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Mining the depths

They said no. Politely and anonymously.

Russell Wangersky.

I can’t say I was surprised, but I was disappointed. I’d hoped to tag along with AMENS — Abandoned Mine Exploration Nova Scotia — as they explored and videoed a new abandoned mine site in that province for their YouTube channel.

In that province, there are many old mines to choose from. When I was a kid in Halifax, our parents used to take us on “expeditions.” Records were kept in a logbook in the glove compartment of our old van, and more than once, we ended up at the remnants of one or another of Nova Scotia’s old one- or two-person gold mines, digging through tailings pails of broken quartz.

Go to enough mine sites, and eventually, your eye even finds a way to spot likely remains in an area where there’s been mining — the round regularity of tailings piles, the type of rockface where old mines would punch adits (horizontal tunnels) into hardrock hillsides. For me, a trip would have been both nostalgia and exploration, disguised as work.

But like I said, AMENS said no, and probably with good reason.

Because what they’re doing is troubling for some. They give directions to abandoned mines, show where entrances are, video their explorations of abandoned mine workings and put the information up on the Internet.

From a production point of view, the videos are a little rough, but the group’s planning clearly isn’t. They research old plans of mine workings, provide clear warnings about mine dangers at the beginnings of their episodes, and stress their underground experience — “We are not kids looking for kicks. Keep in mind that our group is made up of responsible adults, each with specific skills.”

They’re not breaking and entering — the mines they visit all have open, if difficult, access.

Still, they are walking a fine line in more ways than one. They want their YouTube exploration videos to be more popular, yet they don’t want to raise the ire of regulators to the point that the RCMP or the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources starts actively trying to catch them trespassing on what may be private land. They disguise their voices in the audio, and blank out occasional shots of faces.

These can be serious explorations: try 1,200 feet underground in a 1917 copper mine near Dorchester, N.B., or a century-old iron mine exploration that requires a steep rappel down a loose rockface. The videos get anywhere from a few hundred views to as many as 4,000 visits. By the time they’re posted, though, the explorers are long gone.

“If you are seeing an episode, it means we are already month(s) finished with that site and never going back.”

It’s a fine line that the selfie universe walks often: amateur exploration is more dangerous but far cheaper. Once you start obeying all the rules, things get expensive.

When I was recently doing a story on divers exploring the flooded Bell Island, NL, iron mine, I had to go through a full safety briefing on what to do — and not do — in the mine, including not touching ceilings or walls. The part of the mine we were in was unstable and could potentially have rock collapses.

There was a dedicated, paid safety officer, sign-in protocols and planned escape routes, including preparation for full-darkness escape from the mine in the event of a total power failure. In other words, all kinds of bells and whistles, and their attendant costs.

It’s a far cry from a group of experienced mine explorers and a single video camera making their way into unknown, but calculated, hazards — hazards that other who follow their lead might not be in any way prepared for.

The irony is that, often, the AMENS explorations find, at the deepest of points, graffiti and other trash that show others have gone just as far, with no equipment, long before the camera even arrived.

A new season of the video series starts in May.


Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at


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