Many of Nova Scotia’s most beautiful historic buildings contain sandstone from Wallace, Cumberland County.

The vast majority of sandstone produced in Nova Scotia has come from the Wallace area, between the Wallace River to the west and Wallace Ridge to the east.

Sandstone production began in the early 1800s on the east side of the Wallace River, just north and south of where the Wallace River Railway Swing Bridge was later built in 1883.

The original site changed hands several times before it was purchased by Richard Scott on May 2, 1810. Scott was the master builder chosen to oversee construction of Nova Scotia’s legislature, which used 100,000 blocks of Wallace stone in its exterior walls.

Stone was extracted and loaded onto ships from shipping piers.

Stone from the quarries was also used in the Wallace River Railway Swing Bridge’s piers. The bridge included a swing portion to allow ships to travel to and from the quarries. Today, the bridge is part of the Trans Canada Trail and the area is dense forest. Evidence of the early quarry workings and wharf piles can still be found.

The name most often associated with the Wallace River quarries today is that of the Battye family (sometimes spelled Batte), which started running them in 1860. Thomas Battye bought them and his sons, Frederick and George, eventually took them over and continued running them under the name of Fred Battye and Company until 1895 when Fred died.

While some quarrying was done just south of the bridge, the more extensive quarries were north of it. At least six old quarries were located about 350 metres to the north, running east from the Wallace River toward the Wallace Bridge-to-Middleboro road.

When the quarries were examined by provincial government geologists in the 1980s, about 75 metres of tracks were found in the eastern end of the quarries. The quarries consisted of a series of pits averaging 30 metres in diameter and 5-7 metres in depth. In addition to the remains of wharf piles, many sandstone blocks were found on a waste pile immediately north of the bridge.

A 1914 report said the old Battye quarries had not seen any serious work for about 40 years, suggesting that major production stopped in the 1870s.

The Battye quarries provided stone for many buildings, including Government House, the office and residence of the lieutenant governor, and Nova Scotia’s legislature.

In 1900 George Battye formed a joint stock company to manufacture bricks. In 1901 the company employed about 125 men. Brick machinery with a capacity of 35,000 per day was installed and a funnel dryer was built. The bricks were made with the Battye quarries’ clay overburden. Overburden is the rock and dirt on top of a mineral deposit. It needs to be removed to access the target mineral at most mines and quarries, so being able to use it for bricks was convenient.

The brick plant was connected with the Oxford and New Glasgow Railway by a short siding for direct loading. The chief market was the United States, places like New York, Boston and Rhode Island.

The brick plant burned down in 1918 and was not rebuilt.

The focus of production in the Wallace area later shifted to what are now called the Wallace Quarries, about four miles east of the Wallace River, in the village of Wallace.

The site was first quarried in 1863 by a local farmer, William McNab, after he found sandstone on his property while digging holes for fence posts. He extracted thin layers of sandstone for use as flagstones and shipped them to Prince Edward Island and Halifax for sidewalks. The stone was carried by scows to schooners offshore because there were no wharves in Wallace at that time.

In 1872, the Wallace Huestis Graystone Company was formed and leased the quarry from McNab. Cranes were installed in the quarry and at the harbour for loading schooners bound for Boston and other markets.

In 1885, the quarry was sold to G.P. Sherwood & Company. Sherwood was also president of Dorchester Union Freestone Company. The two companies, based in the United States, shipped Wallace stone to cities up and down the US east coast and in Canada. They built a gravity railroad from the quarry to the company wharf. They continued to operate the Wallace Quarries for the next 27 years.

in 1912, contractors P. Lyall & Sons purchased the quarries. They modernized the operation with a steam mill for sawing, a large electric crane and steam shovels. They shipped stone all across Canada and the US, including to Ottawa where it helped with the rebuilding of the Parliament buildings after the original buildings burned down in 1916.

Sandstone is sometimes called freestone because its lack of a grain allows it to be cut in any direction, making it easy to carve and work with. Other types of stone usually need to be cut with the grain. It is for this reason that Wallace sandstone was used in the parliament buildings for complicated, decorative carvings. For example, the sandstone archway in Centre Block's main entrance, below the Peace Tower, is from Wallace.

P. Lyall & Sons continued quarrying sandstone under the name Wallace Sandstone Quarries Ltd. and finally Wallace Quarries Ltd.

In 1911, the quarries were described as being actively worked over five or six acres, to a depth of about 40 feet. The operation had five steam derricks of about 18 tons capacity each, one 65 horsepower engine and boiler, one 25 horsepower engine and boiler, three steam drills and three steam pumps. There were also two miles of track, including a double track gravity tramway to the wharf, 16 rail cars, a gasoline engine and a derrick on the wharf. Thirty men were employed on average.

In addition to the shipping facilities owned by the company, a rail spur two miles long connected the property with the Intercolonial railway.

To free the sandstone from the quarries’ working faces, 1.25-1.5 inch holes were made and charged with black powder. A single hole blasted in this fashion would “produce a straight break in almost any direction with equal facility. The dressing and cutting of the blocks is performed entirely by the use of gads and picks” (a gad is a chisel or pointed iron or steel bar for loosening rock).

Prices in 1911 were:
• Scabbled block (only partially shaped or roughly finished): $5 per ton
• Large dimension stone: $7-8 per ton
• Rubble stone: $1 per ton

Production in 1911 was about 10,000 tons.

Stone from the Wallace Stone Company quarries can be seen in Sydney’s old Bank of Montreal building, the Provincial Building in Halifax and countless others.

There have been a number of other, smaller quarries in the Wallace area, including:

The Imperial Stone Company Quarry was a half mile northwest of the Wallace Stone Company quarries at the village of Wallace. In 1914, the quarry was operated by Dr. McKinnon of Halifax. The excavation was about 50 feet by 35 feet. It was said to be 19 feet deep in parts but this could not be verified because the hole was full of water. A derrick was still in position but all operations had been suspended.

A quarry owned by E. A. Betts of Wallace was about 100 yards from the Imperial Stone Company Quarry, on a property of 17.5 acres. In 1914, development work was being done but no stone had yet been shipped. Seven men were at work and the haul to tidewater was about a half mile.

The Wallace Ridge Quarry was a small operation. No production records exist but it was likely used to provide stone for the construction of local buildings. Examined in the 1980s by government geologists, the quarry was found about 100 metres in the woods from an old clearing and apple orchards which were once a farm. The hole was seven metres in diameter and three metres deep.

The Fred Mead Quarry was on the southwestern bank of Meads Brook, 1.5 kilometres south of the bridge at Wallace Bridge. The quarry was directly behind the barn of Mr. Fred Mead. Its production history is not known but when examined in the 1980s, it was a water-filled hole, 50 metres in diameter and 10 metres deep. A five-metre-high rock face that had been worked into the brook’s bank was still visible.

J. C. Ayre operated a quarry in the bed of a creek which enters the Wallace River about halfway between Wallace River bridge and Wallace River bridge station.

The Wallace River Bridge, where quarrying began in the early 1800s.

The Wallace Quarries which are still in operation.