Walton Gypsum Quarry

The Walton gypsum quarry was one of the oldest significant gypsum operations in Nova Scotia, with mining taking place from about 1810-1972. Like many former mines and quarries, the site is a beautiful lake now.

The quarry, which is sometimes referred to as the South Mountain Quarry, had a working face about 100 feet tall and 400 feet long at the time of a 1913 government report which discussed its operation. The quarry had little overburden (the rock and dirt on top of the gypsum deposit) so it was easily removed by hand.

Drilling was also done by hand and a “low power dynamite” was used to free the rock from the quarry’s face. The gypsum was then loaded into horse-drawn carts and hauled to the shipping pier in Walton village where it was shipped to J. B. King’s factories in New York.

The quarry’s yearly output was about 25,000 tons in the years around 1913. The quarry and pier employed an average of 35 men for 11 months of the year.

A 1930 report by the same author, L. H. Cole, showed that technology at the quarry had improved considerably. By then, overburden was being removed by steam shovel and a portable compressor was used to supply air to jackhammer drills in the quarry. Both activities were done by hand at the time of the 1913 report.

A narrow-gauge railway had also been built to haul the gypsum to the shipping pier – no more horse-drawn carts. The railway was one mile long, with three locomotives and cars with a capacity of four tons each.

The crushing plant at the pier reduced the gypsum to three-inch pieces and conveyer belts carried it to the storage shed until a steamer was ready to be loaded. Belts beneath the shed carried the rock to chutes which distributed it in the hold of a vessel at the rate of 350 tons per hour. This allowed a 2,500-ton vessel to be loaded between tides, an important consideration on the Minas Basin.

Production in the years around 1930 fluctuated from a high of 112,485 tons in 1927 to a low of 9000 tons in 1933. The trend reversed at that point and production climbed through most of the 1930s and 40s.

Over the years, the area had five different quarries along Quarry Road (shown in the map below). The original operation, the South Mountain Quarry, was just east of the corner of Walton Woods Road and Quarry Road.

The North Mountain Quarry opened in the early 1920s, immediately east of the South Mountain operation. In 1948, another quarry was opened 800 metres further east.

In 1950, a quarry was opened at Fry’s Mountain, about three kilometres east of the South Mountain Quarry. By 1952, all the production from the Walton area was coming from the Fry’s Mountain site. In 1957, a small quarry, called the Stevens Quarry, was opened 1.6 kilometres east of the Fry’s Mountain quarry.

Gypsum quarrying in the area came to an end in 1972 as National Gypsum, the last operator in Walton, consolidated its Nova Scotia operations at the world’s largest surface gypsum quarry in Milford. The Milford quarry still operates today, employing about 100 Nova Scotians between the quarry and its dock facility in Bedford Basin.

There were, of course, multiple operators in Walton over the years. The South Mountain and North Mountain quarries were run during the periods discussed in the 1913 and 1930 reports by Albert E. Parsons (1869-1948), who represented Hants County in the provincial legislature from 1909-20 and again from 1925-33. In his long political career, he served as speaker of the legislature and on the executive council. Parsons was also involved in the lumber trade and shipbuilding.

Former surface mines and quarries often become lakes because they naturally fill with rainwater and water from underground springs. Water is pumped out of most mines/quarries to keep them from filling so when operations are done and the pumping stops, the sites fill naturally.

Today, before they even start mining, companies must get government approval of reclamation plans and post reclamation bonds (money in escrow, basically) that ensure funds are available to reclaim sites. Lakes and wetlands are often part of reclamation plans.