Since time immemorial, gold has been sought out by men of means as a store of wealth, being, as it is, the universal medium of exchange. Also it is a very useful metal being not subject to rust, high specific gravity, and great malleability and ductility. It is, incidentally, the only metal which is found in a pure metallic state.1 It is brought out of the rocks and pebbles at special places around the world. Nova Scotia is one of these places. Though not discovered in Nova Scotia until after the middle of the 19th century.2
Gold's attraction through the ages was enhanced as the 19th century progressed by the actions of governments. In England, 1816, "gold was declared to be the sole standard and full legal tender, and a new coin, known as the sovereign ... was put into circulation."3 During February of 1820, England issues gold ingots ("Ricardos"), freely exchangeable with its paper money. By the following year (1821) England was fully on the gold exchange: "The effect of this move was to increase immensely worldwide confidence in the British economy and the expansion of international trade;"4 the price of gold rose, new and intensive interest in surveying and in mining followed.
It is thought that gold was first discovered in Nova Scotia at the Tangier River in 1858. Gesner reported that there were approximately 200 claims in place by 1861.5 By 1862, "all the principal government officials, from the Lieutenant Governor downwards, were rushing about the country prospecting for gold ..."6 "Consequently fresh explorations were made on private account in almost every county, resulting in a short time in discoveries at Lawrencetown, Oldham, the Ovens, Wine Harbour, Isaac Harbour, Hammonds Plains, Stewiacke, Musquodoboit and Uniacke. ... An unprecedented amount of prospecting led to the discovery of gold in some sixty localities from Cape Breton to Yarmouth."7
G. R. Evans reported that from June to December of 1861, $120,000 worth of gold was taken by hand off the workings at the Ovens in Lunenburg County. Equally, gold was found all along the shores of Rose Bay. Wine Harbour on the eastern shore, incidentally, "became one of the chief gold producers of the Province."8
Gold was discovered at Waverley, not far from Halifax, in 1861. Waverley developed quickly as a result of its gold rush. Within two years, from 1861 and 1863, the authorities reported that there was a buildup of 40 dwelling houses, and seven rock crushing machines, six powered by steam and one by water. Everywhere could be seen quartz rock, broken up in search of gold. John Hartlen in his work9 quoted Joseph Howe's comments on his visit to Waverley in August of 1861. "Waverley was also visited in 1861 by nearly every Haligonian who could muster a tent, a pick and a shovel, and maybe a pouch of gold digger's tobacco!"10
"Gold Fever" struck not just Nova Scotians who from all classes dropped their regular jobs to hunt for gold. There soon appeared in Nova Scotia "red-flannel shirted Americans with long hair and beards and fur caps, with great "he boots" and armed with bowie knives and revolvers. This combined with the other danger of careless rock blasting made gold digging a dangerous occupation.11
By 1874, gold fever in Nova Scotia had ebbed. The Inspector of Mines at the time, as quoted by G. R. Evans, gave this explanation: "Over-speculation and share-dealing took the place of mining, and incompetent, expensive management and dishonesty accounted in part for the decline. The excessive thinness of the paying leads, poor pumping equipment, and the absence of rich finds to encourage work and prospecting compromised another factor." Evans continued in his article that during the early period of gold mining in Nova Scotia "no plans or records were kept, and thus most valuable information was lost." Further Evans observed that there was also a "heavy loss from crude and wasteful methods of extracting the gold and the lack of labor-saving machinery."12
The early gold mining industry in Nova Scotia, because of the "influx of labor and capital and the concentration of people around the mines" caused the formation of towns, the building of roads and the improvement of transportation and communication in the Province.13
As interesting as it is, and as we have reviewed, the "Gold Fever," that first struck Nova Scotia during the 1860s, was not as great as that which occurred through the years 1895 to 1903. This period for gold production has been represented to be "the most productive nine year period in Nova Scotia."14 There was a third gold rush which occurred around the years 1927 to 1939.15 Due to the legalization of holding gold in the United States in 1974, we should add for a complete picture, led to a third gold rush in Nova Scotia.