The coal-fields and coal industry of eastern Canada: a general survey and description

The General Mining Association’s monopoly in Nova Scotia, which lasted until 1857, was a contentious issue, eventually leading to its surrender of exclusive rights to coal seams in specific areas. This event marked the beginning of a new phase in the coal industry. Despite Nova Scotia’s long history of coal mining, its industrial and manufacturing development has lagged behind expectations.

While the province has significant coal resources, it has not fully capitalized on them, primarily exporting raw materials instead of developing manufacturing industries. This discrepancy is attributed to various factors, including economic and political causes. Nova Scotia’s coal districts have not demonstrated the manufacturing enterprise typical of coal-rich regions in other countries. Thus, this official report from Ottawa concludes, Nova Scotia has remained more of a mining camp than a thriving industrial center, despite its potential.

“The monopoly of the General Mining Association was a source of great irritation to the people of Nova Scotia, and the events leading to what was then known as “the breaking of the Duke of York’s lease” form one of the most interesting chapters of the development of responsible government in Nova Scotia. After a fight extending over many years, the General Mining Association, in 1857, surrendered its claim to all the mines and minerals of the Province, and was given an exclusive right to all the coal seams in certain specified areas situated in the Sydney, Pictou, and Cumberland fields: coinciding more or less exactly with the areas owned by the Acadia Coal Company at the Albion Mines; the areas operated by the Dominion Coal Company at Springhill Mines; and the areas operated in the Sydney coalfield by the Dominion Coal Company and the Nova Scotia Steel & Coal Company.

With the year 1858, a new phase of the coal industry commenced. By the settlement of the long-standing dispute,
. . . the Province was freed from the monopoly of coal, which the Association had enjoyed for thirty years; secured in the control and possession of all the other mines and minerals — now open to the enterprise of its people — and relieved from the constant discussion of an irritating subject, which had long disturbed the harmony of the Assembly, affected the peace and welfare of the country, and threatened to lead to a painful and injurious embroilment with the British Government”

“Nova Scotia, as a province, has not reached the stage of industrial and manufacturing activity that should have accompanied a coal mining industry 100 years old; an industry that up to 1890 produced three-fourths of the coal mined in Canada, and, today, notwithstanding the vast coal resources of the west, is producing well over half the coal tonnage of Canada.

A perusal of the pages of Dawson, Haliburton, and other great Nova Scotians, reveals a tremendous optimism concerning the commercial possibilities of Nova Scotia; and even, today, it is not easy to find any flaw in the reasoning of these far-sighted men. Yet it must be confessed the potentialities of Nova Scotia have been but meagerly realized. Take away the steel industry from Nova Scotia, and what other manufacturing activity has the Province to show as a reflex of the production of 7,000,000 tons of coal annually?

In the progressive communities of New Glasgow, Truro, and Amherst, there exists the nucleus of manufactories, textile, wood-working, and leather trades, but how poorly they compare with the industries of Montreal and Toronto.

The coal mined in Nova Scotia has, for generations, gone to provide the driving power for the industries of New England, Quebec, and Ontario, and has, in large part, been followed by the youth and energy of the Province. For almost a century, Nova Scotia has been exporting the raw material that lies at the base of all modern industry, and it is at least a legitimate subject for thought whether it would not have been possible to export manufactured articles, and to have utilized the raw material within the province, to some extent at least, where safe and roomy harbours, and inexpensive water transportation give facilities for the assemblage of raw materials, and for the distribution of manufactured goods, in no way inferior to the other ports that border the North Atlantic coast.

What combination of physical and political causes has brought about this condition of affairs cannot here be dealt with, but no consideration of the economic aspects of the coal industry of Nova Scotia would be just which did not point out the fact that the coal districts of Nova Scotia have not evinced the manufacturing enterprise that is a commonplace feature of coal-fields situated in civilized countries, as for example, Pennsylvania, the British Midlands, Westphalia, Silesia, and Belgium. Briefly, Nova Scotia has achieved the status of a mining camp, whereas its full stature should be that of a metropolis of industry.

Gray, F. W. (Francis William), 1877-1958; Canada Mines Branch. “The coal-fields and coal industry of eastern Canada: a general survey and description” 1917 Ottawa : Govt. Print. Bureau.