The minerals industry was a small component of national economic activity in the second half of the 19th century, but it flourished briefly in this period in particular areas. Petroleum supported a small refining industry in southwestern Ontario. Coal from Cape Breton Island gained important United States markets during the American Civil War, fell back after the repeal of the Canada-United States Reciprocity Treaty in 1865, and then began a steady and substantial climb as it gained a protected central Canadian market in the 1880s.
In the 1870s gold was mined on a small scale in Nova Scotia and Ontario. Nowhere, however, did mineral extraction have as much impact as in British Columbia. There the relatively quiet fur trade of the first half of the century was boisterously supplanted in 1858 by the arrival of thousands of gold-rush prospectors. With production climbing rapidly, transportation to the interior was improved, quick-built camps were perched on the hillsides, trees and soils stripped off to trace out-crops, and gravels churned and washed. Annual production reached approximately $4 million within five years. This intense but short-lived frenzy of activity changed landscapes and the patterns of development. By 1870 the lower Fraser River valley was becoming a focus for salmon canning, logging, and agriculture. By the mid-1880s, in the southern parts of a province that had long been settled by a native population, a new economy more broadly based and linked to the rest of the continent by a railway was being developed by an increasingly diverse population.
Learn more about late 20th century mining in Arctic and Taiga and in Boreal Shield