of ore, which was a good rate of return but a very small test.

In 1936, the Stanburne Gold Mines company, run by Montreal’s J. A. Grant and with Prichard as an investor, took over the site. Two shafts were sunk to depths of 25 and 20 feet on the main vein. An open cut, 350 feet long, was also dug on the vein to an average depth of about nine feet.

A second belt (group) of veins 108 feet east of the main vein was exposed with another open cut. Trenches uncovered several other veins.

According to an undated historical memo, “Before work was begun comfortable quarters were erected for the men and additions and repairs made to the mill and other necessary buildings.”

An August 31, 1936, letter by J. A. Grant described the mine’s curious output:

A test run was done on 25 tons of crushed ore that summer and 16.5 ounces of bullion was produced. However, the bullion was not the yellowish colour of gold – it was grey. According to the letter, Howard Martin, who did the smelting for the company, “was absolutely puzzled as to its contents but felt that there was an excess of native silver alloyed with the gold, but could not identify the alloy as it was not affected by nitric acid. We had an idea that lead packing may have gotten into our ore bin but Mr. Martin did not think this was the case, we sent this block of bullion which weighed 16 ½ oz., after melting, to the mint authorities on August 1st., and suggested there might be some platinum in it although it seems rather improbably to expect this metal in Nova Scotia.

“After some three weeks delay the mint authorities advised us they could not accept the brick as it did not contain the necessary 200 parts in 1,000 of fine gold, but gave us no indication of what the metal was.”

Another mill test of 20 tons of ore produced 6.5 ounces of metal, “having the same characteristics as the first one….”

Grant’s letter says independent assays (tests) were to be done on the metal but Department of Mines files do not contain any additional analyses.

Grant wrote, “Mr. Martin is completely at sea as to our product, as it certainly was the wrong colour although apparently very heavy and was not brittle which we expect would have been the case had lead been present.”

The letter went on to complain that the processing of additional ore was “much handicapped by lack of water, there having been no rainfall here for the last six weeks until this last week-end, and at this writing we have little water to go on with.”

The Stanburne Gold Mines company did not report producing any additional gold in Stanburne.

A total of 11.3 ounces of gold were produced from 83.4 tons of crushed ore in 1936, which was all of the documented production in Stanburne other than the 1.3 ounces produced in 1933.

Disseminated scheelite, an ore of tungsten, has also been found at Stanburne.

Today it is still not known what combination of metals made the mine’s output grey. There has not been sufficient exploration at the site in the modern era to unravel that geological mystery.

The unusual metal produced in Stanburne illustrates that metals deposits almost always have multiple metals in them because of how they form and because certain metals tend to be associated with each other. Members of the various periods in the Periodic Table often have almost identical chemical characteristics and behaviors, so they often form in close proximity to each other. For example, gold deposits often have at least small amounts of silver and copper in them, and they may contain other metals as well. A number of Nova Scotia’s gold deposits also have tungsten associated with them.

These complex deposits were often a challenge for historical mines because they could not always separate the various metals and produce an economically viable product. The rudimentary metallurgy of the day also often caused unfortunate environmental legacies because chemicals and metals ended up as waste instead of being recovered in the milling process.

Huge advancements in modern science and technology make it much more likely that complex deposits can be mined and milled successfully while also taking excellent care of the environment. In fact, the additional metals in a deposit can generate additional revenue for a mine and more of the materials that society needs.