Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Nova Scotia: The Province that has been Passed By
Chapter XIV. The Sydneys


“I suppose you know the Sydneys?” was one of the questions addressed to me by a charming lady during my sojourn in Halifax.

“No,” I replied, as visions of various individuals from Sir Algernon Sidney to Mr. Albert Sidney floated in my mind, only to be rejected as inappropriate. “I can’t say that I do. Who are they? ”

“Oh, I don’t mean people, but the towns—the places. Sydney, North Sydney, East Sydney, Sydney Harbour, and Sydney Mines.”

“Oh, those!” I rejoined; “Oh, yes. I know those almost as well as I know the Croydons, and the Bromleys, and the Hampsteads.”

And, in truth, why “the Sydneys"? Is geographical nomenclature in New Scotland so poverty-stricken that places separated by five miles of water, and seventeen miles of rail, of different origins, different periods, and different interests, should all be called Sydney? I will not say altogether different interests, because the Sydneys are all joined together literally and figuratively by coal.

It is the old Spanish bay of the sixteenth century British navigators. That great Canadian, Le Moyne d'oerville, the founder of Louisiana, set sail from here in 1692, on one of his famous expeditions. Hither Admiral Hovenden Walker took refuge after his withdrawal from Quebec in 1711, asserting Queen Anne’s sovereignty over Cape Breton by erecting a wooden cross, duly inscribed, on the shore. In the war of the American Revolution a naval battle was fought here. Three years later, in 1784, Governor Des Barres founded the town of Sydney.

The harbour of Sydney, which used to be called on the old maps Spanish River, has an entrance two miles wide, four miles above which it forms into two branches called the North-west arm and the South-west arm, both being protected from the sea by a low bar. It is on the east side of the last named that the town of Sydney was built a century and a quarter ago by disbanded soldiers, American Loyalists, together with some Irish and Scotch, the chief magnet even then being the mines; although the magnificent harbour and contiguity to the Mother Country no doubt influenced the pioneers.

And what a harbour is this of Sydney? Of great depth, and so sheltered as to protect it from the force of the ocean, none could be more secure. It is an ideal place for yachting and boating of every description—and every craft from a man-o’-war to a birch-bark canoe may be seen skimming over its surface. There is a prosperous yacht club, and on a summer afternoon one may see here a lively regatta in progress, and the whole harbour alive with boats. The motor-boat and the steam-launch are also popular here.

Sydney, which was a long time in fulfilling any of the predictions current three quarters of a century ago, now has a population of 15,000. But when Haliburton wrote it had less than 500 souls. “The tide of fortune,” he observes, “has not yet set towards Sydney, and it appears, together with Louisbourg, to be neglected for places that cannot vie with it in natural capabilities.”

The country round about is well worthy of agricultural development; the advantages for a fishing population are marked, and the harbour opens up fine commercial possibilities. But not until steel came to Sydney did it really begin to flourish. In those distant days when Cape Breton was a separate province, independent of Nova Scotia, the Lieutenant-Governor and the other officials made this their capital, and spending their incomes here, that money, and the comparatively little derived from coal-mining, seems to have been the chief resource of the place, and the trading community was content. Within a square at the north end of the town I saw the remains of the barracks and commandant’s house. A court-house was also here, and a well-built Anglican Church of stone. The houses boasted well-cultivated gardens, in which there were many fruit trees, and the settlement on the whole bore a considerable, and, on the whole, not surprising resemblance to Pictou on the mainland.

Soon after the foundation of Sydney bituminous coal began to be mined regularly. As early as 1735 a cargo had been shipped to Martinique, but not until a century later did the General Mining Association begin operations on the north side of Sydney Harbour.

Gradually the enormous extent of the coal fields became revealed. The North Sydney Colliery extended a considerable distance under the sea, vessels in the harbour passing over them. This gave rise to numerous witticisms amongst the miners, formerly fishermen, whose mates were trawling aloft. The pit came to yield 180,000 tons annually.

In 1892 the total yield of the district was a million tons, nearly four thousand men being employed in the mines. Operations from their beginning at what is now called Sydney Mines had spread across the harbour, between Sydney and Grace Bay. A syndicate of Canadian and American capitalists some years ago acquired or held options over all the working mines in the district.

On the south side of the harbour are the Victoria Mines, and the others worked by the Dominion Coal Company in the district between Sydney and Cow Bay, twenty-two miles distant, are the Gardner, the Old Bridgeport, the International, and eight or nine others, which names, I was sorry to observe, have been superseded by mere numbers. But of this hereafter.

It was in 1892 that Mr. Whitney, of Boston, first became interested in Nova Scotian coal properties. Under his energetic management the slow and cautious methods which had marked the output of coal since 1880 gave place at once to development on a gigantic scale. Instead of a long winter of idleness the men were employed continuously, and there was a great increase in the number of hands employed, and a general advance in wages.

In five years the wage bill was $400,000 higher than at any time when the old companies were operating the mines.

Nor was it on coal alone that the Whitney syndicate concentrated their attention. The Dominion Iron and Steel Company sprang into being, and forthwith another great industry was added to Canada.

Coal, however, was all very well; the difficulty was to find an immediate market for it. When it length it was realised that as much iron ore as was wanted could be had from adjacent parts, and when the Dominion Government offered a bounty on Canadian steel, steel works became inevitable. The capital came in the first instance chiefly from America, and one day Sydney awoke to find itself the chosen locality for the operations of the Dominion Steel Company. Other industries quickly followed in their wake, and Sydney was in the grip of a “boom.” Thousands began flocking into the little town—mechanics, artisans, labourers of all kinds; owners of real estates found their properties enhanced beyond their wildest dreams, and the building speculator began his operations. People rubbed their eyes when they heard all this, for “booms” were associated with the West, not with the extreme East.

By this time the Dominion Coal Company had built a line of railway from Sydney to Louisburg, traversing its coal territory. The potential supply of coal has been estimated at a thousand million tons, not including the innumerable seams less than four feet thick, nor the vast submarine bed of coal between Cape Breton and Newfoundland, one area of which contains at least three thousand acres. Of course the coal trade alone means a large shipping business for Sydney and the neighbourhood, and besides the regular colliers, many steamers call here regularly for coaling. A coaling station of the French navy is situated here, and frequent are the visits of French cruisers.

As has been said, Sydney is most favourably situated for the production and shipment of iron and steel. Although there are iron areas contiguous, yet the Dominion Iron and Steel Company in starting business on a large scale, decided to avail itself of the almost inexhaustible supply at Bell Island, Newfoundland, where its property is believed to be capable of yielding twenty-nine million tons of ore, besides submarine deposits. Then, again, the limestone and dolomite employed in the manufacture of steel is near at hand. Four large blast-furnaces have been erected at Sydney along the harbour front, eighty-five feet high and eighteen feet maximum diameter. Each of these furnaces will yield about three hundred tons of pig-iron daily. There are five great blowing-engines, of two thousand five hundred horse-power each, and each engine will supply fifty thousand cubic feet of _ir per minute. The boilers consist of sixteen batteries of two boilers, each of sixteen thousand horse-power, and capable of pumping six million gallons of water per day of twenty-four hours The area of ground covered by the works of the company is four hundred and eighty acres, and is one of the busiest spots on the continent.

The works are most advantageously situated in every respect, being close by the waterside, connected with the Intercolonial Railway, and with an abundant supply of water for manufacturing purposes. The latter is procured from the Sydney River, w here a dam has been constructed which is capable of supplying three million gallons of fresh water daily. The length of the water main is eight miles. The grounds and works are lighted by electricity, and in all the operations machinery of the most modern description has been employed. The limits to which the works may be extended cannot be defined, but the possibilities are, as the reader may judge for himself, very great.

The whole works form virtually a town within themselves, and, with the blast furnaces, the stock-yard, offices, open hearth ovens, blooming-mill, rail-mill, plate-mill, machine-shop, foundry, shacks, hospitals, store-rooms, &c., a complete system of a busy city is found. The machine-shop and foundry of themselves cover more than 60,000 square feet of ground. The company has a capital of over $20,000,000.

The wonderful advantages of Sydney for producing iron and steel at the lowest prices can best be shown by a comparison of it with Pittsburg. At Sydney the coal is close at hand, and the coke ovens save all the volatile constituents of the coal. At Pittsburg the coal is brought from a distance of about eighty miles by rail, and the limestone, which at Sydney is on the spot, has to he brought a distance of one hundred and thirty miles to Pittsburg.

Only last year were these coal and steel companies amalgamated, and thereby much rivalry and conflict of interests terminated in a happy marriage. At first the two companies were known as the “Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation,” the name being afterwards changed to “Dominion Steel Corporation,” which offered one share of its stock for one of the common stock of the Coal and Steel Companies. This offer was duly accepted, and in a few months only a fraction over one per cent, of the 350,000 shares involved were outstanding.

The board of directors of the Corporation was formed of the members of the Boards of the component companies, Mr. J. H. Plummer being chosen president. The principal executive officers exercise jurisdiction in both the Steel and Coal Companies.

Now that such economic and administrative initial difficulties have been overcome, the strength of Sydney’s position is manifest to all. For here all the materials can be assembled at lower cost than anywhere else on the continent, and the finished product can be shipped from the mills to any of the world’s ports at less cost than from any other point, for by water, as I heard it phrased sententiously, “Sydney is nearer everywhere than anywhere else.”

Sydney rails within the past twelvemonth have been sent to India, Australia, and England. The Grand Trunk Pacific is using them largely in construction, being shipped by rail to the extreme sections of the line. They are despatched by water to Fort William, at the head of Lake Superior, and well into the interior of Canada, to build the central portions of the road; they have been shipped around Cape Horn to British Columbia to lay the extreme western sections from Prince Rupert east; Europe, South Africa, the West Indies, Mexico, are among the other countries to which Sydney exports, although the bulk of her products are consumed in the rapidly extending home markets. Apart from this, Sydney is one of the most convenient seaports on the Atlantic coast, whereas the nearest seaport to Pittsburg is over 350 miles by rail, and that seaport, Philadelphia, 878 miles further from Europe than Sydney is. It will thus be seen what enormous advantages lie within the iron gateway of the great Dominion!

And Sydney harbour at night. The waters very still and glittering, and the light of Cassiopeia and the Pleiades all but drowned in a great luminous effusion like a Milky Wav, and the whole northern horizon lurid with flames and patches of red glow. Then lights—lights—dozens, scores, hundreds of lights—like those on a seaside esplanade or pier. Behind those distant lights—in the midst of those lights, grimy men, stripped to the waist, are toiling—are fulfilling the curse of Cain, or, as some think, the blessing—earning their bread by the sweat of their brow. Ah, God, and they do sweat! The very flesh on their bones seems to melt, and the marrow to ooze from their joints, and their eyes to sear, and their hair to singe. Ah, say what you like, it is devil’s work to look at; but it is to do, and those fellows do it manfully.

All the coke made is used in the works for smelting purposes. Only a small proportion of the production of pig is sold as such, the greater part being made into steel ingots which are all rolled into blooms. A considerable tonnage is marketed in this form, but about eighty-five per cent, is advanced a further stage, and is sold in the form of rails and wire rods.

And who are these men who sweat their bodies to running oil in mighty furnaces in the night, on the shore where of late was the primeval wilderness? Whence comes this hardy race? Would you believe it if I said they were fishermen—pliers of nets who have been coursing, and their fathers before, the briny deep? These fellows ha ye shipped their rudder and beached their craft, and the salt foam splashes their manly bosoms no more.

The chief and practically only industry of Sydney Mines Is the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company. The town depends entirely on this corporation, which was founded through the operations of the company’s predecessors, the General Mining Association, and its recent growth and expansion has been due to the “Scotia” Corporation (as it is colloquially called) in acquiring that property and greatly extending the field of its operations.

The collieries and the iron and steel furnaces here furnish employment to nearly four thousand men, and the company’s Sydney Mines wage-bill is nearly two millions of dollars annually. Five collieries, a blast-furnace, four open-hearth furnaces, 150 coke ovens, coal-washing plant, machine-shops, and thirteen miles of railway make up the plant here. At North Sydney, a few miles away, are the coal-shipping and iron-ore discharging piers.

Glace Bay is the centre of the Dominion Company’s operations, the general offices being here, and the largest and most productive of the shafts not far distant. One is helped to realise the gigantic scale of the company’s operations by the official statement that in 1906 they produced 3,603,985 tons. There are 5000 men on the pay-roll, nearly all of whom command high wages and live accordingly. Glace Bay, a desert a few years ago, has now a population of 17,000, and is the third town in the whole Province.

New Scotland has not been free from labour troubles. During 1909 the coal-mining districts were the theatre of great and prolonged strikes. There was a famous strike at Inngan in 1882, but since then none until 1909. Cape Breton was free from disturbances of this kind, and as for Pictou County, with the exception of a few days lost at a couple of the collieries, there has been no strike -n twenty-three years. I do not suppose any coal-mining district on the continent can show a similar period of freedom from industrial strife.

But not many months ago the long peace was broken when an alien society, with its intolerable methods, appeared on the scene. These foreign unionists alleged they had come to help the Nova Scotia miners, who were weak and helpless, and at the mercy of the bloated capitalists. As a matter, the Cape Breton miners are freer, in the best sense of the word, than their brethren over the border. Certainly they had never hitherto been under the heel of the labour “delegate.”

“Our miners,” I was told, “labour under far more favourable conditions than the miners across the border. Their comfort and safety while in the mine is better cared for; they are better housed; and although Nature has ordained that coal-mining in Nova Scotia must be attended with difficulties unknown in many districts of the United States, fatal accidents are 50 per cent, fewer here than there, due to our more advanced legislation, to a better enforcement of the mining laws, and to the greater energy, skill, and intelligence of the officials of our mines.”

There are many persons who advocate Government operation of the coal-mines. In mining legislation Nova Scotia enjoys the proud distinction of having, during the last thirty years, led the world, but this is like similar proposals for State-operated railways in Britain There is one scheme which the Province Government might adopt, and that is a Government framing mine as part of the education of the people, whether that education be common, industrial, or technical. The Government might operate a mine not for profit, but for practical purposes and the solution of the problems frequently occurring in the operation of coalmines. A training mine might be a fitting appendage to the Nova Scotia Technical College.

For a serious problem is that of the underground unskilled labour, or loader question. Another is the “boy” question.

Many humanitarians are looking forward to a boyless colliery, when it will be unprofitable for mine-owners to employ boys in the mine. Not so long ago boys of five or six were employed; the age limit was extended to ten, then to twelve, and on to fourteen, and the cry now is that the limit should be extended to sixteen.

The solution of the whole difficulty is the elimination of both the boy and the horse, and the substitution of mechanical haulage, and this, in spite of hindrances to the general application of such a system and lack of capital, will probably some day be brought about.

I have mentioned the technical education of the miner, of which Mr. Drummond is an advocate. Novices would pass through a Government training mine, where all underground men would be miners, timbermen. and roadsmen in turns, and from which a novitiate, after a given period, say nine months, would be given his discharge papers and a necessary third-class certificate as miner. In the mine the novices would be under instructions from an experienced working miner. On the whole there is very much to he said in favour of the scheme, and Nova Scotia, which is a pioneer in mining legislation, might lead the way.

The northern shore of the Great Bras d’Or entrance, opposite Newfoundland, exhibits a precipitous range of gypsum crags and pits, concealed by forest growth, and forming a barrier between the Strait and St. Anne harbour. The southern shore is really the long narrow Boularderie Island, settled by Highlanders, and comparatively low-lying, after which comes the entrance to Little Bras d’Or. The transit by sea between the two channels is often dangerous owing to the formidable out-jutting point of Aconi, about which many tales are told. There is a sunken bar at the entrance of the Little Bras d’Or, which prevents the entrance of any but the smallest vessels. There is a road leading southward from hence to North Sydney, and there is another road crossing Boularderie Island to the Bras d’Or. In this district both farming and fishing are carried on, but the mines and steel works draw away most of the menfolk.

Off the coast south of Mia Bay lies the triangular island of Scutari, projecting two of its points to the ocean and a third towards the village of Malinauieu. This island, five miles long, is the extreme easterly point of the Dominion of Canada. The soil is poor, but it offers a convenient station for fishermen, and there is a lighthouse, to warn incoming vessels of the vicinity of Coromandiere rocks. South of Scutari Island is Cape Breton, better known to the coast mariners as Port Novy Land, from the little islet of Puerto Nueva. It is from this low rocky point, beaten bv the Atlantic surge for centuries, yet standing firm and compact, that the whole island of Cape Breton takes its name, another Illustration of the little tail wagging the big dog.

Speaking of names, down the coast 1 looked with keen curiosity for L’Orembeck, so often mentioned by Wolfe in his letters during the siege of Louisburg in 1758, and where he planted a battery. I was struck by the frequency with which the name “Lorraine” occurred on the coast between Port Novy and the Louisburg harbour ’lghthouse. Little Lorraine, Big Lorraine, Lorraine Road, and Lorraine River; but no L’Orembeck was in evidence until I met with an old French fisherman, who pointed to Lorraine Head, and said, “La voila — Lorraine Bee,” and the mystery was instantly solved. There is a landing cove here, and a mile inland is the terminus of the Sydney and Louisburg Railway.

Eighteen years ago (1893) Louisburg could only be reached from Sydney by sea or by a truly infamous road, which had the effect of cutting it off from the itinerary of most tourists. Between Sydney and Lingan, which is the next harbour on the coast, a fertile and timbered country was settled by the Irish, who called their settlement Low Point, and the deep circular pond hard by Kilkenny Lake. Before the advent of the coal-mining population, Lingan used to be noted for the giant flocks of wild geese frequenting this region, to feed upon the seaweed and the vegetation of the harbour flats. So prevalent and exposed are the veins of coal hereabouts that the surface of the ground used to present a dead appearance in many places, from having been reduced to a cinder by a tire which once ranged and continued burning in the recesses of the cliff between Glace Bay and Port Morien for a period of several years. Between Cape Percy and Mira Bay a barren peninsula, five miles long and two wide, juts out, ending in Cape Morien. This peninsula is joined to the mainland by a low strip of sand, called Ealse Bay Beach, which often used to deceive the mariner approaching from the sea by tempting h<m to essay a passage through to Port Morien. Inshore hereabouts was settled by American Loyalists, and their descendants are here to this day. Rounding the coast we And ourselves face to face with Mira Bay, a “crescent of fair sandy beach.” The Louisburg Railway has more or less followed the contour of the land, and its station of Mira is not far from the sea towards the centre of the bay, into which empties the beautiful Mira River. Here is the favourite summer resort of the holiday-making folk of the Sydneys and the mining district. The beach is a mile long, sloping gradually. Here one sees in large numbers the celebrated leaping tunny-fish, which afford sport both to spectators and fishermen. These fish, sometimes called horse-mackerel, grow in Atlantic waters to a monstrous size, frequently weighing 400 lbs., and even fish double that size are met with. They leap from the water like salmon, but have not yet been captured with rod, line, and hook, though one Sydney fisherman stuck to one monster for twelve hours before he was forced to u sever the connection.” The tunny season begins about the middle of July. Mira River is perhaps more of a character of a long narrow lake, prolonged by what s called Mira Gut, until it touches the sea. It is fed by the Salmon River, which rises some thirty miles from the coast, and the cha*n forms of river and lakes practically runs the whole length of this part of Cape Breton. For those who wish to take a pleasure cruise into the interior, a little steamey runs from Mira daily. After passing the Gut a gorgeous panorama of land and water meets the eye, as the steamer courses through a somewhat irregular waterway with numerous tree-clad islets. Navigation for steamers of small burden is practicable for twenty-five miles. About half-way up is Sangaree Island, which divides the ;ver in two, and upon which some enterprising hotel-keeper has established “Kamp Kill Kare,” an orthography which should delight the heart of the late Mr. Josh Billings [or of Mr. Andrew Carnegie. In the height of the summer the islets and the shores are filled with campers, for the salmon fishing is excellent.


Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus