History of Coal Mining in Nova Scotia
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Cape Breton
Introductory Nova Scotia

The Coal-Fields and Coal Industry of Eastern Canada

Cape Breton Island

Cape Breton island contains the most important coal-fields of eastern Canada.

The production of coal during the past three years compares with the total Canadian production, and with the production of Nova Scotia, as follows:--

                                   1913       1914       1915
Output of Cape Breton Island    6,631,677  6,055,668  6,198,080
Percentage of total Canadian       44.2%      44.4%      47 %
Percentage of total Nova           81.5%      81.5%      83.5%
     Scotian production

The Carboniferous deposits of Cape Breton island appear to have been deposited on the side of Pre-Cambrian hills, filling in the ancient hollows and sinuosities, and forming a fringe of Carboniferous rocks around a central boss of older formations. The newer rocks have undergone very little alteration in inclination or continuity since their deposition, except for the lateral corrugations mentioned later, and there has been no volcanic action.

The low mountain ranges of Cape Breton island, although very rugged and picturesque in their outlines, do not attain a height greater than 1,200 feet. In many places the mountain sides come down sheer to the edge of the sea, with deep water at the shore, showing that the present land surface and the adjoining submarine formations were formerly greatly elevated above the present sea-level.

The greater portion of the Carboniferous deposit is now submerged below the waters of the Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The formations remaining above sea-level suffered heavy denudation in the Glacial Period, and there is a constant encroachment of the sea, so that of the original vast coal deposits, there remains, to-day, but a series of detached synclinal basins, with their apices on land, dipping seaward, in fan-shaped extensions.

The erosion of the soft Carboniferous strata proceeds quite noticeably along the sea-coast. An ancient coast-line can be detected by soundings at various distances from the present coast-line, and the intervening submarine

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areas have undoubtedly been encroached upon by the sea through the un-ceasing wave erosion of the coast.

From observations extending over thirty years, the late Mr. Richard Brown ascertained the wearing away of the cliffs in one locality to average five inches per year, an amount that later observations have established as being not less than the extent of the erosion. The shales and sandstones because of their horizontal bedding, are easily loosened by the winter frosts. In the spring, by the combined action of the thaw, and the scour of the drift ice, the faces of the cliffs are disintegrated into mounds of debris which form at the base of the cliffs, to be washed away by the first storm.

On the western side of the Island, in Inverness county, four separate coal-basins occur within a length of 45 miles along the shore. These are known respectively as the Port Hood, Mabou, Inverness, and Chimney Comer basins. They are separated, one from the other, by stretches of Lower Carboniferous rocks, and are presumably landward extensions of a coal-field now covered by the waters of the Gulf. Whether these detached basins merge into one continuous deposit under the sea is, of course, not known, but, if this should be the case, the fact would be of little economic importance, as, from the indications above water-level, the basins could not in any case merge together except at a distance too far out at sea to be work-able. There is reason to believe the Chimney Comer basin is limited seaward.

The presence of Carboniferous rocks with associated thin-coal seams on the southwestern shore of St. George's bay opposite to the Port Hood coal-field on the northeastern edge of the bay is suggestive.

On the eastern side is the Sydney coal-field, because of the purity, accessibility, and, wealth of its coal seams, and its proximity to good shipping harbours, probably the most valuable coal deposit in Canada.

The superficial area of the productive measures in the Sydney field is from 200 to 250 square miles. From the outcrop of the Millstone Grit at Mira bay, to the termination of the productive measures by the syenitic range of hills which forms the northern shore of the Great Bras d'Or lake, the field is about 32 miles in length, with a maximum inland width of seven miles.

The extent of the coal-field in its extension under the Atlantic can only be conjectured; but as suggested many years ago by Richard Brown, the land area is "probably the segment only of an immense basin, extending towards the coast of Newfoundland." Since Mr. Brown wrote this, the coal seams have been worked under the sea for distances up to three miles from shore, but his conjecture cannot be improved upon, and it seems probable the future possibilities of this submarine coal-field will be limited rather by the difficulties attendant upon the extraction of coal at long distances from high-water mark than by the failure of the coal seams.

The main basin of the Sydney field is separated into subordinate basins by folds, or corrugations, running parallel to each other, and coinciding with arms of the sea, chief among these being the commodious harbour of Sydney. As in the case of the Inverness field, it is not known whether the subordinate basins are interrupted in their seaward extension, and there

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are some grounds for surmising that the extent of the dislocation occasioned by the folds may in one or two instances be less pronounced as the coal seams dip seawards. This, however, can only be determined by future mining operations.

The four subordinate basins, beginning from the southeast, are known as the Morien basin; the Glace Bay basin; the Lingan-Victoria basin; and the Sydney Mines, or Bras d'Or basin. The correlation of the seams throughout the subordinate basins is fairly well understood, but it is not established with absolute certainty. So far, this matter of correlation has been more of academic interest than of commercial importance, as the physical characteristics and quality of the coal seams change considerably even in the same subordinate basin.

The field offers good scope for the study of the fossil horizons, as some of the measures adjoining the coal seams are rich in distinctive fossils; and there can be little doubt that a systematic study of the fossils, particularly of the fauna in the several divisions of the main coal-field, would definitely establish the correlation of the seams and thereby decide a matter that in the past has been a fruitful source of controversy.

The most profitable section of the productive Measures is found in the Lingan-Victoria basin, which contains the higher seams that in the basins to the eastward have been eroded or have their outcrops under the sea.

The following ideal section is given as typical of the field, but must not be taken as referring to any particular location. It is a characteristic of the Sydney coal-field that while the coal seams themselves are very persistent in their horizons, the separating strata are apt to change in thickness. In one or two instances the coal seams are divided by the gradual thickening of an included dirt band, from a few inches to many feet. Sometimes, the seams come together again, the included dirt band being lens-shaped. In other instances the seams become permanently divided.

Plate IV

Sandstone spur near Table Head, Glace Bay: photographed in 1900.

Plate V

Sandstone spur near Table Head, Glace Bay: photographed about eight years later-- showing effect of erosion. At the present time the cliff is perforated with two holes.

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Up to the present time, mining operations in the Sydney coal-field have been chiefly confined to the thicker and more accessible seams, but as these have been worked more or less continuously for sixty years, the land areas are becoming exhausted, and the extraction of the thinner seams, and workings in the submarine areas are becoming general.

An ideal section of the measures taken at the shaft of the Hub colliery of the Dominion Coal Company, in the centre of the Glace Bay basin, and close to the shore, would show at least seven workable seams, giving an aggregate thickness of 39 feet of coal in the comparatively shallow depth of 1,300 feet. It will be noticed that the individual seams are all separated one from the other by sufficient thicknesses of intervening strata to enable each seam to be mined without danger of interfering with the workings in other seams, provided that proper precautions are taken. This section is presumably the same as that which underlies the vast submarine areas of the Glace Bay basin.

The section of the Lingan-Victoria Measures--given in detail in the foregoing table shows a similar wealth of workable seams, all of which, presumably continue into the submarine tract adjoining. Substantially the same section should be met with in the submarine portion of the Sydney Mines basin, although nothing is definitely known of the position or the nature of the disturbance that underlies the waters of Sydney harbour, and separates the Lingan-Victoria tract from the seams worked at Sydney Mines. In the Morien basin, fewer seams are contained in the submarine tract, as the erosion has here been more extensive, but the more important seams are all present.

Coal seams are found in Richmond county, Cape Breton, but they are of uncertain occurrence, and of inferior quality. Coal has, in the past, been mined intermittently, but without profitable results. The occurrence is not commercially important, except perhaps for local use.

Inland from the settlement of Big Pond on the East Bay of the Bras d'Or lake, and in the valley of Salmon river, a tributary of the Mira river, there is a detached synclinal basin of Carboniferous measures, evidently an outlier of the Sydney coal-field that has escaped erosion, containing small seams. At some future date it might pay to work this basin on a small scale to supply local needs, but at the present time the venture would not be profitable.

The presence of a strip of Carboniferous rocks along the shore of East bay, near Irish Cover, dipping under the lake suggests the possibility of coal under the Bras d'Or lake, which may some day prove worth detailed investigation.

Extensive mining operations in the Sydney coal-field have hitherto been confined to three, or at the outside, four seams in the several subordinate basins. There are a number of other seams as yet unworked. The seams are thinner than those hitherto mined, and of inferior quality by reason of dirt bands. Values, however, are usually comparative, and it is only because of the existence of the thicker and cleaner seams that the

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smaller seams have up to now been disregarded. Seams much inferior in quality, and much thinner than the unworked seams of the Sydney field, are to-day being profitably mined and marketed in other parts of the world. When the time arrives, as it has already arrived in other coal-fields, that economic conditions permit of the mining of these smaller and virgin seams, they will be utilized.


Following is a brief description of the operating coal companies in Cape Breton island :--

Dominion Coal Company.

This Company controls the whole of the land area of the Glace Bay and Lingan-Victoria basins, together with the adjacent submarine areas, which are for all practical purposes unlimited. It controls also the greater part of the land and submarine areas in the Morien basin, some extremely valuable submarine areas in the Sydney Mines basin, and has, in addition, a number of detached areas scattered throughout the Island of Cape Breton in advantageous positions. In addition to the Cape Breton properties, this Company controls and operates the Springhill Mines in Cumberland county, on the mainland of Nova Scotia; and the areas of the Cumberland Railway & Coal Company in the Morien basin, Cape Breton.

The Dominion Coal Company occupies a preponderating position among Canadian coal operators, producing in 1915, 42% of the coal output of Canada, and 75% of the output of Nova Scotia.

The Company has in full operation 17 collieries: 15 in Cape Breton, and 2 at Springhill. The production of the individual collieries in 1915, was as follows.~-

Plate VI

Glace Bay harbour: showing Dominion Coal Company's coal loading pier for schooner trade, also a portion of the stock of pit props.

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No. 17 Colliery is the Old Victoria mine, which was closed down in 1897, and unwatered and rehabilitated in 1913. This mine was not working in 1916, owing to the shortage of miners, but it is sufficiently developed to produce up to 800 tons per day, whenever conditions will permit of its operation.

No. 3 Colliery was worked out and closed down in 1915. This mine was opened in 1899, and in its lifetime produced approximately four million tons of coal.

No. 8 Colliery was worked out and abandoned in 1914. The mine was opened in 1863, and in its long lifetime produced 5,400,000 tons of coal.

The most valuable seam in the Glace Bay basin is the Phalen seam, which, for this reason, has been most extensively worked. The land area is largely exhausted, one of the land mines, No. 3, as previously mentioned, having been closed down, and another, No. 5, is approaching exhaustion. The whole land area of the Phalen seam is underlaid by the Emery seam at a depth of about 160 feet. The workings of No. 10 Colliery on the Emery seam are situated beneath those of No. 5 Colliery mining the Phalen seam, and those of No. 11 Colliery are extracting the Emery seam where it lies under the exhausted Phalen workings of No. 3 Colliery. In both cases the plant and houses erected in connexion with the Phalen seam are being utilized for the Emery seam, and the same procedure is possible, and will no doubt eventually be followed in the case of Mines Nos. 1, 2, 4, and 6, now operating on the Phalen seam, whenever the time for this shall arive.

Underneath the Emery seam there are known to be at least three workable seams of good quality, none of which have been more than touched by crop openings, so that the potentialities of the land area are very great. In the submarine tracts all the seams are present, and have been so little worked that they may be properly regarded as virgin areas, with the possible exception of the workings on the Hub seam, the topmost seam of the series.

The output capacity of the mines now being operated by the Dominion Coal Company, on single shift, and exclusive of the Springhill Collieries, and allowing for the usual winter conditions is 5¼ million tons per year. This tonnage can of course be increased to any desired quantity by the development of new collieries.

The Dominion Coal Company owns and operates the Sydney & Louisburg railway in Cape Breton, and the Cumberland railway in Cape Breton county. It has extensive machine shops, locomotive repair shops, foundries, coalwasher, etc. It owns a chain of retail stores for the sale of goods to workmen, and has found it necessary to provide very extensive housing accommodation for its workpeople.

In addition to the property at the mines and the loading ports of Sydney, Louisburg, Glace Bay, and Morien, the Company owns extensive modern discharging plants at Montreal, Three Rivers, Quebec, Halifax, and St. John, N.B.

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The geographical position of the mines, the climatic conditions, and other special features of the industry already explained, have combined to make the Dominion Coal Company almost as much a transportation company as a coal mining concern, and a larger expenditure has been necessary on transportation facilities than is usual in coal mining operations.

The Dominion Coal Company is a main subsidiary of the Dominion Steel Corporation, hence a large portion of the output of the mines is used in the works of the Dominion Iron & Steel Company at Sydney, where 650 by-product coke ovens are usually in full operation.

The employees number over 13,000 persons; and, approximately, 12,000 persons--workmen of the Company and their families--are housed at the mines, in dwellings erected and owned by the Company.

Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company.

This Company controls the major part of the land areas in the Sydney Mines, or Bras d'Or basin, and a portion of the adjacent submarine areas, together with some outlying submarine leases in the Lingan-Victoria and the Glace Bay basins.

The Nova Scotia Steel & Coal Company is the direct successor of the General Mining Association, and some of the original erections of this pioneer Company are still to be seen at Sydney Mines.

The Company owns five operating collieries, producing between 800,000 and 900,000 tons annually.

The production of the individual collieries in 1915 was as follows:--

Mine          Tons raised    Seam
Princess        156,185	    Main Seam
Florence        180,350       "   "
Scotia          127,602       "   "
Queen            97,785       "   "
Lloyds           50,001     Lloyds Seam
                611,923 tons

The Company owns and operates its own railway. Like all other Cape Breton coal companies, it has incurred large expenditure on housing accommodation for its workmen.

The loading piers are situated at North Sydney, and the Company has modern discharging plants at Quebec and Montreal. The employees at the mines number about 2,200 persons, of whom, approximately, 600 persons--workmen of the Company, and their families---are housed in dwellings at the mines owned by the Company. A large proportion of the workmen of this Company own their own houses, in which they have been assisted by money loans at moderate interest from the Company.

As in the case of the Dominion Collieries, a large proportion of the Nova Scotia Company's output is used in the steel works at Sydney Mines, and at the works at Trenton, near New Glasgow--both the property of this Company.

Plate VII

Blast furnaces, stock-yards, etc., Dominion Iron and Steel Company ( high resolution PDF, 1.4 Mb.)

Plate VIII

Typical colliery village, showing workmen's dwellings, at No. 17 Colliery, Dominion Coal Company, Sydney, N.S.

Plate IX

Loading piers of Dominion Steel Corporation, at Sydney Harbour ( high resolution PDF, 1.2 Mb.)

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Inverness Railway and Coal Company.

This Company is controlled by the Canadian Northern Railway Company, and operates a coal property, chiefly submarine, near the town of Inverness, in Inverness county. The only seam worked at present is one seven feet thick, with a dip varying from 15 to 50 degrees. It is proposed, eventually, to win the overlying thirteen-foot seam.

The Company owns and operates the Inverness railway, running from Inverness to the shipping piers at Port Hastings, on the Strait of Canso, a distance of 56 miles, and connecting with the Canadian Government railway at Point Tupper, a distance from Inverness of 62 miles. The employees number about 800 persons, and the Company owns dwellings accommodating 1,500 persons.

In addition to the three main companies mentioned, two small companies are working on the outcrop of the Sydney Mines basin, namely the Sydney Coal Company and the Colonial Coal Company. The production of these companies will not exceed 50,000 tons per year.

In Inverness county the slope mines of the Port Hood & Richmond Company, and the Mabou Coal Company, have been flooded by water from the sea, and are not now working.

The Cape Breton Coal, Iron, & Railway Company controls a land area, containing the lower seams, situated on the fringe of the Morien basin, near the crop of the barren measures. This Company, promoted by English capital, has been unfortunate financially, and the mine is not in operation at the present time.

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Last Modified: 2005-01-16

Originally Produced by: Canada Department of Mines, Government Printing Bureau

The information contained on this site is not provided for the purpose of factual
representation. Instead, it is provided in an historical context. Every effort has
been made to ensure that this information represents the actual content of
Bulletin No. 14, The Coal-Fields and Coal Industry of Eastern Canada.
Nevertheless, no warranties are provided in any respect.

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