Drop the Plow and Grab the Pick: Gold Fever Hits Nova Scotia

The first gold rush began in 1861 and lasted until 1874, attracting thousands to the gold fields like filings to a magnet. In the beginning, the miners panned for gold or smashed quartz rocks with hand tools at small individual claims. Within a year, companies arrived with heavy machinery to dig ore, construct mining shafts, crush rock, and process the gold. They bought up smaller claims, consolidating them into larger holdings; they had the capital to finance underground mines. This was the most dramatic “rush,” characterized initially by the frenzy of inexperienced miners with dreams of striking it rich.

In the second gold rush period (1896-1903), large companies continued buying up smaller claims, and hired locals to mine and operate the stamp mills and machinery. Individual consignment miners, known as tributors, worked claims as well. Capital investment, often American and British, and the improved technology needed to build and operate the mines ballooned into a multi-million dollar industry. The province became known as the place of “rich man’s diggings” due to the large costs involved in deep mines working lower grade ore. Many owners and investors became astronomically rich from mining profits. Others fell prey to unscrupulous speculators and hangers on. In fact, some companies were formed with the sole intent of fraudulently working investors rather than claims. Sometimes the miners earned a fair wage but as often as not, they ended up poorer than when they began the back breaking work. This period is considered the golden age of gold mining in Nova Scotia. Production exceeded 20,000 ounces per year for sixteen years and in three of those years exceeded 30,000 ounces annually (1898, 1900, 1901.) Along with racking up the highest yields per year, this period is noted more for organized planning than feverish hysteria.

The third gold rush lasted for approximately ten years (1932-1942) when arsenopyrite, often associated with gold mining, was in high demand. Arsenic extracted from arsenopyrite was an ingredient used in insecticides being manufactured at the time. Moreover, the value of gold was rising on world markets and energy was cheap, helping to drive this “rush.”

By 2012, gold prices soared to between $1600 and $1700 per ounce, stimulating yet another surge of gold mining interest and exploration in Nova Scotia. At Moose River, Fifteen Mile Stream, and Isaacs Harbour, mining companies are drilling core samples and a new gold occurrence was discovered in the Cobequid Highlands in late 2011. We may be at the portals of a fourth gold rush!
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Dian Day, Susan Sellers, Rita Wilson
1861 - 1874
Nova Scotia, CANADA
© 2013, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

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