Renfrew Gold Mines
Renfrew Gold Mines by Jack Hawkins
Image is of Empress Gold Mine, Renfrew NS
The “Town” of Renfrew today has disappeared, vanished. A once thriving community northeast of Enfield has gone. Population was said to be as high as 600, but regular residents were likely closer to 300. Renfrew had a school. N.S. Museum records students and teachers.
The old Renfrew Road, listed in 1864 as a new road, is now rough and partly blocked by a beaver dam and boulders, but can still be navigated by 4x4 trucks. Alders and decadent fir trees line the road where houses, fields and orchards once stood. On the main road were MacLellan Hotel, Bunker's Saloon, a school, a temperance hall, two blacksmith's, general stores, shoemakers, post office, barns and cattle as well as homes. Some claim that there was also a short wooden sidewalk. The farms had a ready market for milk, meat, eggs, butter. Vestiges of old fields still exist along the MacLellan Lake Road. Horses provided travel to Enfield and as horsepower for some mining operations.
William Thompson, a lumber mill owner, discovered gold in Freeclaim Brook in July 1841, and by 1867 Renfrew was the leading Nova Scotian gold producer. A. Heatherington wrote, “Gold is so abundant in some veins that it is difficult to find a piece of quartz... that does not contain more or less gold.”
Freeclaim Brook had several dams constructed to generate power for operations. One was the Colonial Dam. In fact, the water backed up and MacLellan Lake and Rocky Lake flooded and formed one big lake. There was quite a bit of drinking at MacLellan Hotel and Bunker's Saloon, which the ladies at the Temperance Hall tried to keep in check.
At first gold operations were kept small and local. Then the big boys, some from the U.S., moved in. The Empress Mine, Ophir Mining Company, Chebucto Mining, Colonial Mining, Hartford Company, Renfrew Gold Mining Company, New York and Renfrew Gold Mining, New Haven Company were some of the bigger operations.