Nova Scotia’s first iron mines were developed in 1825 at Nictaux Falls, Annapolis County. Also in 1825, the Annapolis Iron Mining Company built a blast furnace at Moose River (Clementsport) between Annapolis Royal and Digby, in order to smelt the magnetic ore recovered from three seams in Clementsvale (the Miller, Potter and Milbury), as well as to accommodate production from the Nictaux deposits.

By the 1890s additional iron reserves had been discovered at Torbrook, near Nictaux, leading to a sporadic succession of mining and smelting initiatives. Torbrook’s Wheelock and Leckie mines produced 349,000 tons of iron ore between 1891-1913.

Unfortunately, Torbrook iron was relatively low quality. It contained a lot of phosphorous and sulphur which are impurities in steel-making. (Steel is mainly iron and carbon, and the carbon is derived from coal. Nova Scotia got into steel production because it has vast coal deposits and the hope was that local iron would provide the second of the two key ingredients.)

The biggest iron producer in Nova Scotia – and in Canada, for a while - was the Acadian Iron Mines at Londonderry, Colchester County. Mining began there in 1849 and continued until 1908. It became a major industrial centre with iron mining, smelting and steel-making. It had almost 5000 residents at its peak and was the main economic driver in Northern Nova Scotia.

Londonderry produced high quality iron and had a very good reputation. For example, its iron was used by the steel mills in Sheffield, England, which produced some of the best steel globally.

As Londonderry’s iron deposits were gradually depleted, iron ore from the Nictaux-Torbrook area was mixed with ore from Londonderry to stretch the Londonderry supply. Unfortunately, the blending didn’t work – Nictaux-Torbrook’s phosphorous and sulphur lowered the quality of the Londonderry ore and contributed to the eventual shutdown of Londonderry.

Two major fires in Londonderry – in 1900 and 1920 – helped bring its iron mining days to an end. Also, the discovery of major iron deposits in Wabana, Newfoundland, in 1892 and Ontario in 1877 made Nova Scotia’s relatively small deposits uneconomical.