Inverness Miners' Museum
Inverness, Nova Scotia

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The Broken Ground: A History of a Cape Breton Coal Mining Community




As W.P. Hussey and the Broad Cove Coal Company disappeared from the scene a new company came Into existence. The corporation took as its name the Inverness Railway and Coal Company. The guiding force behind the corporation was an outstanding firm of railway builders familiarly known in Canada as "MacKenzie and. Mann." For ten years, using brain and brawn, they were building the great Canadian Northern Railway at an average of one mile per day. Their genius was not only building railways but attracting public money into their projects.

According to the statistics of J.L. MacDougall, "History of Inverness County" (1922) MacKenzie and Mann secured a subsidy of $6,400 per mile from the Dominion Government, $4,000 per mile from the Government of Nova Scotia, and $2,000per mile from the County of Inverness, which included the right of way.

The scene that was presented to attract such subsidies was simply the construction of a Railway from Point Tupper to the Harbour of Cheticamp - a distance of one hundred miles. However, one soon realized that the primary intent of the two "builders" was to complete the project only as far as their own mine at Inverness. The road stopped here and never continued. This was a bold breach of faith since the inhabitants to the north of Inverness had already paid for the service. The unbelievable part of the episode is that they got away without fulfilling a promise and contract. On June 15, 1901, the first passenger train left Broad Cove for Port Hawkesbury. The shipping and railroad equipment belonging to the Inverness Railroad and Coal Company consisted of seven locomotives, three passenger cars, one mail and baggage car, two hundred 30-ton boxcars, two hundred 30-ton gondolas, and one hundred 30-ton flat cars. While the railroad was under construction the Inverness mines were idle. Once the project was completed the managers switched their interests to the mining process. On low, level ground near the harbour they opened a slope in which they struck a seven-foot seam of superior soft coal. Shortly after striking this seam the Company erected about eighty double tenement houses for miners, and as many more a little later. The construction of the houses was contracted out to an Amherst firm, Rhodes and Curry although many local carpenters were involved in the actual construction. All the houses were painted red and became known as the Red Rows. The rows of unicoloured houses led to humorous confusion on many occasions. One recurring tale tells of the farmers who used to come in on the weekends selling their produce. Once the tenant purchased some goods they would ask the farmer to return on payday. When the tanner returned he could not tell one house from the other.

The MacKenzie and Mann era supplied needed employment and an excellent home market, paid their workingmen regularly a wage which was not, on the whole, unfair; established the largest and most useful town within the county; and created in the words of J.L, MacDougall, " honourable industry in our midst for which generations of our people have wished, waited and, prayed.

At the height of its boom Inverness was a tenacious and boisterous town. Built around a resource that was not permanent the people made the best of what existed and settled into the life of the mines. The mobile Belgians constructed temporary shanties because they were familiar with the transient life of the professional miner. Businessmen moved in and set up shop on the Main Street to serve the residents. The town was novel, bustling, spirited and not without a sense of excitement and fascination.

By the turn of the century the Inverness coalfields had become a significant industry. As a result there was a high demand for miners. The demand was such that Inverness County could not supply sufficient workers. The obvious solution was to attract a number of experienced miners from other parts of the Maritimes and Europe. Since the Inverness mining industry1 had been in the hands of W.P. Hussey the area was internationally known and as a result became a community of many nationalities. Between 1902 and 1903, for example, large number of Belgians began to arrive. For a while it looked as if the predominantly Scottish population might take the form of a minority group. This migration resulted in what became known as "Belgium Town" and included between three hundred and four hundred families. For the most part the various nationalities evolved in a spirit of friendship except for the "Friday night friction" when the Belgians and Scots would partake in a brawl after the consumption of a few spirited beverages. The Friday night "massacres" were but one feature of a tough mining town. All was forgotten the following day when these miners would again work side by side in the depths of the dark and damp earth.


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