A Heritage Walk offered by the Museum of Industry offers a glimpse into Stellarton’s rich coal mining history.
With each stop along the Heritage Walk, museum interpreters provide historical vignettes, explaining the significance of the sites and the history of the area.
Summer interpreter Paul LaLande, who comes from a coal mining family, brings the town’s coal mining history to life with tales from days gone by. Like the one about the young boys playing ball in the 1920s near the English Slopes, located approximately in the area of the G.R. Saunders school.
“One day, a couple of boys were playing ball in a field there and the ball went into what they thought was just a hole and it was actually a boarded up English Slopes mine. They went down looking for the ball, someone struck a match and it exploded because of the methane buildup.” Lives were lost.
The Heritage Walk begins with a walk to the Cornish Pump House on the museum property.
LaLande leads the walks along with Wayne Albert. LaLande explains, “The Cornish Pump House was called that because the pump was made in Cornwall, England. It was used to drain water out of the Foord Pit. And the Museum of Industry is built on the grounds of the former Foord Pit.”
The Cornish Pump House was in operation from 1867 to 1880 when there was an explosion in the mine. It was dismantled, stone by stone, and moved a couple of hundred metres to make room for the twinned TransCanada Highway.
Next stop is the Samson Trail and participants will notice an archaeological dig at this spot. This is the site of the former General Mining Association (GMA) Foundry.
“This was a massive complex,” LaLande explains. “There was brick making, a locomotive shop, carpentry shops – it was a very extensive industrial location.”
The tour moves south and LaLande says, “We’ll point out the location of two older mines — the Bye Pit and the Storr Pit.”
The Bye Pit is approximately in the location of the present day Dorrington Ball Field. Just to the left of the Dorrington field is a fenced-in area that LaLande says is the ventilation shafts of the Bye Pit.
Heading towards Bridge Avenue the Heritage tour pauses at the location of the former Storr Pit. “This was the very first pit and was opened as early as 1827. Unfortunately, just like most of the coal mines in Pictou County, it suffered an explosion.”
When the Storr Pit was abandoned, the mining company moved approximately 200 metres and opened the Bye Pit.”
The Allan Shaft is also pointed out during the tour – located on the site of the present-day Sobeys offices on North Foord Street.
“That was our most dangerous mine because in terms of deaths, the Allan Shaft took 165 lives – the biggest explosion took 88.”
The GMA-owned mines, called the Acadia Mines, and the Inter-Colonial Mines, including the Drummond Mine in Westville, are all discussed during the 75-minute Heritage Walk. Participants will learn about the presence of methane in the highly volatile bituminous B coal which runs in seams underground in Pictou County.
Four coal mines within one kilometre of each other, all owned by GMA.
“These are some of the reasons why we want to do these Heritage Tours,” says museum marketing services manager Denise Taylor. “A lot of the general public today is not aware that this was the site of industrialization in Canada and how much history is right here in our community. And we need to tell these stories more because we are a proud community. This is an opportunity for us to tell and share the stories.”
The tour moves up Bridge Avenue where participants will be told that Christ Anglican Church is believed to be the oldest surviving building in Stellarton, says LaLande. “It was built on the grounds of the former Mount Rundle, which was an estate on the grounds of the former GMA.”
The estate extended over to Acadia Avenue, so the ball field and Allan Park were all part of the estate. There was a cricket field (now the Albion Ball Field), lodges for guests, walking trails, a bandstand at the park.
“And they had a very elaborate Victorian-style home.” That house, Rundle House, still stands today.
“It was described as perhaps the nicest home in the colony of Nova Scotia.”
The Miner’s Monument on Foord Street is the next stop on the tour where the names of the miners on the monument will be highlighted and participants will hear about Cape Breton coal miner William Davis who was killed by a police officer while picketing with his fellow striking coal miners. Davis Day is held in observance of him and of all miners killed in the province’s coal mines.
The walk back to Museum of Industry along North Foord Street is peppered with duplexes that were former mining houses, along Foord Street and as far as Bunker Hill.
“The miners would all walk to work so those houses were all in the vicinity of the Allan Shaft, and they could walk to the Foster Pit or the MacGregor Mine or the Albion Mine.”
The history and heritage of coal mining in Stellarton come alive this summer on the Heritage Walk. Participants meet at the museum at 1:20 p.m. and set off along a two-kilometre round trip through the streets and trails hearing about the old mines with tales both humourous and horrific.
Enjoy the great outdoors at the Museum of Industry
Test your skill with a game of quoits this summer on the grounds of the Museum of Industry, part of the museum’s outdoor activities.
Popular with coal miners a century ago, quoits is a game of accuracy where players try to throw a steel or brass ring as close as possible to an iron ring. In quoits, as well as in horseshoes, ‘close’ counts!
In Pictou County, it is believed quoits was likely introduced by immigrant British coal miners. In Westville, quoits grounds were built on the property of the Acadia Coal Company. Stellarton, Trenton, Hopewell and Pictou also fielded players and teams in the early 20th century. Quoits had its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s but died out in the years following the Second World War .
The quoits beds at the Museum of Industry were established in 2008, the centenary of the founding of the Maritime Quoits Association.
Also at the Museum of Industry this summer, kids ages 5-12 can enjoy activities on the museum’s lawn, weather permitting, for an hour in the morning, 10:30-11:30 a.m.
Learn how solar panels convert the sun’s energy to electricity, or make a paper kite and launch it into the air.
For details on these free activities, contact the museum at 902-755-5425.