History of Coal Mining in Nova Scotia
Home Index Document
Previous Next
Home Index Open File No File Previous Next
Nova Scotia
Cape Breton Island General

The Coal-Fields and Coal Industry of Eastern Canada


There are two principal coal-fields on the mainland of Nova Scotia, namely, the Cumberland and the Pictou fields.


This field is evidently a continuation of the Carboniferous Measures of New Brunswick, but containing the higher and productive beds which, in New Brunswick, are not present. It is bounded on the west by Chignecto bay, the northwestern arm of the Bay of Fundy.

Areas in which the Coal Measures are exposed, and from which coal is being produced, are the Joggins area on the north, and the Springhill area on the south; separated by the Athol fault. It is thought the Joggins area represents the northern limb of a syncline, the Springhill area being the continuation of the Measures of the northern area, brought upwards by a deformation of the syncline.

The Cumberland field is very involved, and much faulted, and because of the presence of formations younger than the Carboniferous, it affords more possibilities of concealed coal-fields than any other part of Nova Scotia.

The tract of country bordered by Chignecto bay on the west, having the Joggins mines at one extremity and the mouth of Apple river at the other, bounded by the Cobequid hills on the east, running from Apple river to

~ Page 22 ~

Halfway river, thence to the Springhill mines and back to Joggins mines, is blanketed by newer formations. These may be unconformably laid on the lower and barren Measures of the Lower Carboniferous; but the researches of the late Hugh Fletcher, of the Geological Survey, lead to the inference of a concealed extension of the Coal Measures containing the horizon of the Joggins main seam, in which case the bounds of the Cumberland coal-field would be very largely extended, although the coal seams, if present, may lie at a great depth. Systematic diamond-drill boring should disclose the facts.(1)

The Maritime Coal Railway & Power Company is the principal operator in the Joggins Field. The output of this Company in 1916 will be about 200,000 tons, and about 500 men are employed.

The Minudie Coal Company operate slope mines near River Hebert. The output in 1915 was 86,000 tons and about 300 men are normally employed.

The Joggins main seam, averaging six feet in thickness, is the most important one in this district, although there are several other seams.

There are a number of unimportant small collieries in this field, most of which are not now worked. Coal mining in the district has not proved altogether profitable, and in several cases large sums of money have been spent on colliery equipment without much justification. Like most districts in which thin-coal seams are numerous, a good many prospects have been opened up in the unwarranted hope that the seams would increase in thickness, and much money has been thereby wasted.

The Springhill area is controlled by the Dominion Coal Company, which took over the operations of the Cumberland Coal & Railway Company in 1911. The Springhill Mines are amongst the oldest in Nova Scotia. The areas now worked were acquired from the General Mining Association in 1872 by the Springhill Mining Company, and coal was first produced by this Company in 1873. Mining operations have been continuously prosecuted here since that time. Two slopes are now working, extracting coal from three seams. The workings are extensive, as would naturally be the case in mines of such long development.

The seams are highly inclined, in some places approaching the vertical. The section disclosed by the workings is as follows:-

  1. A borehole near Newville, at Halfway River lake, on the railway from Springhill to Parrsboro encountered coal at a depth of 2,350 feet, said to have been nine feet thick. The boring was discontinued at a depth of 2,359 feet. (See Trans. N. S. Inst. Sci., Vol. xi, part 3, 1904-1905. Presidential speech by H. S. Poole.)

~ Page 23 ~

At least two of the seams, other than the three now being worked, should be mineable at some future date.

The Springhill seams are gaseous, and like the Pictou seams, are subject to spontaneous combustion in the wastes. No explosives are used in these collieries.

The Springhill collieries are situated on an elevation 600 feet above sea-level, and are farther inland than any of the other Nova Scotian coal mines. The output in 1915 was 400,000 tons. The number of employees is normally 1,400 men, including the workmen employed on the Cumberland railway. This railway runs from Springhill to Parrsboro, on Minas basin, where the Company has a loading pier, and facilities for loading coal into vessels.

This Company also controls extensive timber areas, from which pit timber is obtained. About 750 persons are housed in the Company's dwellings.

In the highly inclined and troubled seams of the Springhill area, the choice of sites for new winnings is a more difficult and also more hazardous matter than is the case in the Glace Bay areas controlled by the Dominion Coal Company; but there is no doubt the Springhill areas will permit of new winnings, either by working the untouched seams to the existing slopes and bankheads, or by entirely new collieries. The heavy capital expenditure that would be entailed by the development of new collieries in this area could only be justified by a heavy demand for coal at a good selling price.


The known workable extent of the Pictou coal-field is comprised within an area 11 miles long, by 2½ miles wide.

The field is usually divided into three main districts; namely, the Westville, Albion, and Vale divisions. The Westville area lies at the western extremity, and is shown on the Geological Survey maps as being separated from the Albion area, in the centre of the field, by a fault, variously estimated at from 1,600 to 2,600 feet.

The Vale area occupies the eastern end of the field, and is separated from the Albion area by a faulted and apparently barren territory.

The whole of the productive area has an extremely complicated and variable structure, and although the seams found in the three main divisions possess certain resemblances, no definite correlation has, as yet, been found possible.

Sir W. E. Logan, in 1869, described the structure of the Pictou coal-field as having "a very complicated character." Later explorations have served to confirm and to emphasize this early opinion.

The number and thickness of the coal seams; the great thickness of associated carbonaceous and oily shales; the gaseous and fiery nature of both the coal and the shale beds, combined with the variable and faulted nature of the strata, all occurring in a small superficial area, mark out the Pictou coal-field as one of the most interesting carboniferous deposits known.

~ Page 24 ~

The exact relation of the Westville measures to the Albion measures is, as yet, a matter of conjecture. The four known coal seams of the Westville area dip in, approximately, the same direction and at about the same inclination as the seams in the Albion area. The surface measurement between the roughly parallel crops of the two series of coal seams averages about two miles, diminished to one mile where the crops come nearest together.

The existence and size of the McCulloch fault seems to have been presumed from surface indications, and from a belief that the Main or Ford seam of the Albion area was identical with the Main or Acadia seam of the Westville area, worked at the Drummond and the Acadia Collieries. No proof of the identity of these two seams has been given beyond the similarity of the carbonaceous shales immediately overlying them. A great depth of barren shales overlies the Main seam in the Albion area, (see section on page 26), including one small coal seam found at from 330 to 350 feet above the seam, and no coal seams have been discovered in similar shales overlying the Drummond and Acadia workings; a fact that seems to strengthen the supposition that the Main (Albion) seam and the Acadia (Westville) seam are the same. It does not anywhere appear, however, that the measures overlying the Acadia seam have ever been thoroughly explored by borings, and until this has been done, the non-existence of coal seams overlying the Acadia seam, between the outcrop of this seam and the assumed line of the McCulloch fault, cannot be said to have been definitely established.

The workings of the Acadia colliery were carried to a point that approached within 700 feet of horizontal distance to workings in the Cage Pit seam in the Albion area. The difference in elevation did not permit of correlation between the Acadia (Westville) seam and the Main (Albion) seam, if a fault of 2,600 feet displacement were presumed to exist, while the horizontal distance certainly seems very small to include a fault of such magnitude, which, if it exists at all, must have a very flat hade.

The assumed position of the McCulloch fault on Mr. H. S. Poole's map of 1893 was shown one-fourth mile to the eastward of the position assumed on Logan's map of 1869. The map, as revised by Mr. Poole in 1903, showed the fault moved still farther eastward by one-eighth mile, and since that date the workings of the Drummond mine have proved the coal seams to be uninterrupted, except by minor down-throw faults, to a point that lies eastward of the assumed surface position of the fault in 1893, by a further one-fourth mile.

If the McCulloch fault exists as a reverse fault, the Westville Measures being thrown down and the Albion Measures thrown upwards, it would be quite possible that the Westville seams could continue eastward some distance beyond the surface trace of the fault, the hade of which is of course quite unknown.

The workings of the Drummond and Acadia collieries were, unfortunately, both interrupted at a point sufficiently advanced to the westward

~ Page 25 ~

to throw grave doubt on the existence of the McCulloch fault, but in neither case can it be said that the existence of the fault has been disproved.

Access to the lower portion of the Drummond workings on the Acadia seam is now precluded by the underground fire that occurred in 1915. At some future date the remaining coal in the deep workings may be won by drifting upwards from the underlying seam, but this, in the natural course of events, may be twenty or thirty years hence, so that the proving of the McCulloch fault, by underground workings, is not an immediate possibility. It might be proven by boring in the direction of the Acadia seam from the workings in the McGregor seam on the Albion side.

The existence, or non-existence, of the McCulloch fault, has, however, a most important bearing on the future of the Pictou coal-field. If the Albion and Westville areas were originally a continuous deposit, subsequently fractured by the McCulloch fault, then, whether the Main or Acadia seams be correlated or not, presumably the Albion series are repeated in the Westville block. Presuming that the McCulloch fault exists, a borehole suitably placed in the Westville area should disclose the presence of additional seams there.

If the McCulloch fault does not exist, then presumably the Westville series continues conformably beneath the Albion series; an assumption that would place the Acadia seam at a depth of 10,000 feet at the Allan shafts in the Albion area. The importance that would attach to the presence of seams above the Acadia seam, is thus very great.

Valuable information should be obtainable by boring on the Westville block. A borehole just inside the crop of the Acadia seam, and another over the lowest workings in the Drummond mine would give a complete section of the strata column overlying and underlying the Acadia seam, and would render material assistance in the correlation of the seams in the two main divisions.

The following section of the Albion Measures is condensed from Logan & Hartley's Report of 1869, and for comparison, is given the section below the McGregor seam, as determined by recent diamond-drill borings carried out by the Acadia Coal Company, of which particulars have been supplied through the courtesy of Mr. F. E. Notebaert, the Chief Mining Engineer of the Acadia Coal Company.

It will be noted that Mr. Hartley's section contains sixteen coal seams, if the concealed seams below the McGregor be included. The recent boring has disclosed nine seams below the McGregor, or sixteen seams in all.

Considering the early date of Mr. Hartley's section, and that the particulars given of the seams lying below the Stellar or Oil-Coal were gathered from surface observation of the coal outcrops, it will be seen that the more exact information available to-day from diamond drill records bears eloquent testimony to the careful and painstaking work of the early geological workers in this field.

~ Page 26 ~

~ Page 27 ~

In giving the section shown on page 26, Mr. Hartley wrote:--

No single section or column can be given which will fairly represent the measures of the entire coalfield, as very considerable changes occur in the character and size of the coal seams, and changes of a remarkable character are seen throughout the field in the rocks.

Mining operations, in depth, have corroborated the exact truth of this observation.

As is the case in many coal-fields, the coal seam horizons seem fairly persistent, although the thickness of the individual seams, and the intervening strata, vary very considerably within comparatively small distances. A study of the palaeontological evidence to be found in the roofs and pavements of the coal seams, and microscopic examination of coal sections from the several seams, would doubtless throw much light on the problem of correlating the seams in the three divisions of the Pictou coal-field.

The district north of the known limits of the Pictou field, in the direction of New Glasgow, is overlain by the New Glasgow Conglomerate and Permian rocks; but explorations have so far tended to confirm the opinion of the Geological Survey, namely, that the Permian in this district overlies unconformably either Millstone Grit or Devonian Measures.

The Vale area contains a series of coal seams bent into a synclinal basin, along a northeasterly axis, measuring about three miles across from crop to crop of the lowest seam. This series of seams is believed to be a higher series than those contained in the Albion area, the thickness of strata intervening being estimated at about 1,600 feet, containing beds of oil-shale, but no coal seams, so far as is known. The territory between the East river and the outcrop of the lowest seam in the Vale synclinal basin, measures roughly, two miles. All the higher series of seams have been eroded in this territory, and, moreover, the barren area is faulted and disturbed in a manner not thoroughly understood, except that the dip of the strata changes from a direction towards the axis of the Vale syncline to a dip towards another syncline that runs east and west through the Allan shafts, and is roughly parallel with Fraser's mountain.

A typical section of the Vale seams is as follows--but, as in the other areas of the Pictou field, the seams and the intervening strata show great variations.

Coal was first discovered in the Pictou field in 1798, when prospecting was carried on along the banks of the East river, and small quantities were mined from the outcrop of the main seam, the coal being lightered

~ Page 28 ~

down the East river for shipment to Halifax and other points along the coast. Coal mining operations on a large scale were commenced by the General Mining Association in 1827, in the vicinity of the present town of Stellarton, and were continued by this Company until 1874, when the property was sold to the Halifax Company, Limited.

In 1854 coal was uncovered near Westville and mining operations were commenced by the Black Diamond Company. In 1868 the Acadia Colliery and the Drummond Colliery commenced.

In 1872, the Vale Coal & Iron Manufacturing Company began operations on what is now known as the Vale area, near the present village of Thorburn.

In 1886 the Acadia, Vale, and Halifax Companies were amalgamated to form the Acadia Coal Company, which thus came into possession of areas and collieries in all three divisions of the Pictou field. In the following year the Acadia Coal Company acquired the Black Diamond properties. Since this time there have been but two operating coal companies in the Pictou field, namely, the Acadia Coal Company, and the International Coal Mining Company operating the Drummond Colliery at Westville. (1)

The Acadia Coal Company at the present time is working its areas in the Albion district only.

The Albion mine has two main slopes, drawing coal from workings in six seams, and reference to the section of the Albion measures (see page 26), will show the number of untouched seams that can, if desired, be made tributary to these slopes.

The Allan shaft mine draws coal from workings on the Cage Pit and the Ford seams. The Allan shafts were sunk in what appears to be the deepest part of the coal basin. There are two shafts, the deepest in eastern Canada, one 962 feet and the other 1,440 feet deep. The Cage Pit seam is, on an average, 15 feet thick at this point, and the Ford seam measures up to 40 feet in thickness, and in some places very considerably more. The Ford seam in this locality is most variable, both in thickness and inclination, the ground being very troubled. Because of the faulted character of the seam, it has proved costly to work, and has necessitated costly stone drifting. Recently, the management have carried out extensive prospecting by diamond drill borings of small diameter, and valuable information has been obtained in this way, at comparatively small expense.

The Vale colliery, in the eastern division, and the Acadia colliery, in the western division--both owned by the Acadia Coal Company--are closed down, because of the exhaustion of the profitably workable coal, and the unremunerative nature of the mining operations. The future of these mines, and the working of the other seams contained in the areas in which they are situated, is dependent on the selling price of coal and the local demand.

Belgian capital was several years ago invested in the Acadia Coal Company, and large capital expenditure has been incurred in proving and developing the property.

  1. Particulars of the early history of coal-mining in the Pictou field have been kindly supplied by Mr George Gray, the Assistant General Manager of the Acadia Coal Company.

~ Page 29 ~

A complete electrification of the colliery plants in the Albion district has been carried out. The modern steel bankheads at the Allan shaft mine and at the Albion slopes are among the best in Nova Scotia.

The output in 1913 was 536,000 tons, and has not since been exceeded. An underground fire in the Albion slopes in 1913, and an explosion, followed by a fire, in the Allan shaft mines, at the end of 1914, seriously interfered with production. The output in 1916 will be about 400,000 tons. The employees number between 800 and 1,000 men.

The Intercolonial Coal Mining Company operates the Drummond colliery, the only producing colliery at present in the Westville division. Up to the close of 1915 the, workings of the Main or Acadia seam produced the major portion of this Company's output, but a series of serious underground fires rendered it necessary to close off the lower workings and necessitated the abandonment of the whole of the workings in this seam. Mining is now being carried on in the Second seam, and, as mentioned elsewhere, a seam of fireclay underlying the Third seam is also worked. The output of this Company in 1916 will be about 150,000 tons. The workmen number between 500 and 600 persons.


Although the existence of coal in New Brunswick has been known since the earliest settlements, it is only since 1911 that any organized attempt has been made to work the deposit on a large scale. The Province is sparsely settled, and the immense forest which provides its chief industry has yielded a plentiful supply of fuel. These conditions, combined with the difficulties of transport, have militated against the utilization of the coal deposits. The Canadian Government railway; the Canadian Pacific railway, and the Grand Trunk Transcontinental railway now traverse New Brunswick; the last-named road going directly through the Grand Lake coal-field. A demand for railway coal has, therefore, been created, that will provide a limited but profitable market. In fact, the railways themselves because of the remoteness of the railway centres of New Brunswick from other sources of coal supply have encouraged the mining of coal to supply their local needs, and thereby save expensive freight charges on coal brought from Nova Scotia.

The Carboniferous rocks are exposed over large tracts in New Brunswick, but they consist, mostly, of the lowest and barren strata, the productive beds being represented only by a thickness of 200 feet of measures corresponding to the lower productive measures of Nova Scotia. Small seams and traces of coal are found in many places scattered all over the Province, but the only really valuable coal occurrence is in the Grand Lake field, situated 70 miles north of St. John, and lying midway between Fredericton and Moncton. The area underlain by coal is estimated by the Geological Survey at 112 square miles. Only one seam of value is found

~ Page 30 ~

which varies from 18 inches to 30 inches in thickness, and lies almost flat or with a very slight inclination, at a depth of not more than fifty feet from the surface. The coal is of fairly good quality and clean.

In places the coal has been worked "open-cast," and in other places by openings driven into the seam where exposed in the banks of a river.

Systematic operations are now being carried on at Minto (Sunbury county) by the Minto Coal Company. The Canadian Pacific railway has built a branch line from Fredericton to Minto, and has acquired the road from Minto to Norton formerly owned by the New Brunswick government, connecting with the Canadian Government railway at Norton Junction. The Transcontinental railway also connects at Chipman Junction, so that the coal-field is now linked up with the three main railway systems of the Maritime Provinces.

The method of mining adopted by the Minto Coal Company is interesting. A number of shafts are sunk, to each of which a territory of eight acres is allotted. The levels are driven to the boundary, and the coal worked back to the shaft, which is abandoned after the area is exhausted. An output of from 350 to 500 tons daily is obtained from these shafts. The Minto Company had an output of 81,000 short tons in 1915, and expects to produce 120,000 tons in 1916. The bulk of the coal mined is taken by the railways, there being a long term contract arrangement between the Minto Coal Company and the Canadian Pacific railway for the supply of coal.

The Company employs 250 men, and has houses accommodating all its workmen and their families. The contents of the Grand Lake coal-field are estimated by Mr. Dowling at 138,000,000 tons, giving, with the addition of 13,000,000 tons for the areas at Dunsinane and Beersville, a total, for the Province, of 151,000,000 tons.

Although from the nature of the deposit the production must always be limited, both in the rate of output and in actual resources, there can be no doubt that properly exploited the coal-field will prove of great local importance and be a considerable asset to the railways and the Province generally.

It is well that responsible people are behind the present enterprise, for, in the past, the New Brunswick coal-fields have been improperly exploited in connexion with fraudulent flotations of so-called "coal companies," to the great injury of credulous investors, and the detriment of the good name of the Province.


The whole of Prince Edward Island, with negligible exceptions, is overlain by rocks of the Permo-Carboniferous formation, uniformly reddish in colour. At the request of the Provincial Government the Dominion Geological Survey, in 1908, put down a series of boreholes in order to test the possibility of coal being found at workable depths. The holes were bored

~ Page 31 ~

on the crest of anticlines which cross over from New Brunswick and the Nova Scotia mainland, it being assumed that the Permian cover might be thinner at these points than elsewhere in the island. A churn drill was used, boring up to an 18-inch hole. Difficulties were experienced in the work of boring, due to heavy flows of both fresh and salt water, whenever certain well-defined sandstone beds were encountered. The majority of the holes did not get beyond the red beds of the Permo-Carboniferous; but in a bore near Miminegash, at the extreme western end of the island, the depth of the red beds was only 950 feet, the remainder of the bore, to a total depth of 1,660 feet, being in the lower grey beds of the Permo-Carboniferous. Arrangements were being made to obtain a core drill to continue the bore, but, unfortunately, before this was secured the hole caved in, burying the tools, and was lost.

The following is quoted from the Report of Progress of the Geological Survey for 1909:--

Consequently, the Carboniferous has not been tested. But though the question of the extension of the coal basins from Cape Breton and Nova Scotia is still unsettled, it has now only an academic interest, so far as Prince Edward Island is concerned, since the work done has demonstrated that no coal occurs within commercial reach of the surface. The bore-holes average nearly 2,000 feet in depth, and have not reached the Carboniferous, which would have to be penetrated several hundred feet before the Coal Measures would be encountered. The unstable nature of the rocks, and their saturated condition, would make sinking and maintaining a shaft a very difficult and expensive engineering feat.

It is unfortunate that the results of this exploration should have been so inconclusive. The depth to the Carboniferous is apparently not prohibitive, while the experience gained in sinking through water-logged strata in other parts of the world would lead to the conclusion that, although it would doubtless be most expensive, it would be quite feasible to sink and maintain a shaft through the strata met with in the Prince Edward Island borings.

It may be, that the Permian rocks are laid down unconformably on strata older than the productive Coal Measures of the Carboniferous, and that the coal seams are not present, as is apparently the case in other parts of the Maritime Provinces; but the question cannot be regarded as conclusively settled until deeper borings have failed to reveal the presence of coal seams.

In any case, even if the presence of workable coal seams were to be demonstrated, they could hardly be profitably mined under present economic conditions in competition with the easily accessible coal deposits of Cape Breton.

Return to Top of Page

Last Modified: 2004-11-04

Originally Produced by: Canada Department of Mines, Government Printing Bureau

The information contained on this site is not provided for the purpose of factual
representation. Instead, it is provided in an historical context. Every effort has
been made to ensure that this information represents the actual content of
Bulletin No. 14, The Coal-Fields and Coal Industry of Eastern Canada.
Nevertheless, no warranties are provided in any respect.

~~ End of Page ~~