A form of real life time travel took place this past weekend as the Museum of Industry, in partnership with Industrial Heritage Nova Scotia, hosted a public dig on the site of the old mining foundry.
While perhaps lacking the thrills of an Indiana Jones adventure, the dig was nonetheless an exciting moment for both the museum and the members of the public who took part.
The museum’s director Debra McNabb explained the site – just down hill from the museum and to the side of the old train station – was once the location of the General Mining Association’s foundry, dating back to 1827.
“This is where coal mining really started as an industry in Nova Scotia,” McNabb said.
The first steam engine in Nova Scotia was built on the site, and the foundry was responsible for making the parts, tools and other ironworks needed to keep the mine running.
Historically, the foundry and any relics associated with it would date to the British Industrial Era, a time of great advances in all aspects of industry.
McNabb said there was a prior archaeological dig on site in the 1980s but the exact location of the foundry building has been lost to history.
“We only know in the 1870s it was part of a sale of what was left of the mining operation here,” McNabb said. “Generally, what tended to happen in these situations when (buildings) ran into disuse was the bricks would be taken and used in another building somewhere. So we don’t really know what happened to it, and there are no photos of it.”
The dig – broken into four sessions over the weekend – involved 24 members of the public and those spots filled up within three hours.
Max MacKinnon, 8, of Stellarton took part in Sunday’s dig. It was his first time taking part in such an event and said he found the experience to be a fun one.
“I found two pieces of metal and two pieces of glass,” MacKinnon said. “They said it might have been part of a window.”
His finds were about on par with what he’d expected to find.
Lead archaeologist Laura deBoer reported that by mid-Saturday, many iron fragments had been found – most likely broken and discarded items from the time of the foundry – as well as a padlock, a 1928 Canadian five-cent coin and a short, cast iron section of rail track.
“This is very much what we want to find,” deBoer said.
She was one of seven archaeologists on site throughout the weekend and was hopeful the dig would uncover some of the foundry’s old brick foundation.
Working with the public, she said, meant the dig would likely get as deep as 15 centimetres. Normally, a dig of this type would get to a depth of 50 entimetres, a level professionals refer to as “culturally sterile” where black top soil gives way to a more reddish dirt.
Mikah Woods, 6, of New Glasgow was among those who took part in the Museum of Industry’s public dig of the old foundry site on Saturday morning. (Cameron photo)