Nova Scotia Archives

Men in the Mines

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


History of Mining

This first section of 'Men in the Mines' presents a virtual exhibit focusing on Nova Scotia's mining resources and mining-related industries over nearly three centuries. It is intended as an introduction, told through historic photographs and documents, to the province's metallic, mineral and energy deposits, their discovery and development, and their significance within the larger narrative of Nova Scotia's economic history.

Using archival material to illustrate this 'History of Mining' has proved to be a challenging objective, and we make no claim that the story presented here is complete, or even truly representative. The subject area is immense–large books have been written on small portions of it alone! — and the source materials held by the three project partners are extensive.

To a certain extent we have also been limited by the scope and content of these archival collections; by their very nature and definition, they do not yet include recent material–and in some very noticeable instances, sometimes they do not include significant content for critical earlier events either. As a result of limitations like these, there are, for example, very few images in 'The History of Mining' to illustrate the successes that have marked resource development in Nova Scotia in the late 20th century. Quite simply, there is no way we can deliver a product here that will meet everyone's satisfaction!

We've chosen instead to present in this exhibit, a broad range of digitized illustrative materials — historical photographs, documentary art, published items, archival documents, and the occasional map or chart. Together, they begin to tell the story of metals, minerals and energy development in Nova Scotia. The selection begins in 1758 with one of the first descriptions published in English regarding the Cape Breton coalfields; and ends in the late 20th century, again in Cape Breton–where the story of mining in Nova Scotia began, and where it continues to this day.

The images featured in this particular exhibit are mostly 'industrial landscapes' — people at work are often visible as part of the scenery, but the camera's principal focus was intended to be underground, at the pithead, or concentrating on machinery and facilities–in other words, capturing the resource itself and the intervention necessary to maximize its economic potential. Look elsewhere in 'Men in the Mines' for the human face of the mining experience in Nova Scotia.

Visitors can view this 'History of Mining' exhibit in its entirety, or it can be broken up into sections corresponding to the six mineral resources that have played the largest and most visible roles in shaping Nova Scotia's broader economy; each section includes a short introduction providing additional background and significant events:

'The History of Mining' is meant to be explored in conjunction with the time-line, 'Nova Scotia Mineral Firsts 1604-1992,' and with the 'Men in the Mines' Resource Guide.

View images from History of Mining in the 'Men in the Mines' Virtual Exhibit