Coal Mining in Cape Breton Nova Scotia. Music By IIIrd Tyme Out, Coal Mine Blues.
The southeastern part of Cape Breton Island is home to the Sydney Coal Field, an extensive underground coal seam extending at an angle from the shore beneath the seafloor of the Cabot Strait. This large deposit of high-sulphur coal was first extracted by French soldiers from Fortress Louisbourg in 1720 at nearby Port Morien. A major coal industry developed during the 19th century, becoming the largest energy project in British North America at its height of production. The largest integrated steel mill in the British Commonwealth was constructed on Sydney Harbor in 1901.
The coal and steel industries went into decline following World War II and never fully recovered. They were nationalized by the federal and provincial governments during the late 1960s with the intention of closing them by the 1980s, however production increased in the 1970s as a result of rising world oil and steel prices. By the 1990s, environmental degradation (see Sydney Tar Ponds) and economic ruin was facing the industrial Cape Breton region. The steel mill and last coal mine were closed in 2001 and the area has been struggling to adapt.
While the urban area of eastern Cape Breton County influenced by the coal and steel industries came to be referred to as "Industrial Cape Breton", many rural communities in the rest of Cape Breton Island have been relatively stable economically, largely due to the mix of fishing, forestry, small-scale agriculture, and a growing tourism industry as a result of the spectacular scenery found throughout the island.
In 1914 the SCOTIA steel mill was closed and in 1920 both DOMCO/DISCO and SCOTIA were merged into a new company named British Empire Steel and Coal Company (BESCO).
The copyright of this section might be in question and is likely from UMWA material.
IN MARCH OF 1925, Cape Breton coal miners were receiving $3.65 in daily wages and had been working part-time for more than three years. They burned company coal to heat company houses illuminated by company electricity. Their families drank company water, were indebted to the company "Pluck Me" store and were financially destitute as evidenced by the company "Bob Tailed Sheet". Local clergy spoke of children clothed in flour sacks and dying of starvation from the infamous "four cent meal". The miners had fought continuously since 1909 for decent working conditions, an eight hour day and a living wage.
The British Empire Steel Corporation (BESCO) was controlled by President Roy M. Wolvin and Vice-President J.E. McClurg who defended these conditions by frankly stating,
DEVCO and SYSCO
On July 7, 1967 the Cape Breton Development Corporation (DEVCO) was created and on March 30, 1968 all DOSCO mines were expropriated for $12 million by DEVCO. At the same time, the provincial government formed the Sydney Steel Corporation (SYSCO) and took over DOSCO's steel mill, with the aim being to gradually control the shut down of this industry.
DEVCO brought in new tourism initiatives throughout Cape Breton Island and funded various community economic development programs, however politics and other factors such as the 1973 oil crisis brought about by the OPEC embargo following the Yom Kippur War saw demand for coal increase dramatically, particularly for electrical generation. The federal government reversed course and chose to expand, rather than retract, the production of coal and opened new mines and modernized its DOSCO-inherited properties to serve new electrical generating stations. During the 1980s the provincial government also modernized the steel mill, however both coal and steel encountered production and financial difficulties in the 1990s and DEVCO and SYSCO both decommissioned their operations by the turn of the century or shortly thereafter. The last underground coal mine on Cape Breton Island closed in November 2001.
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