Stellarton’s Storr Pits

Here is the story of Stellarton’s Storr Pits, which came to be called the Burnt Mines.

In 1826, King George IV granted his brother, Prince Frederick, the Duke of York, all mineral rights in Nova Scotia that had not previously been granted. These rights were, in turn, given to the General Mining Association (GMA), a company formed by Rundell, Bridge and Rundell (RBR), the Royal Goldsmiths from 1797-1843.

The Duke of York, who was known for his free-spending ways, was heavily indebted to RBR. He gave them the mineral rights in exchange for clearing his debts and 25% of the GMA's profits.

The GMA arrived in Nova Scotia in June 1827 when a ship called the Margaret Pilkington, carrying 200 tons of mining equipment, skilled engineers and experienced miners, sailed into Pictou harbour. The company founded Albion Mines (now called Stellarton) on the west bank of the East River.

The GMA’s main focus in Nova Scotia was coal mining but funnily enough, that was not the company’s original plan. In 1825, the GMA sent a Cornish mining engineer named Blackwell to study Nova Scotia’s copper deposits. Nova Scotia had apparently acquired a reputation, largely undeserved at that point, for wealth in copper. Mr. Blackwell spent the summer visiting every then-known copper deposit in the province and concluded that the GMA should focus on coal instead. This would prove to be a significant turning point in Nova Scotia’s history.

The GMA’s first mine was called the Storr Pits and it extracted its first coal in early September, a mere three months after the GMA’s arrival. By December, Nova Scotia’s first steam engine had been installed.

The Storr Pits were sunk 240 feet to the Foord seam, next to the East River, about 200 metres east of the Dorrington Softball Complex (https://www.facebook.com/MiningNS/posts/4277122022314898).

The Storr Pits (also sometimes spelled “Store”) were worked by the room and pillar method, in which "rooms" of ore are dug out while "pillars" of untouched material are left to support the roof. Many of these pillars eventually crushed (collapsed).

By 1830, the GMA employed 80 men and 14 horses on the surface, while 50 men with seven horses were producing coal underground.

In 1832, the Storr pits caught fire, killing 14 horses. The pit mouths had to be sealed and later flooded to extinguish the fire. An investigation concluded that the fire had been arson, likely set by someone opposed to the government granting mineral rights to the GMA instead of to locals.

After nine months of pumping water out of the mine, it reopened and produced until 1834 when it exploded. Recovered, it exploded again in 1836.

The Storr Pits’ last explosion took place in 1839. The explosion and ensuing fire were so severe that the workings were permanently abandoned. The Storr Pits came to be known as the Burnt Mines.

From 1828-34, the extracted coal was put into scows (flat-bottomed boats) for transport, due to the East River’s relatively shallow water.

In December 1834, a wharf was built by New Glasgow on the opposite shore. The coal was hauled from the mines to the wharf by horses on a 1.5 mile tramway, where it was loaded into small boats for carriage to cargo ships.

Between 1834-39, an actual railway (meaning it was powered by steam, not horses) was built. The Albion Railroad carried coal to piers at Abercrombie. It was Nova Scotia’s first railway and only the second in Canada. The railway's English -made locomotives were the first to run on iron rails in Canada. The line operated until 1961.

The only coal mine operating in the area today is the Stellarton surface mine which is fixing subsidence issues caused by 200 years of pick-and-shovel mining, including many bootleg mines. The mine is stabilizing the land so it can be used for development, while also creating jobs for Nova Scotians and providing fuel to Nova Scotia Power.