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Big quarry in Little Narrows

The reopening of a well-known quarry hopes to put a Cape Breton community at the top of Canada’s gypsum power players

August 22, 2023  By Jack Burton

Set to reopen by 2026, Little Narrows’ gypsum quarry is receiving a $104 million upgrade, with an expected output of up to two million tonnes of gypsum per year over the next five decades.

Little Narrows is a community of just under 4,000 located in Nova Scotia’s Victoria County, but don’t be fooled by its size – big things are happening, thanks to a $104 million investment by the Canadian Gypsum Company (CGC), a subsidiary of U.S. Gypsum (USG), to reopen a quarry that closed in 2016.

CGC announced in May of this year that they will be fully funding the project with an investment of $104 million, with the quarry’s reopening process to reach completion in 2026. Once on-site operations resume, the quarry will have an annual output of up to two million tonnes of gypsum and an estimated operational lifespan of 50 years. 

As a part of the reopening process, the project will have fresh quarrying technology installed, including a new dock, shiploader, crusher, and conveyor systems. New mining equipment and vehicles, including drills, loaders, excavators, and haul trucks, will also be purchased for on-site operations.

Currently, CGC are in the process of acquiring numerous permits, and are performing the extensive data collection and surveying required. The company is carrying out this process alongside a third-party team to ensure that provincial and federal regulations are met. 


Commitment to success
Erik Hinze, CGC’s plant manager for the Little Narrows project, said that the company’s decision to reopen the mine, which they also owned during its initial operational run from 1954 to 2016, came from the goal to increase both the company’s supply and Canada’s footprint when it comes to gypsum resources. 

CGC’s approaching return to the area since the quarry’s original closure in 2016 has been embraced by locals, who see the company’s investment as a solid show of confidence in the community.

“Relaunching the Little Narrows quarry will help reinforce CGC’s supply of gypsum — the largest in the world — to ensure the continued sustainability and availability of our industry-leading products,” said Hinze. “This investment will also cement our long-term commitment to the Canadian market, and our dedication to providing the best experience for our customers across North America.”

Prior to the announcement, CGC extensively consulted with the provincial government, Invest Nova Scotia, and the Victoria County municipal government, in addition to holding discussions with the local Mi’kmaq people of Cape Breton Island — the original landholders of the area.

“We know that impacts to their Aboriginal and treaty rights must be identified and addressed, so there must be opportunities for their partnership and for generating economic and social benefits for their communities through this re-launch,” he said. 

Hinze is clear that this investment and the subsequent reopening is viewed, both by CGC and the local governments and communities, as not a brand new venture but rather a return to the legacy of gypsum mining that helped define the local area and its economy during the quarry’s initial operations.

“Given this history, we are deeply connected to Little Narrows and Cape Breton, and we’re thrilled to return to drive economic growth and support the local community as both a neighbour and partner,” he said.

Building back to the top
This history speaks not just to Nova Scotia’s reputation as a major mining exporter, but specifically the role that gypsum played in helping the province achieve this status in the first place.

CGC revealed plans for their reopening project on May 1, 2023, following extensive consultations.

“Mining is a strong part of our history in Nova Scotia, particularly gypsum,” said the province’s Minister of Finance, Allan McMaster. “In particular, we’ve historically been a powerhouse as a supplier of gypsum: 80 per cent of Canada’s gypsum output has come from Nova Scotia, and the hope is that the reopening of this quarry restores our place in the mining world, and for gypsum mining on this continent.”

McMaster attributes the province’s struggles with retaining their long-held position in the industry, and the ensuing initial 2016 closure of the quarry, to changes in the economy. He cites both the impacts of the 2008 housing crash on the residential construction sector, in addition to a brief industry trend that saw an increase in demand for coal-derived synthetic gypsum.  

“When the housing market unravelled in 2008, of course things like wallboard and other gypsum products collapsed with it,” he said. “From there, the advent of synthetic gypsum became very popular, because you had coal plants producing a by-product material that could be converted and used to replace gypsum. So as a result, we saw the real drop in interest in our gypsum quarries, and they basically all closed here in our province.”

The quarry’s reopening occurs as the demand for synthetic gypsum has severely dwindled, a result of the industry’s trend toward greener, emission-friendly processes and the subsequent movement away from coal-reliant solutions.

Generating generations of gypsum
The population of Little Narrows has embraced the return to the North American quarrying market this investment can bring. The history of the quarry and its longstanding relationship with the community has meant this announcement has been received with widespread positivity, said McMaster, in large part due to its impact on the local economy.

“The fact that they’ve been operational before, and that people were used to it being active in the area, meant that there wasn’t a lot of opposition to reopening; there was no ongoing concern,” he said. “I know locally, people value what it means for the economy, so I never heard of any resistance to it, to an over $100 million investment, and to over 100 good-paying jobs returning.”

The large output of the quarry, in addition to the site’s estimated 50-year lifespan, means that all parties involved – McMaster, the local community, and CGC themselves – see it as not just an immediate-term investment, but one that will impact generations in the community to come. 

“On the day that the announcement was made by USG, they themselves were mentioning that this really is a generational investment; one that will potentially impact several generations,” said McMaster. “Over the next 50 years, we could have two, maybe even three generations of locals working there: when you have a stable resource with a long lifespan, you have a stable workforce.”

Talk of the town
A considerable deal of excitement is shared by both CGC and the province, but this enthusiasm is perhaps felt strongest by the local community, who stand to see the most immediate and wide-ranging impacts and benefits of this investment and the changes it will bring. 

“There’s definitely a buzz – I can feel it throughout our whole community,” said Parker Horton, the economic development officer for Victoria County. “After the announcement, it was definitely the talk of the town. People see this as an incredible organization, with a long-standing history in our community, that is providing incredibly good-paying jobs and opportunities for them.”

Horton credits the sense of conviction in both the quarry and surrounding community that CGC have displayed with this investment as a significant reason for the welcome return the company has been met with.

“I have to tip my hat to CGC – they are completely driven. They’re doing this all through their own analysis and through their own team, and this is all privately funded,” he said. “This, to me speaks volumes of their confidence in their investment. This is a well-established company that sees the potential, understands what they have and are investing accordingly.”

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