Wentworth Creek Quarry

Meadow Quarry, before and after!

Meadow Pond, as it’s called now, was mined in the early 1900s and today it’s a beautiful wetland that supports a variety of waterfowl and aquatic species. The site contains forested areas, gypsum outcrops and a variety of flora. The Government of Nova Scotia stocks this well-known fishing hole and the West Hants Wildlife Association hosts an annual ice fishing derby on it.

The Meadow Quarry was part of the Wentworth Creek Quarry in Hants County.

The Wentworth Creek operation, about three kilometres east of Windsor, dates back to the 1860s. In its early years, its gypsum was exported to the United States and used as fertilizer. Farms from Boston to Richmond, Virginia, used gypsum from Nova Scotia to grow things like tobacco, corn and cotton. Gypsum was also used to make plaster of Paris, which was used mainly in walls but also for things like casts.

Records about the Wentworth Creek Quarry are sketchy until the early 1900s. The quarry was owned by the Wentworth Gypsum Company starting around 1875. Jerome Berre King was an owner of the company and he played a major role in the development of Nova Scotia’s gypsum sector by quarrying and purchasing gypsum here and shipping it his Windsor Plaster Mills wallboard facility on New York’s Staten Island.

In 1913, Wentworth Gypsum was operating three quarries at Wentworth Creek – the Meadow, Fraser and Eagle Swamp quarries.

(In historical records, different operational areas within a property are sometimes described as separate quarries and sometimes as different working areas within one large quarry. This can be a bit confusing but the difference is not meaningful when all the operational areas are owned by the same company, or when the sites are operated in different periods. In our posts, we usually refer to a site as being one quarry unless there is a reason to make a distinction among the different working areas. However, it’s worth noting that in total, there were nine quarries that operated at various times in the area between Wentworth Creek and Five Mile Plains.)

In 1913, the gypsum was drilled by hand augers and broken down with dynamite before being loaded onto horse-drawn carts and dumped into five-ton railway cars. The gypsum travelled over a narrow-gauge railway owned by the company to its shipping pier on the St. Croix river.

In the winter months when shipping wasn’t possible, the gypsum was stored in sheds situated halfway between the quarry and the shipping pier, waiting for spring. This allowed the quarry to operate year-round.

The gypsum was loaded onto barges of 2,000 to 2,200 tons capacity, and then towed by tugs to J. B. King’s plants in the United States.

(Neat trivia – before mechanized loading, ships were loaded by hand. There was a standard rock size called a “one man-rock,” or “man-sized rock,” meaning a rock that an average-sized man could carry from the wagon to the ship, i.e. about the size of a basketball. The term became a unit of measurement in the industry and it’s still used in some places to describe the size of stones used in landscaping, i.e. a one-man rock, a two-man rock, etc.)

In 1916, the Fraser quarry was the largest gypsum quarry in Nova Scotia. It produced 185,464 tons that year.

For a number of years, Wentworth Creek produced about half of Canada’s total gypsum production.

The Canadian Gypsum Company took over the Wentworth Creek property in 1926 after J. B. King passed away. Canadian Gypsum was operating two quarries in the area at the time of a 1930 report – Meadow and Cable (Cable was actually the Fraser Quarry, which had been renamed in 1924).

The Meadow Quarry’s working face was 40 feet high and 400 feet long in 1930. The rock was blasted and loaded into train cars by a gasoline shovel. Loaded trams were hauled to the wharf where the rock was crushed down to 6-inch pieces so that it could be moved by the loading equipment into vessels.

The Cable/Fraser quarry was over 1000 feet long in 1930. To blast the rock and free it from the working face, vertical holes were drilled to a depth of 60 feet, loaded with dynamite and triggered by battery. The broken rock was removed from the quarry either by rail cars lowered down an incline or by an aerial cable which dumped the gypsum into 7-ton rail cars that were hauled to the shipping pier.

At the pier, the gypsum was crushed down to 6-inch pieces in a jaw crusher with a capacity of 200 tons of per hour. Conveyor belts then carried the rock to either the storage shed or directly to ships to be loaded.

To make year-round shipping possible, the company built a second storage shed at Deep Brook on the Annapolis Basin. Gypsum was stored there during the summer months and shipped out during winter.

In 1946, the company built a new shed and pier at Hantsport and shut down its Deep Brook wharf. The company also lost two ships that year to enemy fire during WWII (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/gypsum-queen).

Fundy Gypsum took over Wentworth Creek in 1962.

The quarry shut down in 2012 due to the 2009 economic downturn that saw the collapse of the US housing market. Gypsum’s main use is in wallboard and with fewer new homes being built, there was less demand for wallboard and less need to produce Nova Scotia gypsum.

Wallboard was invented in the United States in 1918. Plaster made from gypsum was sandwiched between two sheets of paper and within ten years, large scale production was revolutionizing the construction industry.

Today, wallboard is used in most buildings. An average home has about seven tons of gypsum in its walls. Most walls in Nova Scotia contain gypsum quarried in the province.

Safety is the main reason gypsum is in wallboard. Gypsum is 21% water at the molecular level so it slows the spread of fire and helps save lives.

For more info about J. B. King, see https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/newport-plaster