History of Coal Mining in Nova Scotia
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The Coal-Fields and Coal Industry of Eastern Canada


General Conditions of Employment.

The population of Nova Scotia still justifies its name, a glance through the directories being sufficient to reveal how large a proportion of the inhabitants of the Province are of Scottish ancestry. In Cape Breton island the population is preponderatingly of Highland descent, intermingled with the descendants of Irish settlers and the Acadian French. The Gaelic language is still in common use, especially in the country districts, and in Inverness county.

In the Sydney district probably 60 per cent of the mine employees are native Nova Scotians, from 10 to 15 per cent are of non-English-speaking nationalities, chiefly Italians, Frenchmen, Belgians, Germans, Austrians, Russians, and Slavs of various countries. The remainder are persons born in the British isles, or in Newfoundland; the latter place being an important contributor to the labour supply of Nova Scotia. In Inverness county, and at the mainland collieries, the percentage of Nova Scotians and others of British nationality is greater.

Although the immigration from Europe has furnished an important part of the labour required at the collieries, and notwithstanding the constant drain of the Canadian west and the New England states on the younger men of Nova Scotia, it cannot be said the percentage of British born workmen has decreased, as the immigration from the British Isles and from Newfoundland has been large. The ratio of nationalities has been, temporarily, greatly altered by the war, as enlistments among the miners has been large. Since August, 1914, there has been a more or less complete exodus of French, Belgian, and Italian reservists.

The Nova Scotian miner does not generally desire his son to follow his own trade, and while the day is far distant when the collieries of Nova Scotia will be so largely manned by foreign workmen as is now the ease in the collieries of the United States, a tendency in this direction is discernible, and perhaps unavoidable.

The mines work on single shift, commencing work at seven a.m., and hoist coal up to four or five o'clock in the afternoon. The double shift system has been employed on occasions in the past, but it is distinctly unpopular with the workmen. The miners and contract-men are, usually, out of the pit by three p.m., but the bottomers, and men engaged on the haulages, remain until the day's coal is drawn.

Wages are paid fortnightly; but from May, 1917, they will be paid weekly. Miners' cottages rent at from $4 to $8 per month. Wages range from $1.75 per day for surface-labourers; up to $5 and $6 per day earned by skilled machine-runners, and other men paid by piece-work and tonnage rates, underground. The average wage of all classes at the collieries, taking in all grades of labour employed, will be about $2.60 per day.

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Boys under fourteen years of age are not allowed to work at a colliery, and in cases where a boy has not passed the standard of school proficiency required, the age limit is sixteen years. No female labour has at any time been employed in or about Nova Scotia collieries.

The law requires that each miner in charge of a working place must hold a certificate, and certificates of competency are required for shot-firers, overmen, underground managers, and mine managers. Stationary engineers, and certain classes of boiler attendants, must also be certificated.

Since the beginning of the coal industry in Cape Breton the coal companies have carried on retail stores for the supply of groceries and other goods to the workmen. This has been a necessary part of the operations of the Companies, because the collieries, when first opened, were in unsettled districts, and provision had to be made for the needs of the workers. In the early days of mining operations, and until within the past fifteen years, the winter was a very slack period, and the earnings of the workmen were correspondingly reduced. The "Company Stores" sold goods on credit, and collected the debts through the payrolls during the busier summer period. Certain undesirable conditions arose out of these circumstances, and a good deal of odium attached to these stores. Legislation was enacted providing that wages should be paid in cash only; but permitting collection, through the medium of the payrolls, of certain specified deductions, such as debts incurred for rental, coal, relief fund dues, doctors' fees, mining supplies, and goods purchased from the stores. The workmen were safe-guarded by a provision that in each case a written order for the deduction must be given by the workman concerned.

In later years, the "Company Stores" have been used to supply necessary articles of good quality and at moderate rates, to the workmen; the purchasing power of the large companies being used to the considerable advantage of the workmen, and to effect an appreciable reduction in the cost of living at the mines.

The original conditions that made these stores a necessity are still to some extent present. The undeveloped sites of the newer collieries were in wooded, unsettled country, and it was necessary for the coal companies to provide all the ordinary conveniences of a community, such as railways, streets, water, light, and retail stores. Large numbers of new workmen had to be brought to the new collieries, and in many cases provided with food and clothing until they had accumulated earnings sufficient to pay for these necessities.

The difference between summer and winter conditions has almost disappeared, but the other circumstances referred to make the "Company Store" a necessary provision, apart from the fact that nowhere else can the workmen purchase to better advantage than at these stores as now managed. The choice in this matter is, of course, entirely optional with the workmen.

The development of large new collieries in unsettled localities has in the same way compelled the coal companies to build large numbers of

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dwellings, and to become the chief landlords in the mining centres. In recent years great advances have been made in the design and comfort of these dwellings, particularly at the newer colliery towns.

The substitution of electricity for steam, as a motive-power, has brought about a very noticeable improvement in the cleanliness of the collieries and adjacent villages. The entire absence of smoke and steam at those of the newer collieries, where electricity is exclusively used, is very noticeable by comparison with the older steam operated collieries.

Miners' Relief Societies.

Miners' Relief Societies have been in existence in Nova Scotia for between thirty and forty years. In 1910, the Provincial Government enacted a Workmen's Compensation Act, similar in its provisions to the first British Act, but exempted the coal companies at whose collieries approved relief societies were in existence.

It was represented that the application of the Compensation Act to the collieries would endanger the existence of the relief societies, as in such event, the coal companies would withdraw their contributions to these societies, and it was pointed out that a gradual extinction of the colliery relief societies had followed the passing of the Workmen's Compensation Act in Great Britain. The perpetuation of the relief societies in Nova Scotia seemed particularly desirable, as they form the only organized safe-guard of the miner against disability from sickness and disease. The population of the country is as yet too small to support wealthy friendly societies, and the existing fraternal and friendly societies and the insurance companies do not favour miners as members, because it is supposed that miners are more susceptible to disease than the ordinary members of the community. Further, the almost complete absence of Poor-Law provision in the mining municipalities creates a very real need for some provision against sickness, apart altogether from the disability caused by accident sustained in the course of employment. A Workmen's Compensation Act, of course, makes no provision for loss of earning power due to sickness, except in the rather obscure and debatable field of occupational diseases.

A typical relief society is the Dominion Coal Company Employees' Benefit Society, which insures workmen of all grades against disability or death from sickness and accident; whether arising out of the employment or not. The income is derived from a monthly contribution of fifty cents by each member, supplemented by an equal amount contributed by the Company, and a grant from the Nova Scotia Government based on the tonnage of coal sold, and approximating to ten cents per month per member. Relief is granted at $6 per week for 26 weeks; $3.50 per week for the following 26 weeks; and $2 per week for a further two years; after which time, special grants may be given. Widows are granted $8 per month for a period of five years; and $3 per month for each child under 14 years of age. Although the by-laws of the Society do not provide it, in

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cases of protracted total disability from accident, it has become customary to continue the full payment of $6 per week during the period of disability.

The income and expenditure of the Society in 1915 were as given below :--

    Workmen's contribution 	$60,396
    Company's contribution 	 60,422
    Government's contribution 	 12,842
    Interest on investments 	  9,718
    Weekly indemnities, including claims 
    arising out of sickness and accident    $100,419
    Death claims                               9,596
    Widows' and children's allowances         24,243
    Management, etc.                           6,176

The reserves of the Society total about $200,000. The members number around 10,000 persons, and before the war the membership reached 11,500 persons.

A new Workmen's Compensation Act was passed by the Nova Scotia Houses in 1915, providing compensation on a much more liberal scale than the first Nova Scotia Act. A comparison of the benefits provided by the new Act with the payments made by the Dominion Coal Company Employees' Benefit Society, would, at first glance, seem to favour greatly the operation of the Compensation Act, and there is no doubt of the more favourable nature of the Compensation Act so far as payments for disability from accident is concerned. So far as the expenditure of the coal companies is concerned, the payments required by the Compensation Act would be no greater, and would probably be much less than the payments from the companies necessary to sustain the relief societies. The explanation is that two-thirds of the monies paid out is on account of death and disability from sickness.

Under the new Compensation Act, the employees are allowed to contract out of the provisions of the Act, and substitute an approved relief society, consent, or otherwise, being indicated by a secret ballot.

The present scheme of the Benefit Societies is admittedly an experiment, and the experience gained should aid in elaborating a revised scheme that would place the relief societies on a solid and permanent financial basis, combining the benefit of the Compensation Act, and the Relief Societies as now constituted.

The management of the Relief Societies is arranged on equal representation of employer and workmen alike, but is actually directed by the men themselves, the most efficient safeguard against malingering.

A community of interest and contribution by employers, employees, and the Government--representing the owners of the royalty rights--providing for all and every, disability, whether arising out of sickness or work-accident, would, from past experience, seem to be the ideal solution.

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The requirement of the Act, that all contracting-out schemes must be approved by the Compensation Board, will ensure that all the existing Relief Societies will be placed on a satisfactory basis.

It will be noticed in the figures given relating to the Dominion Coal Company Employees Benefit Society, that the expenditure exceeded the income in 1915; and in addition, liabilities were incurred for the future support of the families of deceased members. The experience of this Society, since the consolidation of all the colliery branches into one Society, in 1910, has been made the subject of expert actuarial investigation, and a scheme is under consideration to improve the benefits, and to place the Society on a basis that will ensure permanent solvency. To do this will necessitate increased contributions from all parties concerned.

The medical needs of the miners and their families are looked after by the colliery doctors. These practitioners are paid by monthly amounts, usually about fifty or sixty cents from each man, deducted from the payrolls. The workmen designate the doctor they desire to have, and the coal companies are required to collect the amounts and pay them over to the doctors.

The chief colliery districts are well provided with hospitals. These are maintained by monthly contributions from the colliery workmen, usually thirty cents per month, supplemented by the Government hospital grant, by donations from the coal companies and private individuals, and by hospital fees paid by private patients. The miner receives free hospital treatment, although some fees are charged by the hospitals and the doctors for special operations. The hospital equipment is good, and modern.

Legislation and Technical Education.

The regulation of the coal mines is directed by provincial statutes: embodying, in their present form, the accumulated experience of one hundred years in the working of coal mines in Nova Scotia.

Mine inspection is carried out by a staff of Deputy Inspectors of Mines, reporting to the Inspector of Mines in Halifax, who is also the Deputy Commissioner of Public Works and Mines, reporting to the Commissioner of Works and Mines. The last named office is really that of Provincial Minister of Mines, and the holder is ex-officio a member of the Provincial Executive.

Federal legislation has so far had little or no bearing on the coal industry except in so far as it has related to customs duties, labour laws affecting disputes between employers and employees, and laws regulating immigration.

A pressing need exists for the establishment of a central authority on such matters as the testing of mine explosives, and general research work on problems affecting mining, following, in some measure, the lead of the Bureau of Mines in the United States. The financial resources of the individual provinces of Canada will not permit of separate provincial establishments, nor in any case, would such a duplication of effort be advisable.

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Some very useful investigations have been conducted by the Federal Department of Mines such as the investigation into the economic qualities of Canadian coals; and the compilation of research data regarding mine timber, that have been undertaken by the Forestry Branch of the Federal Department of the Interior, in cooperation with the mining faculty of McGill University.

That the fringe only of many necessary investigations has been touched in Canada, may be gathered from a perusal of the various "Technical Bulletins" issued by the United States Bureau of Mines, which, by a pleasing instance of international courtesy, are sent to Canadian readers, upon request, gratis, and post free.

The Mines Branch of the Department of Mines, Ottawa, has done well, with the means at its disposal; but a greater money appropriation and more extensive equipment is necessary if this Department is to adequately fill the need that now exists.

The technical education of mine officials is a matter in which Nova Scotia has been a pioneer on the American continent. The provincial mining schools are designed to enable aspirants for official positions to qualify for the certificates of competency of various grades required by the provincial laws. These schools--really evening classes--are held in the various mining centres; and a small equipment is provided to enable elementary instruction to be given in physics, machine-drawing, surveying, electricity, and other mining subjects.

For higher education the Province has provided a Technical College in Halifax, where mining, and general engineering courses can be taken. There are also five other colleges in Nova Scotia at which engineering courses can be taken. Yet, with all this provision of educational institutions, not one of them has the financial resources to equip really adequate laboratories for research work; nor are there any of these colleges sufficiently near to the mining districts to allow of the use of their laboratories and scientific equipment by students who work during the day time and attend school in the evenings; a procedure that has been so successful in the mining districts of Great Britain, under the "University Extension" movement.

The difficulty is a real one, and the Department of Technical Education of Nova Scotia is doing its best to solve the problem. A recent and commendable innovation is the commencing of correspondence courses by the Provincial Technical School. In the past, a great deal of the technical education of the officials has been obtained through the study of correspondence courses, originating in the United States. The correspondence courses of the Halifax Technical School will be coordinated with the work of the evening technical classes throughout the Province, and the idea is in every way a distinct advance.

The Technical College at Halifax has been the subject of criticism because of its distance from the chief industrial centres, but it is difficult to see how the Provincial authorities could better reconcile the conflicting claims of the scattered coal districts than by building the first technical

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college at Halifax, as a centre from which the activities of the Technical Education Department can work.

It should be found possible, by a system of scholarships awarded on the excellence of work done in the evening mining schools, to select promising students for short mining courses in Halifax, and thereby remove the financial limitation that prevents many young miners from taking advantage of the Halifax Technical College.

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Last Modified: 2004-11-09

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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