CANADA'S COAL INDUSTRY
TWO THOUSAND FEET SOUTH EASTERLY FROM THIS PLACE ARE THE REMAINS OF THE FIRST REGULAR COAL MINING OPERATIONS IN AMERICA, ESTABLISHED BY THE FRENCH IN 1720. FROM THE MODEST BEGINNINGS OF THOSE EARLY DAYS THIS INDUSTRY HAS BECOME ONE OF NATIONAL AND IMPERIAL IMPORTANCE.
The first commercial coal mine in North America began production at Port Morien (Baie de Mordienne) in 1720. By at least 1724, coal from Port Morien was being traded to Boston in the first officially recorded export of minerals in Canada. In 1725, a blockhouse was built by the French to protect the valuable coal reserves.
Peace was short-lived and, on May 18, 1756, England declared war on France. On June 8, 1757, the British, under General Wolfe, landed at Kennington Cove and the second siege of Louisbourg began. The Fortress capitulated on July 26, 1758, for the final time. The British ran the Port Morien mine for about a decade more, producing up to 3,000 tons of coal in a year.
Lt.-Gov. Francklyn leaves us with a good description of the mine at Port Morien, then known as Cow Bay, in a letter to the British Lords of Trade in 1766:
There is at Cow Bay a picketed fort 100 ft. square, with a blockhouse, barracks, and stores for lodging the workmen, tools, and provisions. Also, a wharf convenient for loading at the mine. That the mine is in good order and well-propped. That the vein appears to be good and large. That twenty men may be employed daily. That vessels of 100 tons can load at the wharf between June 1 and October 15, when the wharf must be taken down and rebuilt in the spring, the bay being so open and the drift ice so violent as to carry it away in the winter season.
In the mid-19th century, the "old French workings" captured the attention of some would-be miners. Hugh McDonald and his brother-in-law were granted the property in 1852 and proceeded to sink shafts through the French workings. They were not successful, however, and, in 1859, Marshall Bourinot was given a lease on the property. Bourinot was subsequently bought out by the Blockhouse Mining Company in 1863 and they also dug their shafts through the French mine.
The 'Blockhouse Mine' was the scene of the first coal miner's strike in Canada in 1868, which lasted for a total of three months. The strike was followed by a series of setbacks from which the mine was never to recover. In 1888, the mine closed for the final time, throwing its 18 men out of work.
The photos on this page have been used with the permission of the
Beaton Institute, University College of Cape Breton.
Manager, Special Places
Stewardship Programs and Promotion
Tourism, Culture and Heritage
1747 Summer Street
Halifax, NS B3H 3A6