Upper Glencoe

Iron was discovered in Upper Glencoe, Inverness County, in 1912. However, repeated attempts to mine the property over several decades did not pan out.

John S. Hart (1874-1964) made the discovery on the farms of Hugh and John McEachern. Hart, from Port Hood, ran a general store that had been founded by his father and was a well-known merchant in the area. He also had a keen interest in mining and had left Port Hood for several years to prospect for gold in the Klondike. According to http://memoryns.ca/, after returning, he began raising silver foxes and patented a number of inventions, including a device for preserving fishermen's bait, diving suits, automatic railroad crossing signals, a windmill for sawing wood, and a plane that would eject the passenger if it was hit by a bomb.

Despite this wide range of interests, Hart was apparently not done with mining. He found a deposit of magnetite, an ore of iron (meaning iron is often derived from magnetite) in an eight-foot-deep trench and a nearby pit in Upper Glencoe.

In 1912, Hart optioned the site to Hadley B. Tremaine of Windsor, Hants County, who subsequently assigned his rights to the Dominion Iron and Steel Company.

Steel is mainly iron and carbon, and the carbon is derived from metallurgical (steelmaking) coal. Nova Scotia got into steel production in the 1800s because it has vast coal deposits and the hope was that local iron would provide the second of the two key ingredients. Both Dominion and the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company explored a number of sites in Cape Breton for their iron potential in the early 1900s.

On June 1, 1912, Dominion started work with a team of eight men, which grew to 16 in August. The company spent about $45,000 by October 1913 prospecting the site. A shaft was dug and drifting (tunnelling) was done from the shaft’s bottom. Several pits were also dug.

Dominion sought to define the size of the ore body, but results were inconclusive because the magnetite was in a series of lenses – separate small deposits, not one large one – which would make extraction more difficult and expensive.

Dominion also found that the percentage of sulphur, an impurity from a steel company’s perspective, in the magnetite increased as they dug deeper. Weathering of the magnetite near surface appeared to have reduced the sulphur content, making the deposit appear higher quality than it proved to be at depth.

The property had several additional challenges. The shaft encountered high water inflow of 500 gallons per minute, which pumps struggled to manage. It was about 12 miles from River Dennys and 14 miles from Orangedale, not close to shipping by rail. It also had considerable overburden (dirt) that had to be dug through to access the deposit, which added to the potential cost of extraction.

Dominion abandoned the property, but not before its exploration work attracted considerable attention and caused various parties to explore surrounding areas in search for iron ore. However, no additional discoveries resulted.

The Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company worked the site from 1914-17. The company dug a new shaft and two pits and extracted 90 tons of ore that were shipped to New Glasgow for treatment. However, the high sulphur content made the ore unsatisfactory.

The Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company did some exploration diamond drilling in 1921. One of the drillholes reportedly intersected a nine-foot lens of magnetite but the company stopped work.

Two decades later, in December 1940, John. S. Hart was back at the property. He and John D. McMillan of Hawthorne staked the area. The Dominion Steel and Coal Company entered into an agreement with them, committing to explore the property and in exchange, Hart and McMillan would get a royalty if a mine were opened.

Dominion was again interested in the site because the company thought its magnetite might be valuable as a source of open hearth iron ore. Open hearth steelmaking was a slower process that made it easier to control the amount of carbon in the steel. It was a major method of steel production through much of the 1900s but has been phased out in recent decades.

Dominion drilled five diamond drillholes in 1942 but found no ore of commercial value, and the company again quit the site on June 8 that year.

On June 26, Geological Survey of Canada staff examined the workings after Hart and McMillan had men clean out the original trench and dewater the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company’s shaft.

At the time of the Geological Survey of Canada’s visit, the property contained a new cabin in which the 1942 drill cores were stored. Other buildings dating from the 1912-14 period were in ruins and an upright, rust-coated boiler was still in position.

The site has been explored intermittently in the decades since, and it is thought that it may be part of a larger iron-oxide-copper-gold (IOCG) zone, and may therefore warrant additional exploration in the modern era.