Gold has been mined for thousands of years, using many different technologies, and by many different cultures. Gold mining is difficult and dangerous work, and, as with any kind of mining, often profoundly impacts the surrounding ecosystem. Historically, people have not always been aware of the impact of specific mining practices or particular chemicals on the environment. As well, individual miners and gold mining companies have not always paid enough attention to the health and safety of those working the mines or of the short-term and long-term health of the plants, animals, and people who live nearby. Because making money – as quickly and easily as possible – was often the bottom line in historical gold mining, abuses were many.

People who live in the area of a mine, the general public, environmental groups, and government regulators pay more attention to mining activities and procedures now than they did in the past. In order for a mine to operate legally, mine operators and their employees must adhere to specific regulations protecting the environment. Many people are concerned about air and water quality around mines, the health and safety of miners, Read More
Gold has been mined for thousands of years, using many different technologies, and by many different cultures. Gold mining is difficult and dangerous work, and, as with any kind of mining, often profoundly impacts the surrounding ecosystem. Historically, people have not always been aware of the impact of specific mining practices or particular chemicals on the environment. As well, individual miners and gold mining companies have not always paid enough attention to the health and safety of those working the mines or of the short-term and long-term health of the plants, animals, and people who live nearby. Because making money – as quickly and easily as possible – was often the bottom line in historical gold mining, abuses were many.

People who live in the area of a mine, the general public, environmental groups, and government regulators pay more attention to mining activities and procedures now than they did in the past. In order for a mine to operate legally, mine operators and their employees must adhere to specific regulations protecting the environment. Many people are concerned about air and water quality around mines, the health and safety of miners, the impact of the mine on animal habitats and human settlements, and how well the site is cleaned up after the mining activity is finished and the mine is closed down.

Abandoned industrial sites are called brownfields. Cleaning up after industry is called environmental remediation or site remediation, whether the site is to be reused for another purpose or simply allowed to return to its natural state. Mining companies in Canada that want to undertake any industrial activity must go through an environmental impact assessment process and have a site reclamation plan in place before any work begins.
  

© 2013, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

Photograph of two miners in a gold mine.

Miners at the 400 ft. level of the Richardson Mine, Upper Seal Harbour, circa 1907.

Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources.
c. 1907
Upper Seal Harbour, Nova Scotia, CANADA
© 2013, Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources. All Rights Reserved.


Quartz is a mineral made up of silicon and oxygen atoms, and is very common in many different types of rock, including quartzite and slate. Mining activity frequently produces silica dust. When rocks are drilled, crushed, or blasted the air may become filled with dust, and tiny silica particles get caught in miners’ lungs as they breathe, which may cause silicosis. Generally, bigger and more powerful machines create more dust, especially in poorly ventilated areas.

Silicosis is the most common occupational lung disease in the world. Symptoms may appear within a year but can take as long as 20 or 30 years after exposure to silica dust for it to develop. People with silicosis have a chronic cough and are short of breath, and are much more susceptible to other diseases such as tuberculosis and cancer because of the scarring in their lungs.

Silicosis is much less common in North America than it used to be because mining and manufacturing processes have been improved to lessen the risks. People who work in environments where silica dust is present are required to wear respirators to prevent the dust from getting into their lungs. As well, requirements for ve Read More
Quartz is a mineral made up of silicon and oxygen atoms, and is very common in many different types of rock, including quartzite and slate. Mining activity frequently produces silica dust. When rocks are drilled, crushed, or blasted the air may become filled with dust, and tiny silica particles get caught in miners’ lungs as they breathe, which may cause silicosis. Generally, bigger and more powerful machines create more dust, especially in poorly ventilated areas.

Silicosis is the most common occupational lung disease in the world. Symptoms may appear within a year but can take as long as 20 or 30 years after exposure to silica dust for it to develop. People with silicosis have a chronic cough and are short of breath, and are much more susceptible to other diseases such as tuberculosis and cancer because of the scarring in their lungs.

Silicosis is much less common in North America than it used to be because mining and manufacturing processes have been improved to lessen the risks. People who work in environments where silica dust is present are required to wear respirators to prevent the dust from getting into their lungs. As well, requirements for ventilation of workplaces are much improved.
  

© 2013, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

Photograph of buildings and mine structures surrounded by piles of discarded rocks.

Looking east toward the New Glasgow Gold Mining Co., Goldenville Gold District - 1897. Buildings and mine structures are surrounded by piles of discarded waste rock.

E. R. Faribault, Geological Survey of Canada
1897
Goldenville, Nova Scotia, CANADA
© 2013, Geological Survey of Canada. All Rights Reserved.


Large amounts of rock are sometimes displaced through gold mining. The rocks removed in order to extract the gold bearing quartz veins were discarded in large piles of boulder-sized “waste rock.” The quartz vein ore was crushed to sand-sized particles. The gold was removed from the sand by use of chemicals such as mercury and cyanide. Once the gold was removed, the sand was discarded as tailings in nearby swamps or depressions.

Arsenopyrite, which contains arsenic, is a common, naturally occurring mineral in the rocks within and surrounding Nova Scotia’s gold districts. Gold mining disturbs this naturally occurring arsenic and once disturbed, this mineral is much more likely to become a problem for both people and animals. In addition, the Mercury and cyanide that were used process gold ore were not always disposed of properly. Historically, miners were not aware of the harm they could cause to the environment.

In older mines, each one of the millions of stones and chunks of quartz that make up a tailings pile was handled, often many times. Each rock was picked, loaded into a wheelbarrow or wagon, sorted for quality and size, and unloaded ag Read More
Large amounts of rock are sometimes displaced through gold mining. The rocks removed in order to extract the gold bearing quartz veins were discarded in large piles of boulder-sized “waste rock.” The quartz vein ore was crushed to sand-sized particles. The gold was removed from the sand by use of chemicals such as mercury and cyanide. Once the gold was removed, the sand was discarded as tailings in nearby swamps or depressions.

Arsenopyrite, which contains arsenic, is a common, naturally occurring mineral in the rocks within and surrounding Nova Scotia’s gold districts. Gold mining disturbs this naturally occurring arsenic and once disturbed, this mineral is much more likely to become a problem for both people and animals. In addition, the Mercury and cyanide that were used process gold ore were not always disposed of properly. Historically, miners were not aware of the harm they could cause to the environment.

In older mines, each one of the millions of stones and chunks of quartz that make up a tailings pile was handled, often many times. Each rock was picked, loaded into a wheelbarrow or wagon, sorted for quality and size, and unloaded again into the discard pile. Not only were the miners at the time at risk from dust and toxic substances, the tailings piles remain in the landscape today. Sometimes the only evidence still left of a mining operation from a hundred years ago is the existence of a pile of rubble.
  

© 2013, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

Early gold mining was usually carried out in and along streams, rivers, and beaches. Huge quantities of rock, gravel, and mud were disturbed and displaced by simple tools like shovels and crowbars. As the industry grew, miners sometimes redirected or dammed water to power stamp mills. In places where mining activity was heavy, silt and sediment clogged and redirected the course of streams, which in turn impacted wildlife habitats. In 1868 at The Ovens, on Nova Scotia’s south shore, the entire beach was dredged, loaded onto three ships, and taken to Swansea in Wales for processing!

Arsenopyrite, a sulfide mineral that contains arsenic, occurs naturally in the gold-bearing rocks of Nova Scotia. Our historic gold mining activity resulted in large amounts of this arsenopyrite-laden rock being removed from the ground. Following removal of the gold, the remaining waste rock and mine tailings were dumped in the nearest swamp or other convenient low-lying area. This dumping of the mine waste was done with no environmental control and as a result the arsenopyrite in these rocks interacted with air and surface water. This caused the sulfide minerals to oxidize and release t Read More
Early gold mining was usually carried out in and along streams, rivers, and beaches. Huge quantities of rock, gravel, and mud were disturbed and displaced by simple tools like shovels and crowbars. As the industry grew, miners sometimes redirected or dammed water to power stamp mills. In places where mining activity was heavy, silt and sediment clogged and redirected the course of streams, which in turn impacted wildlife habitats. In 1868 at The Ovens, on Nova Scotia’s south shore, the entire beach was dredged, loaded onto three ships, and taken to Swansea in Wales for processing!

Arsenopyrite, a sulfide mineral that contains arsenic, occurs naturally in the gold-bearing rocks of Nova Scotia. Our historic gold mining activity resulted in large amounts of this arsenopyrite-laden rock being removed from the ground. Following removal of the gold, the remaining waste rock and mine tailings were dumped in the nearest swamp or other convenient low-lying area. This dumping of the mine waste was done with no environmental control and as a result the arsenopyrite in these rocks interacted with air and surface water. This caused the sulfide minerals to oxidize and release their content of arsenic and sulfur into surface waters. Arsenic in high concentrations can be toxic to humans and wildlife. The hazards of disturbing arsenopyrite-rich rocks is now known, and safe and effective measures are now taken, preventing contamination.
  

© 2013, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

Deforestation occurred on a massive scale across the province to clear land for mines, to timber shafts, to construct mine buildings – but mostly to burn to power stamp mills and heat buildings. Another significant use of lumber was to timber the shaft. This helped to prevent the shaft from caving in as the timber supported the roof and walls. A great deal of wood went into the shafts, especially as mines grew larger and shafts were sunk deeper into the earth. Cordwood also was the main source of power for the stamp mills; it took 12 cords a day, or almost 3500 cords each year, to keep a mill operating. Forests were clearcut in the vicinity of the mill and often for many kilometres around.
  
Deforestation occurred on a massive scale across the province to clear land for mines, to timber shafts, to construct mine buildings – but mostly to burn to power stamp mills and heat buildings. Another significant use of lumber was to timber the shaft. This helped to prevent the shaft from caving in as the timber supported the roof and walls. A great deal of wood went into the shafts, especially as mines grew larger and shafts were sunk deeper into the earth. Cordwood also was the main source of power for the stamp mills; it took 12 cords a day, or almost 3500 cords each year, to keep a mill operating. Forests were clearcut in the vicinity of the mill and often for many kilometres around.
  

© 2013, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

Black and white photograph of broken timbers and debris fill a wood-lined shaft.

The Magill shaft was a 30-year old mine that had not had much maintenance. This meant the wooden supports for the roof of the mine were few and far-between. The result was a cave-in in April 1936.

Major George N. Dickenson
1936-06-22
Moose River, Nova Scotia, CANADA
© 2013, Nova Scotia Archives. All Rights Reserved.


Mining can be a dangerous profession, and historic gold mining was no exception. Nova Scotia’s gold miners were at risk from cheap, inadequate, or worn-out equipment. If the mine shafts were not properly supported, cave-ins were inevitable. In deeper shafts, water seeped in continuously, and miners often had to work in damp and slippery conditions. Rock falls were commonplace. Dangerous gases could build up to hazardous levels if the mine did not have adequate ventilation. Those using black powder or dynamite were sometimes at risk of injury due to carelessness or unsafe work practices. Between 1866 and 1948, sixty-four gold miners died in mine accidents in Nova Scotia, and countless more were injured.

Abandoned mine shafts still present safety hazards today. As the wooden supports rot and crumble, mine shafts can cave in, causing subsidence – or sinking – of the surrounding land. In addition, open mine shafts can present a safety hazard for humans and animals unaware of the mine’s existence. Today, the exact locations of most mine shafts are known, but some have been forgotten and the danger remains hidden in dense forests.
  
Mining can be a dangerous profession, and historic gold mining was no exception. Nova Scotia’s gold miners were at risk from cheap, inadequate, or worn-out equipment. If the mine shafts were not properly supported, cave-ins were inevitable. In deeper shafts, water seeped in continuously, and miners often had to work in damp and slippery conditions. Rock falls were commonplace. Dangerous gases could build up to hazardous levels if the mine did not have adequate ventilation. Those using black powder or dynamite were sometimes at risk of injury due to carelessness or unsafe work practices. Between 1866 and 1948, sixty-four gold miners died in mine accidents in Nova Scotia, and countless more were injured.

Abandoned mine shafts still present safety hazards today. As the wooden supports rot and crumble, mine shafts can cave in, causing subsidence – or sinking – of the surrounding land. In addition, open mine shafts can present a safety hazard for humans and animals unaware of the mine’s existence. Today, the exact locations of most mine shafts are known, but some have been forgotten and the danger remains hidden in dense forests.
  

© 2013, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

Modern day environmental regulations are much more stringent and companies are now required by law to go through a very detailed and comprehensive environmental assessment regulatory process before any mining operation is given approval by government to begin. This includes requirements that, prior to mine start-up, clear plans and funding are in place to ensure there is complete cleanup and reclamation of the site following closure of the mine. After the mining activity, the site may be used for other activities or it could be simply allowed to return to a natural state to preserve wildlife habitat and be used for recreation.
  
Modern day environmental regulations are much more stringent and companies are now required by law to go through a very detailed and comprehensive environmental assessment regulatory process before any mining operation is given approval by government to begin. This includes requirements that, prior to mine start-up, clear plans and funding are in place to ensure there is complete cleanup and reclamation of the site following closure of the mine. After the mining activity, the site may be used for other activities or it could be simply allowed to return to a natural state to preserve wildlife habitat and be used for recreation.
  

© 2013, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

An abandoned mine opening with a grilled installed over the opening.

An abandoned mine with the entranced blocked to let bats in and keep humans out. This makes the space safe for bat hibernation. Abandoned mine shafts provide an important habitat for Nova Scotia’s bats during winter hibernation. Bats need very specific environmental and climatic conditions, and need to be in a place where they are undisturbed during the winter.

Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources.
21st Century
Lake Charlotte, Nova Scotia, CANADA
© 2013, Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources. All Rights Reserved.


Some old mine shafts provide an important habitat for Nova Scotia’s bat populations. Bats need very specific environmental and climatic conditions, and they need to be in a place where they are undisturbed during the winter. Natural caves as well as some of our abandoned mines are ideal habitats. At least 20 of the 300 abandoned mine sites in Nova Scotia are used by bats during their winter hibernation. Three species of social bats (bats that hunt and roost in groups), Little Brown Bats, Northern Long-eared Bats, and Tricolored Bats have all been observed and recorded at old mine sites. The Department of Natural Resources is working to educate the public to keep away from these old mine sites, for their own safety as well as for the health of Nova Scotia’s bat population. Humans are discouraged from entering bat habitats because they can spread the lethal White Nose Syndrome.
  
Some old mine shafts provide an important habitat for Nova Scotia’s bat populations. Bats need very specific environmental and climatic conditions, and they need to be in a place where they are undisturbed during the winter. Natural caves as well as some of our abandoned mines are ideal habitats. At least 20 of the 300 abandoned mine sites in Nova Scotia are used by bats during their winter hibernation. Three species of social bats (bats that hunt and roost in groups), Little Brown Bats, Northern Long-eared Bats, and Tricolored Bats have all been observed and recorded at old mine sites. The Department of Natural Resources is working to educate the public to keep away from these old mine sites, for their own safety as well as for the health of Nova Scotia’s bat population. Humans are discouraged from entering bat habitats because they can spread the lethal White Nose Syndrome.
  

© 2013, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

The Canadian government, in partnership with the mining industry, is constantly developing ways to make mining, including gold mining, safer and healthier. The former Beacon or Horizon Gold Mine in Val-d’Or, Quebec, has become the CANMET-MMSL Experimental Mine and is used as a place to test equipment and systems, and to train miners using the latest techniques and safety measures, in a real live underground mine environment. Scientists, engineers, industry associations, universities, mining companies, and other business owners work together to conduct research at the site, which has all of the equipment, machinery, buildings and personnel that a real working mine would have. The experimental mine is also used as a training facility for accident prevention and mine rescue operations.
  
The Canadian government, in partnership with the mining industry, is constantly developing ways to make mining, including gold mining, safer and healthier. The former Beacon or Horizon Gold Mine in Val-d’Or, Quebec, has become the CANMET-MMSL Experimental Mine and is used as a place to test equipment and systems, and to train miners using the latest techniques and safety measures, in a real live underground mine environment. Scientists, engineers, industry associations, universities, mining companies, and other business owners work together to conduct research at the site, which has all of the equipment, machinery, buildings and personnel that a real working mine would have. The experimental mine is also used as a training facility for accident prevention and mine rescue operations.
  

© 2013, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

1. Think about an abandoned mine site in Nova Scotia. Imagine that you are in charge of testing and decontaminating the site and making it safe for humans and animals. What problems might you find? What is your remediation plan? How and by whom will the site be used after you have finished?

2. Write a newspaper article about a real or imagined gold mining accident, either in the past or in the present. What information is important?

3. Find a newspaper article about a historical gold mining accident and compare it to an article about a recent accident in a gold mine. What are the similarities and differences about how the incident was reported?

4. A number of international gold mining companies are undertaking mining exploration work in Nova Scotia today. People have different opinions about whether this is positive or negative. Organize a class debate to present both sides of the argument. Is there a way to find common ground between the two sides?
  
1. Think about an abandoned mine site in Nova Scotia. Imagine that you are in charge of testing and decontaminating the site and making it safe for humans and animals. What problems might you find? What is your remediation plan? How and by whom will the site be used after you have finished?

2. Write a newspaper article about a real or imagined gold mining accident, either in the past or in the present. What information is important?

3. Find a newspaper article about a historical gold mining accident and compare it to an article about a recent accident in a gold mine. What are the similarities and differences about how the incident was reported?

4. A number of international gold mining companies are undertaking mining exploration work in Nova Scotia today. People have different opinions about whether this is positive or negative. Organize a class debate to present both sides of the argument. Is there a way to find common ground between the two sides?
  

© 2013, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

1. Demonstrate an understanding of the interactions among people, places, and the environment.
    (Social Studies, Grades 7-12)

2. Develop skills required for scientific and technological inquiry, for solving problems and communicating scientific ideas and results.
    (Science, Grades 7-12)

3. Assess social, cultural, economic, and environmental interdependence.
    (English Language Arts, Grades 7-12)

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