Vale Coal, Iron and
Manufacturing Company

Vale Colliery


McBean Coal Mine

Thorburn, Pictou County
Nova Scotia

NSL: Nova Scotia Legislature
NSL 1865 chapter   64 — Act to incorporate the Acadia Coal Co.
NSL 1869 chapter   62 — Act to incorporate the Halifax Coal & Iron Co. Ltd.
NSL 1872 chapter   73 — Act to incorporate the Vale Coal, Iron, & Manufacturing Co. Ltd.
NSL 1874 chapter   74 — Act to incorporate the Halifax Co. Ltd.
NSL 1886 chapter 162 — Act to carry into effect amalgamation of Acadia Coal Co. with Halifax Co. Ltd. and Vale Coal, Iron & Manufacturing Co.
NSL 1887 chapter 115 — Act to add "Limited" to name, etc.

In 1886, the Acadia Coal Company, the Halifax Company and the Vale Iron & Manufacturing Company all merged under the name of the Acadia Coal Company.

The Vale Coal, Iron and Manufacturing Company and the Vale Railway Company eventually were taken over by the Canadian National Railway.

Acadia Coal Company: The company bearing the name of the Acadia Coal Company, formerly working the colliery known by that name, now includes, pursuant to an amalgamation effected last year the Collieries of the Halifax Company, commonly known as the Albion Mines, and those of the Vale Coal Iron and Manufacturing Company.  The present Acadia Company has now five large Collieries in running order and controls the areas formerly held by the companies referred to above.  Mr. H.S. Poole continues as Agent for the Consolidated Company, and his new work will doubtless be marked by the success which has attended his management of the old Acadia Colliery.

Vale: The explorations in the McBean seam at the 1800 feet level on the east side of the fault have shown good and regular coal, and it is proposed to open it out to the rise.  The new 2,400 feet level is working regularly, and the coal continues of good quality.  In the six feet seam the workings have been regularly extended and improvements effected in the ventilation.  The output of the colliery was 128,539 tons (in 1886), compared with 96,135 tons in 1885.

Source: Nova Scotia Department of Mines Annual Report for the year 1886
Digitized by the Internet Archive in 2011 with funding from University of Toronto

Photograph (1886): Foremen and Supervisors of the
Vale Coal and Iron Manufacturing Company

Photograph (1940s): Miners travelling on flat cars
down into slope mine at Thorburn

Photograph (ca.1960): McBean Mine miners

Photograph (1950): Aerial view of the McBean Mine in Thorburn

Photograph: Bankhead at the McBean Mine in Thorburn

Photograph (1972): Last shift at McBean Mine

Photograph (1972): Sir Hugh Allan
President of the Vale Colliery, Thorburn and
Director of the Acadia Coal Company, Stellarton.
Sir Hugh Allan (1810-1882) was a powerful Montreal
financier who invested in Pictou County mines.

Thorburn community profile

1888 October

Thorburn: A Flourishing Mining Village
Its Marvellous Growth

Visit of the Belgian Countess, The Collieries

The Countess Goes Down into the Mine

A six mile ten kilometre drive from New Glasgow brings us to the flourishing little town of Thorburn, formerly known as Vale Colliery.  In 1871 this place was almost unknown.  The residents there were few and far between, but when coal was discovered, and the Vale Coal and Iron Company, with the late Sir Hugh Allan as vice president, and J.B. Moore as president and general manager, set to work to develop the lead and build a railroad track to New Glasgow the place began to advance, and today takes rank among the most flourishing mining centres in Canada.  The excellence of the coal taken from these mines is undisputed, and for some purposes has no equal.

The first pit opened was on the McBain (sic, should be "McBean") seam.  This was opened for working in 1872.  Besides developing the mines and building the railroad, the company erected a fine pier at Pictou Landing to facilitate shipment by water.  When operations were commenced, 70 men were employed, and the company built 20 substantial houses for their use.  The output the first year was 36,000 tons [36,000 tonnes].  This pit is worked to a depth of 2840 feet [866 metres] to the bottom of the main shaft, and the new lift, now being worked, will take it down to 3000 feet [915m].  About seven feet [2.1m] of clear coal is worked in this seam.

This pit is said to be the best in the provinces in its general arrangement.  The Company have now 102 houses for the use of the men, besides a residence for the manager, machine, carpenter and blacksmith's shops, offices, etc.  400 men are now employed, and the monthly payroll runs from $13,000 to $15,000.  J.B. Moore was president and managing director up to 1886, when the Company amalgamated with the Acadia and Halifax Company, all now being known as the Acadia Coal Company Limited, with offices at Albion Mines (Stellarton).  J.W. Glendenning of New York is President, and H.S. Poole of Stellarton is general manager.

The principal officers at the Vale Colliery are:- W.B. Moore, Superintendent; T.W. Turnbull, Manager; G.M. Appleton, Mechanical Superintendent; F.A. Anley, time and storekeeper; Peter McMullin, fore overman; A.D. McKenzie, fore overman 6 foot seam; J.D. McKay, back overman; Alex. McKinnon, head carpenter; John Appleton, mechanical foreman; George Fraser, surface foreman; Alex. Grant, engineer; Wm. Plumb, engineer (big winding engine); Robert Bell, fan engine driver; John Warren, fan engine driver; John Cummings, head blacksmith; Alex Stewart, locomotive engineer.

The mechanical appliances are second to none in the province.  The engines are of the best and most powerful description.  The main winding engine of the McBain (sic) seam is a 32 inch [81cm] cylinder, with 5 inch [13cm] stroke.  The winding drum is 14 feet [4.3m] in diameter, and carries 3000 feet [915m] of one inch [2.5cm] iron rope of the best and most improved make.  The fan engine is 24×36 [61cm×91cm], and runs a fan 30 feet [9.1m] in diameter and 10 feet [3.1m] wide, which, at 60 revolutions per minute will give from 60,000 to 70,000 cubic feet [1700 to 2000 cubic metres] of air.  The amount of air prescribed by law is 100 cubic feet [2800 litres] per man, thus giving a big surplus of air, which is in no wise a small matter to the miner.  The company have two locomotives; one condensed engine, 18×26 [46cm×66cm] cylinders, one standard American locomotive, 16×24 [41cm×61cm] cylinders.  Seven horses are employed underground.

The average output is from 800 to 1000 boxes of coal per day.  About half a ton [about 500kg] is the average load of a box.  Over one hundred thousand tons of coal have already been raised and shipped.  The area is three square miles [eight square kilometres].  The Company's railroad connects with the I.C.R. at New Glasgow for shipment by water from Pictou Landing, or west by rail...

On Monday last, the Countess J. de Bruges de Gerpemes, signified her desire to visit the mine for the purpose of seeing her protegees at work.  At one o'clock, the Countess, accompanied by her travelling companion, Mademoiselle Amond, Dr. Schurman of Belgium, W.B. Moore, Superintendent of the mines, T.W. Turnbull, manager, and W.D. Tanton of The Enterprise, made the descent down in the coal mine.

After we got seated in the boxes the train began to slowly descend down the mine shaft.  Faster and faster we sped along through the narrow tunnel, the only light coming from our dim lanterns.  In about four minutes we were safely landed at the bottom of the main shaft, 2,400 feet [730m] from the mouth of the pit, and to a vertical depth of 1188 feet [363m].  Mr. Turnbull took the lead and escorted the party through the mine.  Back about 500 yards [460m] to the furthermost point being worked, we tramped through the narrow cutting, then up into one of the boards where the miners were at work undermining the coal preparatory to making a blast.  The men proved to be Belgians, and the Countess talked to them for some little time.  Before leaving this spot she took a pick and cut a sample of coal which she carried away as a memento of her trip down in a Nova Scotia mine.  On her return to the slope, she met a large number of her country folk, and held a lengthy conversation with them.  They all appeared well pleased with their work and the treatment received at the hands of the officials...

— Source: The Enterprise, New Glasgow, Saturday, 18 October 2021

[ICS comment, written 9 November 1997, revised 24 January 2022]  The technical information stated above is (as is usual with newspapers, then and now) in need of clarification and is even somewhat unreliable.

(1) The engine stated to have a "32 inch cylinder, with 5 inch stroke" is highly unlikely.  In the technology of reciprocating steam engines, the cylinder bore (diameter) and piston stroke are almost always roughly equal, for strong technical reasons.  A ratio of as much as two-to-one is rare; that is, it is most unlikely for a stroke to be less than half or more than double the bore.  A ratio of about 1.5-to-one is about as far out of equality as is ordinarily found in practice.  A cylinder with a bore of 32 inches would normally have a stroke somewhere between 15 and 50 inches.  This report of a cylinder with a 32 inch bore and 5 inch stroke is almost certainly a typographical error.  If the "5" is correct then the stroke was probably either 35 or 45 inches.  A cylinder of 32 inch bore, with a stroke in the 35- to 45-inch range, seems about right for a "main winding engine" of the day in a colliery producing at the rate that McBean did - about 300 to 400 tons of coal raised each working day.

(2) The fan engine is stated to be 24 × 36.  This means 24 inch bore and 36 inch stroke.  When engine cylinder dimensions are given simply as two numbers without specifying which is stroke and which is bore, the universal practice was, and is, to state the bore first, followed by the stroke.

(3) The air quantities are stated as being so many cubic feet, without mention of the time interval which such a measure (a rate of delivery) must include.  Was the legal air requirement for each man 100 cubic feet per minute?  Or 100 cubic feet per hour?  The same question arises about the fan capacity.  However, from the fan description given by The Enterprise, it is plausible that this fan, running at 60 rpm, would deliver air at a rate of about 60,000 to 70,000 cubic feet per minute.  From this, we can infer that the legal requirement was 100 cubic feet 2800 litres of air per minute for each man underground.  (The purpose of this legal requirement is not related to supplying air for respiration, but to the need in an underground coal mine to keep the methane concentration well below the point at which an air-methane mixture becomes dangerously explosive. This is accomplished by continuously blowing a substantial quantity of fresh air through the mine tunnels, to carry away the methane gas that is continuously escaping from the coal seam.)

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First uploaded to the WWW:   1997 November 09
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Latest update:   2011 August 04