TRURO, N.S. - It’s the thrill of heading into the unknown that keeps a small group of Nova Scotians going into abandoned mines.
The Nova Scotia Minehunters explore mines unseen by human eyes for many years, and then post videos of their travels on YouTube. Although some people say they’re taking unnecessary risks, the men say the precautions they take make their hobby less risky than many activities.
“We know there is some risk, and that’s part of the adventure for us, but what is really fascinating is seeing the past,” said one of the mine hunters. “There’s a sense of discovery because, although we do a lot of research ahead of time, you don’t know exactly what will be ahead. Sometimes we come across old equipment, water or a shaft.”
The men wear protective gear and use headlamps and ropes, and they always explore in groups. One person even has equipment they use to detect oxygen levels. They keep their identities secret, altering voices and blurring or pasting images over faces.
There are eight active members and each one has a niche area of expertise such as videography, maps, ropes and climbing, and historical research. One member was part of a team out west that explored 100 mines. The Nova Scotia Minehunters haven’t come across any groups doing the same thing in the Maritimes but there are similar groups around the world and they’ve talked to members of those online.
Although some members of the group went into a coal mine they say they will only enter hard rock mines from now on because of the danger of gases and instability.
“The stuff we do is fairly tame,” said the mine hunter. “There are some sketchy spots but nothing moving. The rock is solid and we don’t touch things. We know there’s some risk but we’re more likely to be in a car accident than be injured in the mines.
“We consider ourselves responsible adults. We’re not vandals or out to harm anybody or anything. We’re not reckless. ”
A second mine hunter said he got involved because he’d always been fascinated with the history of abandoned mines, especially the Londonderry mines.
“I read about the tonnage of ore they brought out and thought there must be extensive tunnels,” he said. “It was the first mine I went into and I was blown away by the fact that men were able to create that using the tools they had years ago.
“We do extensive research before going into a mine and I’ve never felt I was in great danger.”
Ernie Hennick, Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources mine planning technician, isn’t convinced the men are safe.
“There are some mine workings no one has been in for about 150 years,” he said. “They might not be stable. Our policy at the department is we don’t go in. Our message is ‘Stay out. Stay alive.’ But we live in an age of thrill seekers.”
He said bats and other wildlife could be using mines, but the mine hunters reported the only living animals they spotted were mice. They did come across a raccoon skeleton in one, and found the skeleton of a deer that had fallen into a hole.
One of the most unusual things they saw was a piece of birch bark that was deep inside a tunnel of rock and mud but looked fresh and clean.
“It looked like it had been laid there for some specific purpose,” said a mine hunter. “We left it where it was and put one of our cards there to join it.”