Nova Scotia Archives

Men in the Mines

A History of Mining Activity in Nova Scotia, 1720-1992

Resource Guide

The source lists which follow present only a starting point for exploring Nova Scotia's rich mining heritage; for the sake of convenience and easier access, the entries have been separated into several sections:

1 Primary Sources – archival records available at Nova Scotia Archives
2 Secondary Sources – published materials available in various locations

A wealth of additional research material, especially of a local nature, is available in other archives, museums and libraries across the province and on the Internet.

Research into any aspect of mining history in Nova Scotia should begin with a visit to the Department of Natural Resources, Mineral Resources Branch, Mineral Deposits Publications to access an incredibly rich electronic library of over 70 research reports.

Together as a group, these reports present mostly in understandable language — the past history and development, current levels of activity, value to the economic sector, and future prospects for Nova Scotia's metallic, industrial and energy deposits — everything from the prehistoric geology of coal to present-day offshore oil and natural gas exploration. There's simply no better place to begin!

1 Primary Sources – archival records available at Nova Scotia Archives

The list which follows is drawn from the holdings of Nova Scotia Archives. It is intended as an introduction to potential research material and is by no means complete. Wherever possible, primary sources have been hot-linked to their formal descriptions contained in BosaNova, the electronic guide to archival holdings at Nova Scotia Archives.

Archival descriptions for primary sources held at the Beaton Institute are not yet available for Web presentation. For further information concerning these research collections, please contact the The Beaton Institute directly.

Government Records at Nova Scotia Archives

Commissioner of Public Records Collection; includes material on Mines and Minerals, 1800-1868. Nova Scotia Archives RG 1, Vols. 458-465 ½ (mfm 15,485-15,488).

Coroners' Inquests and Medical Reports collection; inquest case files are available for several counties with mining/quarrying activity: Cape Breton, 1906-1907; Cumberland, 1931-1959; Inverness, 1936-1971; Halifax, 1828-1928; and Queens, 1818-1940; see Nova Scotia Archives RG 41.

Department of Labour fonds 1866-1988; see especially the Mine Injuries and Fatalities Records series. Includes two lists of fatalities caused by mine and quarry accidents in Nova Scotia. Lists provide date of accident, person's name, name of company or mine, cause of death. Series also includes register of the Inverness Railway and Coal Company, recording mining injuries, name of miner injured, claim number, date of injury, and date returned to work. Nova Scotia Archives RG 19, Vol. 4, no. 5 (Vol. 5; use mfm 15675).

Department of Mines and Energy fonds 1939-71. Mines became a separate department in 1939, when Public Works and Mines was broken up and responsibility for public works was transferred to the Department of Highways. The Department of Mines was exclusively responsible for mines and mining, especially in relation to coal. In 1979 the department was restructured as the Department of Mines and Energy, with a view to energy and mineral resources conservation and, especially, petroleum resources development. In 1991 Mines and Energy was merged with Lands and Forests in the new Department of Natural Resources. Fonds consists of thirteen series: prospecting licence applications, mechanics' liens, mine lease transfers, petroleum licence applications, mine lease registry books, mining licences granted, lease rental record book, operational files, mining accidents correspondence and other material, mining moving images, gold and silver lease applications record books, applications for mining rights record books, and prospecting licence record books.

Department of Public Works and Mines fonds 1801-1939; textual records and other material. Fonds consists of forty-six series; most relate to mines and mining: prospecting licence applications, incoming correspondence, gold lease registration books, mineral survey records, mining case judgements, gold district maps, applications for gold and silver leases record books, operational files, gold mill licence book, mining certificate examination records, mining company charter and by-laws, applications for mining rights record book, gold lease forfeiture records, mill licence bonds, mines lease transfers, mining rights dispute records, special rights, special concession mineral surveying grants, orders in council, coal lease registry books, renewed coal leases, iron leases and other material, mine lease registry book, mechanics' liens, gold lease applications, applications for alluvial licenses record book, mine reports and returns, licence to search record books, applications for free first claims, applications for leases other than gold and silver, prospecting licences record book, government drill applications, coal and iron ore analyses, contract registration notebooks, gold leases, mining operations blueprints, forfeited mine leases, mining accident correspondence and other material, and mining rules and regulations.

"Mines Reports," 1837- ; ongoing annual appendices in Journal and Proceedings of the House of Assembly of the Province of Nova Scotia.

Office of Economic Development fonds 1944-91; see especially the administrative and project files of Industrial Estates Limited. Following the mine disasters in Springhill, IEL created a subsidiary, Springhill Development Corporation, to deal specifically with industries for that community; in 1981 the Small Business Loans Division of IEL was absorbed by the NS Department of Development and in 1982 that department took over the promotional functions of IEL, leaving it as a financing body and the operator of provincially-owned industrial parks. Administrative files are in Nova Scotia Archives RG 30, Vol. 7, no. 10 to Vol. 8, no. 7, and Vol. 10, nos. 23-61; also in RG 55, Vols. 4 and 5, Vol. 10, nos. 7-20, and Vol. 11, nos. 1-9. Project files are in RG 30, Vol. 8, no. 8 to Vol. 10, no. 22; and in RG 55, Vols. 3, 9, and Vol. 10, nos. 1-4.

Private Sector Records at Nova Scotia Archives

M.B. Almon fonds; Mather Byles Almon (1796-1871), Halifax merchant, banker and politician; material relating to Albion Mines and store. Nova Scotia Archives MG 1, Vol. 37, no. 288.

Peter Barrett fonds; immigrant miner and prospector; personal recollection, "Twelve Years in North America" (1866-77; 54 pp.), life in the coal-mines (Springhill and Pictou County, including the Drummond Colliery Disaster) and as a gold prospector. Nova Scotia Archives MG 1, Vol. 3196A.

Richard Brown family fonds; Richard Brown (1805-1882) came to Cape Breton in 1825 to report on the coal mines; became manager at Sydney Mines and remained until succeeded by his son in 1864. Fonds includes extensive information on coal mining on Cape Breton Island (mainly Sydney Mines) and Pictou County. Nova Scotia Archives MG 1, Vols. 151-159A.

R.H. Brown fonds; Richard Henry Brown (1837-1920) succeeded his father as general manger at Sydney Mines, retired 1901. Fonds includes treatises on coal-mining and stone masonry by his father Richard Brown. Nova Scotia Archives MG 1, Vol. 1695.

James M. Cameron fonds; James Cameron (1913-1995), newspaper editor and historian of Pictou County; extensive material concerning coal, iron, steel-making and gold. Nova Scotia Archives MG 1, Vols. 3218-3227.

Thomas Cantley fonds; Thomas Cantley (1857-1945), after 1885, general sales agent for Nova Scotia Steel Company (later BESCO); became president and general manager, 1915; also involved with Bluenose Gold Mining Company; see especially, scrapbook with photographs. Nova Scotia Archives MG 1, Vol. 1309, no. 4 (mfm 14,979).

Cape Breton's magazine fonds; magazine series, 1972- , plus extensive audio-cassette collection containing oral history interviews with older residents, post-1967, on subjects such as coal mines, mining life, community life, labour history, traditional music, Sydney steel, etc. Nova Scotia Archives nos. 1981-042, 1983-013, 1986-014, 1987-012, 1987-075, 1988-007.

Howard Chapman, "My Christmas Visit to The Londonderry Iron Works"; handwritten essay, 16 January 1891, 4 pp. Nova Scotia Archives MG 100, Vol. 177, no. 15 (mfm 254). Online within this Website.

"Cumberland Railway & Coal Company List of men killed in local mines from January 1881 to October 1958" [duplicate copy]; in Springhill, Cumberland Co. - Mining Disasters. Nova Scotia Archives MG 100, Vol. 231, no. 26 (mfm 9810).

Michael Dwyer Collection; Dwyer was President and General Manager of Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company, and Minister of Mines and Public Works and Labour, 1933-1938. Collection includes speeches, newspaper clippings and miscellaneous material on mines and mining in Nova Scotia, especially the Moose River Mine Disaster. Nova Scotia Archives MG 1, Vols. 274-276, 1470 (mfm 12,700).

W.J. Graham scrapbook, coal-mining in Pictou County, 1910-1938 (newspaper clippings). Nova Scotia Archives MG 9, Vol. 536.

Londonderry Iron Works collection; includes letters, newspaper clippings and miscellaneous information on iron mining and smelting, 1873-1924. Nova Scotia Archives MG 4, Vol. 233.

Moose River Mine Disaster, 1936; scrapbooks. Nova Scotia Archives MG 9, Vol. 22, 57 (Winyard's scrapbook; mfm 15,094) and 165.

Charles F. McClure fonds; letter-books of gold-mining agent/investor active in Waverley area, 1864-1874. Nova Scotia Archives 2002-065.

Miller family fonds; Lunenburg County; includes journals of William D. Hall re gold prospecting and mining, 1870-1889. Nova Scotia Archives MG 1, Vol. 659, nos. 3-7 (journals, 1870-89, scattered dates); Vol. 660, nos. 5-7; Vol. 666, no. 1.

Miscellaneous material relating to mines and mining, including: "Cumberland Railway & Coal Company: List of men killed in local mines from 1881-1958 (#22); typed copy of agreement between General Mining Association and John Elliott to work as an engine wright for five years (#23); and miscellaneous articles and documents. Nova Scotia Archives MG 100, Vol. 190, nos 20-31B (mfm 15,209).

Moose River Rescue Fund Committee fonds; 1936-37; established as response to Moose River Gold Mine Disaster. Records include reports, correspondence, list of men who worked at Moose River Mine, statements of miners, and workers and their hours. Nova Scotia Archives 2003-029/001.

Thomas Neville fonds; engine fitter at Albion Mines, 1828-1841; correspondence, employment certificates and contract. Nova Scotia Archives MG 1, Vol. 3371, nos. 1-57.

Provincial Workmen's Association fonds; began at Springhill, 1879, later active in Cape Breton; joined 1917 with United Mine Workers of Nova Scotia to form Amalgamated Mine Workers of Nova Scotia; records include minutes and proceedings, by-laws, rules and articles of incorporation, 1882-1887, 1916. Nova Scotia Archives MG 20, Vols. 507 and 939.

St. John Ambulance, Nova Scotia Council, fonds; Springhill Disaster photographs (1958). Nova Scotia Archives 2003-039/009, #13.

Gwendolyn V. Shand fonds; Gwendolyn Shand (1891-1982), author and historian, Hants County; material relating to gypsum industry. Nova Scotia Archives MG 1, Vol. 2377.

United Mine Workers of America - District 26; 1901-1971. Fonds includes operational records, 1901-1971; administrative records, 1907-1960; convention minutes, 1948-1970; newspaper clippings, 1956-1970; agreement, 1965; submissions and presentations, 1944-1958; resolutions, 1951-1956; and officers' reports, 1955-1956 (NSARM Microfilm Research Collection, mfm 10,020-10,033).

Photographic Collections at Nova Scotia Archives

For researchers interested primarily in image material, a separate list follows for photographic collections containing significant material relating to mines and mining in Nova Scotia; the list is not complete. With the exception of the Nova Scotia Information Service fonds, the collections below come from the private sector.

Nova Scotia Archives Miscellaneous Photo Collection; scattered but significant content under following headings:

  • Industries: Mining
  • Places
  • Places: Cape Breton
  • Transportation
  • Albums
  • Groups
  • Postcards

B.R. Alexander fonds, ca.1895-1918; includes photographs of sandstone quarry (Wentworth area?) and gypsum mining, Hants County; Nova Scotia Archives 1984-497.

CHNS fonds; Halifax radio broadcasting station; photographic material relating to Moose River Gold Mine, 1936. Nova Scotia Archives 1992-396, nos. 14-16, 63-72.

J.H. Christian collection; includes photographs of Moose River Mine Disaster; Nova Scotia Archives 1976-91, nos. 10-15.

Helen Creighton fonds; Helen Creighton (1899-1989), leading Canadian folklorist; extensive material (photographs, correspondence, research files, audio recordings, etc.) relating to mining heritage and traditions in Nova Scotia. Visit Helen Creighton virtual exhibit for more information.

Maurice Crosby fonds; commercial photographer active in Nova Scotia 1943-1995; excellent coverage of industrial development, including Trenton Steelworks, Sedco oil-rig (Sable exploration), Springhill Mine Disaster (1958), etc. Nova Scotia Archives , 1997-254/001-005.

Clara Dennis fonds; Clara Dennis (1881-1958) Nova Scotia journalist and travel writer; includes photographs taken on travels through province, 1930s. Nova Scotia Archives , MG 1, vols. 2865-2869 (textual); 1981-541 and 1983-468 (graphic). Visit Clara Dennis virtual exhibit for more information.

Foley Brothers, Welch, Stewart & Farquier fonds; photographs of construction of Ocean Terminals, Halifax, and of quarries in Purcell's Cove. Nova Scotia Archives 1986-490.

Catherine Godwin collection; two photographs of Moose River Mine Disaster, 1936. Nova Scotia Archives 1986-439.

W.R. MacAskill fonds; Wallace R. MacAskill (1887-1956), prominent photographer, active in Nova Scotia post-1907. Visit W.R. MacAskill virtual exhibit for more information.

G.W. MacKay collection; mining photographs of Nova Scotia, albums 54,55, 58 and 60. Nova Scotia Archives 1992-418.

J.W. Nelson collection; two photographs of Moose River Mine Disaster, 1936. Nova Scotia Archives 1987-418.

Robert Norwood fonds; Robert Norwood (1905-1985), professional photographer active in Nova Scotia, post-1930; includes photographs of Springhill Mine Disaster, 1958. Nova Scotia Archives 1987-481, nos. 1305-1364.

Nova Scotia Information Service fonds; 25,000 photographs; 1945-1990; material relating to communities, industries, people, promotional and special events, life in Nova Scotia, etc.

J.P. Porter collection; includes photographs of construction of Ocean Terminals, Halifax, and quarries at Purcell's Cove. Nova Scotia Archives 1997-95.

Map Collection at Nova Scotia Archives :

The thousands of maps, charts and related items in the Nova Scotia Archives Map Collection support a variety of research activities relating to mining activities; the possibilities are too numerous to present here, but researchers should be particularly aware of the following two significant resources:

Geological Survey Department, Canada, 1892-1929. Extensive collection of maps identifying topographical and geological features for Nova Scotia, including mines, quarries and related buildings.

Ambrose F. Church maps, 1865-1888. Series of 18 county maps, including inserts for large towns; Halifax County map includes Tangier and Waverley (F/239-1865 - Waverley, Tangier).

Other individual map items used in developing this project include:

"Map of Broughton," 1905; including layout of town, elevations, bank-head, miner's cottage and office building. Nova Scotia Archives V/7 - 239 - 1905 - Broughton; and 3.1.1.

D.D. Currie, "NS Bird's Eye View, Truro"; includes Acadian Iron Mines. V7/239 - 1889 - Truro.

"Plans with Mr. Crawley's letter to Secretary of the province, including plans and descriptions of the several mines and quarries in Cape Breton," 2 August 1836. Nova Scotia Archives F/201 - 1836 - Cape Breton.

2 Secondary Sources – published materials available in various locations

The General List which follows has been drawn from various sources and provides an introduction to the many books, theses and articles written about Nova Scotia's mining heritage; it is not complete. Many (but not all) of the titles listed here are available in the Nova Scotia Archives Library, the Reference Collection at the Beaton Institute, or the Resource Library at the Museum of Industry. Many of the more popular titles will also be available at local and/or university libraries throughout Nova Scotia and elsewhere.

Two important additional lists have been attached and linked here, providing even more research sources for Nova Scotia's mining heritage. The first comes from the Resource Library at the Museum of Industry, and is a list of specially-commissioned research reports into the province's industrial history; several of the titles relate directly to mining; these reports are available only at the MOI. The second list is an invaluable 28-page "Cape Breton Mining Bibliography" contributed to the project by Brian Tennyson, formerly Professor of History at Cape Breton University.

General List:

Anderson, Eleanor. Broughton, CB's Ghost Town (s.n., 198-?)

Arnold, Mary E. The Story of Tompkinsville (New York, 1940)

Belmore, Eleanor. Caribou Gold Mines (Upper Musquodoboit, NS, 1990)

Bell, B.T.A. Canadian Mining, Iron and Steel Manual (Ottawa, 1895, 1896, 1897)

Black, Joe. "Company Houses in 'Kolonia': An Article About Whitney Pier;" Cape Breton's Magazine, No. 57 (June 1991), pp. 29-34

Bliss, E.T. "Albion Mines," in Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, Vol. 39 (1977) pp. 5-22.

Brown, James B. Moose River Disaster. Cave-In '36 (Hantsport, 1983)

Brown, Richard. The Coal Fields and Coal Trade of the Island of Cape Breton (London, 1871)

Brown, Roger David. Historic Cumberland County South: Land of Promise (Halifax, ca.2002)

Boutilier, Ted., ed. The New Waterford Story 1913-1963: A Souvenir of New Waterford's Golden Jubilee August 4-8, 1963 (s.n., 1963)

Cameron, James. The Pictonian Colliers (Halifax, 1974)

Campbell, Brian. Tracks Across The Landscape: The S&L Commemorative History (Sydney, 1995)

Campbell, Douglas F. Banking on Coal; Perspectives on a Cape Breton Community within an International Context (Sydney, 1997)

[Centennial Project.] The History of Sydney Mines: the little town with the big heart (Sydney Mines, 1990)

Comish, Sean. The Westray Tragedy: A Miner's Story (Halifax, 1993)

Davey, William, and Richard MacKinnon. "Nicknaming Patterns and Traditions among Cape Breton Coal Miners," in Acadiensis, XXX, 2 (Spring 2001)

Dennis, Clara. More About Nova Scotia (Toronto, 1937)

Dorrington, Aubrey. A History of Stellarton, (Pictou, 1972)

Evans, George. "Early Gold Mining in NS," in Collections of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, Vol. 25, pp. 17-47.

Fergusson, C. Bruce. 'The Old King is Back': Amos 'King' Seaman and His Diary (Halifax, 1972)

Frank, David. "Coal Masters and Coal Miners: The 1922 Strike and the Roots of Class Conflict in the Cape Breton Coal Industry" (Dalhousie University, MA Thesis, 1974)

Frank, David, "The Cape Breton Coal Miners: 1917-1926" (Dalhousie University, PhD Thesis, 1974) Frank, David. J. B. McLachlan: A Biography (Toronto, 1999)

Gerriets, Marilyn. "The Impact of the General Mining Association on the Nova Scotia Coal Industry, 1826-1850" Acadiensis, vol. XXI, no 1 (Autumn 1991) pp. 54-84.

Gerriets, Marilyn. "The Rise and Fall of a Free-Standing Company in Nova Scotia," Business History, vol 34, no 3, 1992

Graham, Gerald S. "The Gypsum Trade of the Maritime Provinces: Its Relation to American Diplomacy and Agriculture in the Early Nineteenth Century," Agricultural History, vol. 12, no. 3 (July 1938)

Grant, George M. Picturesque Canada: The Country as It Was and Is (Toronto, 1882)

Hawkins, John. Renfrew Gold: The Story of a Nova Scotia Ghost Town (Hantsport, 1995)

Heatherington, Alexander. The Gold Fields of Nova Scotia (Montreal, 1868). Digitized and available online as part of 'Men in the Mines.'

Jackson, Elva E. North Sydney, Nova Scotia: Windows on the Past (Windsor, 1974)

Jobb, Dean. Calculated Risk: Greed, Politics and the Westray Tragedy (Halifax, 1994)

Keating, Mary Elizabeth and Beaton, Elizabeth. From the Pier, Dear! Images of a Multicultural Community (Sydney, 1993)

Lamey, Christina M. "Davis Day Through the Years: A Cape Breton Coalmining Tradition," Nova Scotia Historical Review, Vol.16, No.2 (1996), pp. 23-33.

MacDonald, Herb. "The Albion Railway: A Study of an Early Nova Scotia Experience with the Industrial Revolution" (St. Mary's University, MBA Thesis, 1999)

MacDonald, Herb. "The Early Horse-Powered Mining Railways of Cape Breton," Canadian Rail, forthcoming, Autumn 2006

MacDougall, I.L. "Commercial Relations between Nova Scotia and the United States, 1830-1854" (Dalhousie University, MA Thesis, 1961)

MacEwan, Paul. Miners & Steelworkers: Labour in Cape Breton (Toronto, 1976)

Macgillivray, Don. "Henry Melville Whitney Comes to Cape Breton: The Saga of a Gilded Age Entrepreneur," in Acadiensis, IX, 1 (Autumn 1979)

Macgillivray, Don. "Military Aid to the Civil Power: The Cape Breton Experience in the 1920s," in Don Macgillivray and Brian Tennyson, eds., Cape Breton Historical Essays (Sydney, 1980)

MacLeod, Donald. "Miners, Mining Men and Mining Reform: Changing the Technology of Nova Scotian Gold Mines and Collieries, 1858-1910" (University of Toronto, PhD Thesis, 1981)

MacQuarrie, John R. Malagash Salt (Pugwash, 1975; rev. 1981)

Malcolm, Wyatt. Gold Fields of Nova Scotia (Ottawa, 1912; 1929)

Martell, J.S. "Early Coal Mining in Nova Scotia," in Don Macgillivray and Brian Tennyson, eds., Cape Breton Historical Essays (Sydney, 1980)

McIntyre, Ronald H. The Collier's Tattletale (Antigonish, 1980)

McKay, Ian. "Industry, Work and Community in the Cumberland Coalfields, 1848-1927" (Dalhousie University, PhD Thesis, 1983)

McKay, Ian. "The Crisis of Dependent Development: Class Conflict in the Nova Scotia Coalfields, 1872-1876," Canadian Journal of Sociology, vol 13, nos 1-2, 1988

McIntosh, Robert. Boys in the Pits: Child Labour in Coal Mining (Montreal/Kingston, 2000)

Mellor, John. The Company Store: James Bryson McLachlan and the Cape Breton Coal Miners, 1900-1925 (Toronto, 1983)

Morrow, R.A.H. Story of the Springhill Colliery Explosion (Saint John, NB, 1891)

Muise, Del. "The General Mining Association and Nova Scotia's Coal," Bulletin of Canadian Studies, Autumn, 1983

Muise, Del. "The Making of an Industrial Community: Cape Breton Coal Towns, 1867-1900," in Macgillivray, Don, and Brian Tennyson, eds., Cape Breton Historical Essays (Sydney, 1980)

Muise, Del, and Robert McIntosh, Coal Mining In Canada: A Historical and Comparative Overview (Ottawa, 1996)

New Waterford Story 1913-1963 : A Souvenir of New Waterford's Golden Jubilee August 4-8, 1963

Pichon, Thomas. Genuine Letters and Memoirs Relating to the Natural, Civil, and Commercial History of the Islands of Cape Breton and Saint John (London, 1760)

Richards, Trudie. "The Cost of Coal: The Westray Mine Explosion, 1992; An Examination of the Relationship Between the Mine Owner, the Media, and the Community" (Carleton University, MJ Thesis, 1994)

Ryan, Judith Hoegg. Coal in our Blood (Halifax, 1992)

Samson, Daniel. "Industrial Colonization: The Colonial Context of the General Mining Association, Nova Scotia, 1824-1842," Acadiensis, vol XXIX, no 1, 1999

Shedden, Leslie. Mining Photographs and Other Pictures, 1948-1968 (Sydney/Halifax, 1983)

Stephens, David. It Happened at Moose River (Windsor, NS, 1974)

Sydney Mines Friendly Society. Constitution and By-Laws of the Sydney Mines Friendly Society

Vernon, C.W. Cape Breton Canada (Toronto, 1903)

Westville Heritage Group & Grade 12 Class, Westville High School. Celebrating our Heritage: the History of Westville (Antigonish, 1986)



Nova Scotia Archives —

Crown copyright © 2023, Province of Nova Scotia.