WWII Exploration

The urgent need for minerals in WWII led to a significant exploration program throughout Nova Scotia to find mineral deposits to contribute to the war effort.

Today when we talk about “critical minerals,” we mean minerals like lithium and copper that are essential for things like electronics and green technologies. However, society’s mineral needs are constantly changing, particularly as new technologies and new uses for minerals are invented, so what we consider critical also changes constantly.

During WWII, huge quantities of certain minerals were needed for things like weapons and transportation, and these were the critical minerals of that time. Large increases in demand, combined with the disruption of pre-war supply chains due to risks associated with shipping and invasions of countries that were suppliers, made finding deposits a key focus for the Allies.

Only one in every 10,000 exploration projects actually becomes a mine so it is not surprising that the WWII exploration did not result in much new mining during the war. However, the exploration did produce important discoveries that contributed to Nova Scotia’s economy for decades.

According to a 1945 report by Lauchlin D. Currie, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Mines from 1940-47, the WWII exploration program actually started in 1937 in anticipation of war breaking out. The war eventually started in 1939.

The first priority was manganese, a metal often alloyed with steel to make it stronger and more flexible so it can be used in things like railway tracks and rifle barrels. Nova Scotia had several historical manganese mines (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/manganese-stories) and General Andrew McNaughton, then-president of the National Research Council, told Nova Scotia officials in 1937 that “when war comes, it will be one, if not the most important of critical minerals in our war effort. Try to find it in quantity and earmark it for that purpose.”

This stark warning triggered the WWII exploration effort in the province. Here are some examples of its successes.


According to Minister Currie, in fall 1940, the Department of Mines’ deputy minister visited users of manganese ore in Ontario “in an effort to determine some way by which the low grade materials [in Nova Scotia] could be used for the war effort. In Toronto, he met Mr. K. J. Springer of Sturgeon River Gold Mines, and induced that organization to come to Nova Scotia to make an intensive re-study of all the manganese occurrences with the hope that one of them could be put into production…They were unable to find a manganese deposit which, in their opinion, would warrant the large expenditure of money necessary for development, but in the course of their examinations, they located an outcrop of barytes near Pembroke, Hants County.”

This quickly led to the establishment of the Walton barite mine which operated from 1941-78.

Today, the reclaimed mine is a lovely lake and greenspace, pictured below (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/walton-barite-mine).

The discovery of the Walton barite deposit, one of the largest in the world, was actually a rediscovery. A small, one metre-square outcrop of barite was discovered in 1894 but its location was lost to time until 1940.

Barite was needed in the war, as it is today, because it is a key ingredient in drilling mud - a heavy, viscous fluid mixture that is used in oil and gas drilling operations to carry rock cuttings to the surface and also to lubricate and cool the drill bit. The drilling mud, by hydrostatic pressure, also helps prevent the collapse of unstable strata into the borehole and the intrusion of water from water-bearing strata that may be encountered. Barite makes drilling safer and more efficient.

Currie wrote, “It is interesting to note that, although the search for manganese did not achieve success, it was directly responsible for the establishing of this permanent industry within the



In 1941, a company called Guysborough Mines abandoned its search for tungsten in Lake Charlotte, Halifax County, after spending $20,000 but deciding the grade of ore was too low for commercial production. Instead, the company transferred its equipment to the Indian Path tungsten property in Lunenburg County. The tungsten was mined and contributed to the war effort for several years until the deposit was largely depleted in 1943 (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/indian-path-story).

A former tungsten mine in Moose River, Halifax County, was also prepared for a return to production but the demand for tungsten eased in 1943 and no extraction took place (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/moose-river).

Tungsten is used as filaments in lightbulbs and, because it is the metal with the highest melting point (3,422 °C), it was also used in plane engines and munitions during WWII.


Salt brine was discovered in a well at Nappan, south of Amherst, in 1927, as a result of exploring drilling for oil.

Additional drilling was done in 1942-43 that confirmed the presence of huge salt deposits that have been worked by solution mining since 1947. In solution mining, the ore is left in the ground and the minerals are extracted by dissolving them in liquid and pumping the solution to the surface where the minerals can be recovered. This results in less disturbance at surface and produces basically no tailings or waste rock. At Nappan, hot water is pumped into drill holes under pressure and the resulting salt brine is pumped back out, then sent through a settling and evaporation process at surface to produce a high-purity salt.

All of the road salt that keeps Nova Scotians safe in winter comes from the Pugwash salt mine but salt has literally thousands of other uses, including in chemicals such as soda ash and chlorine. It was industrial uses like these that motivated the WWII exploration.

Minister Currie praised Department of Mines staff for their work during the war:

“The work of the Department of Mines rarely makes the headlines. It does not stand like ‘a city on the hill’ as do other activities that are more visible to the eye. The travels of the geologist take him to the uninviting cliffs and craggs and swamps where the wayfarer seldom goes. The driller works underground or in removed places where is he seen only by the few. The metallurgist peers into his test tubes and pours out his acids in the quiet of his laboratory. It is only on the rare occasions when some new mineral discovery is made or some startling new process is evolved that the world ever hears from them. Those who work for the Department of Mines ask only that they be not misunderstood and that they be regarded as co-workers in the vineyard trying to their full measure of duty for this little province they love so well.”

Born March 28, 1893, at North Sydney, Lauchlin Daniel Currie worked as a coal miner and bricklayer before graduating from Dalhousie Law School in 1922. He was the lawyer for the Cape Breton division of the United Mine Workers of America for a decade before entering politics in 1933.

Currie was Liberal MLA for Cape Breton East from 1933-1941 and represented another Cape Breton riding, Richmond, from 1941-1949. During the 1940s he held a number of cabinet posts, including attorney general and minister of mines, labour and public health. Appointed to the Supreme Court in 1949, he was elevated to chief justice of the Trial Division in 1966 and to chief justice of the Appeal Division (making him chief justice of Nova Scotia) in February 1967.

He retired in March 1968 and died the following February in Halifax.