In 1774 five families from the Ship Hector settled on the East River at what is now Stellarton, attracted by the fertile land of the intervale. Coal was first discovered in the area in 1798 on a brook to the rear of lands owned by Dr. MacGregor , a pioneer minister, and a William McKay. Although the coal was not of good quality, Dr. MacGregor obtained a license to use the coal for his own use. He opened a pit that became known as the MacGregor Seam. The War of 1812 increased the demand for coal and in the years leading up to the war, a commercial license for mining coal was granted to John MacKay. Mining didn't 'take off' until 1827 when a group of investors calling themselves the General Mining Association obtained a lease for mining coal near the East River. Their mining engineer, Richard Smith, bought the pioneer coal mines and started mining north of Bridge Avenue . The Stellarton area in pioneer times, was called Coal Mines Station. Then from 1833 until 1870 it was called Albion Mines at which time the town was renamed Stellarton after the 'stellar like' sparkles given off when the coal was ignited. Coal mining continued to be the life of the community until oil began to replace coal in the 1950's.
The oldest house in the town, Rundell House , was built by the GMA general manager, Richard Smith, in 1827 and still stands on Rundle Street . It was on a large estate of 75 acres that stretched from Bridge Avenue to Jubilee Avenue and consisted of ornamental trees, extensive lawn and orchards. The estate also contained a large park complete with dancing stage, cricket pitch and picnic tables. Later, in 1905 the park was donated to the town by Sir Hugh Montague Allan , a Montreal financier and President of the Acadia Coal Company and now bears his name.
To transport the coal, a railroad was needed and in 1836 the GMA began building the Albion Railway , the first in Canada to use iron rails. It ran from Albion Mines (Stellarton) to the coal loading pier in Abercrombie. It was the first heavy duty railroad in British North America and in every way was equal to England 's first railway built by George Stephensen . Two of the original locomotives that ran on the line, the ' Samson ' and the ' Albion ' are now housed in the Museum of Industry in Stellarton. Stellarton is also the birthplace of the first railroad switch and 'standard gauge' which was later copied by other railroads in North America . The railroad was in it heyday in the early 1900's. Thirteen passenger trains left Stellarton every 24 hours. The freight yards covered an area of 15 acres and the roundhouse could service 26 engines at a time. About 800 engines were dispatched from the yard monthly. In 1948, 301,834 railway cars passed through the Stellarton yards. Railroading continued to be important until coal lost its importance in the late 1950's.
Stellarton is also home to the second largest grocer in Canada . Sobeys was founded in 1907 by J.W. Sobey as a meat delivery business. In 1924, his son Frank Sobey expanded the operation into a full line of groceries. Sobeys first self serve supermarket opened in 1949 and for most of the remaining half of the 20 th century was Atlantic Canada's dominant grocer. In the 1980's the company challenged Loblaws by expanding into Ontario creating a nationwide supermarket battle for market supremacy. In 1998 it acquired the IGA franchise. Today Sobeys has more than 1300 stores in 10 provinces.