Nova Scotia Archives

Men in the Mines

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


Salt-Mining in Nova Scotia

Enough salt reserves exist in Nova Scotia's two working salt mines to fill all of Canada's salt shakers, salt trucks and industrial needs east of the Manitoba border, with tons left over to export to New England, the Caribbean and the Middle East. That's a lot of salt!

In pre-colonial times the existence of salt springs and brine pools in various parts of the province was known to the Mi'kmaq; the first recorded attempt to extract the mineral occurred at Salt Springs, Pictou County, in 1813 — and was unsuccessful. Although salt deposits in Nova Scotia occur in an arc stretching across Hants, Cumberland, Pictou, Antigonish, Inverness and Cape Breton Counties, the Malagash-Nappan-Pugwash area in Cumberland County has historically been the focus of mineral development.

In 1857, James Heuson petitioned the provincial government for financial assistance in developing his saltworks already underway at Black River near Springhill, Cumberland County; his argument was that the operation yielded a superior local product suitable for use in butter production.

In 1912 salt was discovered in a well at Malagash; this led in 1918 to the opening of Canada's first underground rock-salt mine. It remained in production until 1959, when problems with both ore quality and mine operations forced its closure. Meanwhile, salt had been discovered in wells in nearby Pugwash in 1953; further testing revealed immense underground reserves which went into production as a replacement mine, the same year that Malagash closed. Mining at Pugwash (and earlier at Malagash) is done by the room-and-pillar method, drilling and blasting through huge, gleaming underground caverns, then crushing, loading and sending the salt to a mill operation at the surface for screening and evaporation.

Salt brine was also discovered in a well at Nappan, just west of Amherst, in 1927. It was thought initially that the location might produce oil, but drilling was unproductive; later tests uncovered the existence of huge underground salt deposits instead, and these have been worked by solution mining since 1947. In this process, hot water is pumped into drill holes under pressure and the resulting salt brine is pumped back out, then sent through a settling and evaporation process at the surface to produce a high-purity salt.


View images from Salt Mining in the 'Men in the Mines' Virtual Exhibit