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Chapter IV: Coal, Quarries and Concessions (continued)

Men bucket-loading limestone onto schooners at Cobbs Arm, c. 1930(?). (IV/5.)
History has left us scant records of the earliest men involved in quarrying Newfoundland limestone. In the 1860s, John Bulley and Thomas Molloy operated limekilns in St. John's. The source of their stone is unknown; it may have been Chapels Cove or perhaps Topsail, Conception Bay, where in 1869 someone both quarried and burned limestone. Harbour Grace also had an anonymous limeburner in he 1860s, as did Ship Cove near Burin.

Not until the 1870s does a more personal picture emerge of the Newfoundland limestone industry. On 9 June 1870 Thomas Burridge, a St. John's builder, obtained a Crown grant for a limestone deposit in Cobbs Arm, New World Island, Notre Dame Bay. He shipped the stone to St. John's for construction purposes and to Betts Cove and Little Bay for fluxing copper ores in the smelters. The Cobbs Arm material, being of excellent quality, commanded excellent prices and brought Burridge a comfortable salary much envied by another St. John's builder, one John Score. On 14 June 1882, Score acquired land covering part of the Topsail limestone deposit from two farmers. He erected a limekiln, not just at the Topsail property, but also near Duckworth Street in St. John's. In so doing, he overreached himself financially and had to mortgage his Topsail and St. John's holdings several times in the next decades.

Thanks to his mortgagers, Score managed to continue quarrying and burning limestone throughout the 1880s. Thomas Burridge, however, died in the late 1880s. His limeworks ended up in the possession of an Englishman who on 19 June 1891 sold the Burridge limekiln - and, apparently, the Burridge Cobbs Arm quarry - to John Score. Score thus owned three limekilns and two limestone quarries, an unwieldly burden that obliged him to take out additional mortgages. Yet he handled his precarious affairs with aplomb and in the mid-1890s opened up a florist shop next door to his Duckworth limeworks. The flowers no doubt thrived from their regular applications of lime.

John Score's affairs were still unsettled at the time of his death on 6 April 1901. His family mortgaged his properties twice more, and then sold the Cobbs Arm land for $800 on 28 November 1912 to George Davy and James R. Chalker of St. John's. With that transaction Newfoundland limestone quarrying became an established industry. Davey and Chalker (and their descendants) operated quarries in the Cobbs Arm area for the next 54 years under their Newfoundland Lime Manufacturing Company Limited.

Some limestone quarried by the company became processed into the agricultural limestone or 'agstone' needed to neutralize Newfoundland's extremely acidic soils. More was burned into quicklime in kilns in St. John's and Cobbs Arm. The quicklime originally moved from Cobbs Arm in schooners through Dildo Run to Botwood; there, it was transferred into steel railcars and carried by train to the Buchans base metal mines to neutralize acid mine tailings. After losing several vessels because of quicklime's volatile reaction with water, the company began sending quicklime to Buchans from St. John's along the Newfoundland Railway, thus avoiding the dangerous sea voyage.

By far the largest volume of raw Cobbs Arm limestone went to the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company's pulp and paper mill in Grand Falls for use in manufacturing newsprint. Limestone-laden schooners became a familiar sight in the Bay of Exploits as they conveyed stone to Botwood to be placed onto railcars bound for Grand Falls.

Slowly, however, demand for Cobbs Arm limestone disappeared. In 1951, North Star Cement Limited started removing limestone from the Corner Brook area and processing it into agricultural as well as into cement material. The Newfoundland Lime Manufacturing Company ceased (temporarily, so it thought) producing 'agstone' in deference to the government-owned North Star plant. However, when North Star found in 1956 that the agstone operation was contaminating its cement, the Newfoundland government turned to Nova Scotia, rather than to Cobbs Arm, to supply agstone for the Island's farmers. Five years later the Buchans mines abandoned quicklime for a more stable neutralizing agent, hydrated lime; and in 1966 the Grand Falls paper mill, the sole remaining purchaser of Cobbs Arm limestone, substituted limestone with soda ash in its paper-making process.(32)

The Cobbs Arm limestone quarries have been inoperative since 1966 except as a source of aggregate for roads. Nonetheless, indications are that they may be reopened in the near future to provide agstone for central Newfoundland farmers.


The North Star Cement company currently quarries and crushes both limestone and marble* in its cement operations, although marble in an ornamental role has been the least-used of Newfoundland building stones.

To give an account of the earliest quarrying activities for ornamental marble is to recite familiar names in Newfoundland mining, Charles Bennett sent two loads of marble to England in the mid-1860s from a deposit at Canada Harbour on the Northern Peninsula. While Captain Philip Cleary commanded Newfoundland's coastal mail steamer in the 1860s, he noticed marble-sided mountains lining the mouth of the Humber River. He and a St. John's marble worker, Robert McKim, together staked claims beside the river in the 1860s, worked them in 1869 without result and leased them in 1880 to an English company. The English quarry manager dispatched one cargo of marble to England in September 1881 and then quit, unable to bear the frigidity of the Newfoundland winter. McKim's executor, Donald Morison, tried to develop the same property in 1908; however, his extravagant plans of conveying the marble across the Humber River to the Newfoundland Railway in cable cars alarmed his financiers, and they removed their backing.

The foregoing endeavours could best be described as trial incursions into quarrying. The only concerted attempt to establish a Newfoundland marble industry was made between 1912 and 1915 under the auspices of William Edgar, who for years had worked in marble quarries on the Hebridean island of Iona. After an aborted move to quarry marble from Clay Cove, White Bay, William Edgar and his brother Robert concentrated upon the superior-quality Canada Harbour marble showings. Thousands of dollars from Edgars' Colonial Mineral and Trading Company went into buying tramway rails, derricks, drills and saws. Scores of local men were trained to 'dress' the marble so as to render it marketable. The Canada Harbour quarry might have become a success had not World War I's inflated freight rates and shipping hazards caused the project to fold. William Edgar returned home around 1915, but Robert remained in Newfoundland and later died there.

* Marble is metamorphosed limestone. Back Up