The Ghost Town of Broughton

Some say Broughton, Cape Breton, is haunted but it once had a coal mine, many buildings and North America's first revolving door! Here’s the story.

Coal was discovered near Loon Lake by E. T. Mosely and a small amount was mined from an outcrop in 1901. A wagon road, about three miles in length, was built to the Mira river, a tiny wharf was constructed, and four or five tons of coal were hauled down.

The Cape Breton Coal, Iron & Railway Company was formed, headed by Englishmen Colonel Horace Mayhew and Thomas Lancaster, and millions of dollars in capital were raised, mostly from England.

Mayhew, as president of the company, quickly set about building one of Canada’s first planned cities in 1905. A town was designed to house 10,000-12,000 people with ten miles of streets. 60 buildings were built, including offices, 43 miners houses, churches, four stores, a school and two modern hotels. One of the hotels, the Broughton Arms, was considered the finest hotel east of Montreal and it had the first revolving door in North America, an indication of how modern and progressive the company intended its operations to be. The Crown Hotel had a bowling alley in the basement.

Electric lights, running water, sewer, telephone and telegraph were established.

Two hundred men worked on the construction and as many as 1000 people lived in the town in 1906.

Mayhew named the town Broughton after his family estate at Broughton Hall in Hawarden, England.

After all that construction, Broughton seemed to have everything it needed…except a significant coal mine to pay for it all!

The problem was a lack of rail to get the coal to port. Since Broughton is inland, it needed a rail line to haul its coal to harbours in either Louisbourg or Sydney. Unfortunately, the main Sydney-Louisbourg rail line was operated by the Dominion Coal Company which, understandably, did not want to help a competitor get its coal to market.

Dominion even bought some land that the Broughton mine needed for mining operations in another effort to block the Cape Breton Coal, Iron & Railway Company.

Because Mayhew had spent so much money building the town, he did not have enough capital to build his own railway.

Mayhew went back to England in 1906 to seek more funds and left his son, Horace Dixon Mayhew Jr., in charge at Broughton. Sadly, his son committed suicide while on a hunting trip on August 12, 1906.

The cost of building the town bankrupted the company in 1907 and what little actual mining was being done came to a halt.

Mayhew returned to Flintshire, England, and established a new practice with his remaining sons. The firm Mayhew & Mayhew later owned several coal mines in England.

In 1913, Mayhew started raising more capital and a steel bank-head was built at the mine, new miners houses were built and coal mining restarted under the management of C. J. Coll.

Before Coll’s involvement, construction of a railway had been started from the pit mouth to Mira bay. Coll stopped the railway construction, perhaps fearing that the cost would again bankrupt the mine. He instead focussed on actual mining and in 1914, 35,000 tons of coal were mined and shipped to Halifax – the company had finally succeeded in gaining access to the Sydney-Louisburg railway to haul coal to Louisburg.

Unfortunately, despite the increased demand and inflated price of coal during wartime, the mine failed again and the town was abandoned.

In 1916, Broughton was used to house and train over 1200 soldiers from the 185th Cape Breton Highlanders.

Shortly after the battalion’s arrival in April, the Crown Hotel burned down due to an accident with a plumber’s torch. Emergency replacement buildings were quickly built to house and feed 500 men. When the 185th shipped out in October, the 184th moved in and stayed for three weeks.

Several coal mines operated in Broughton, mostly for short periods, between 1934 and 1969. The largest was the Four Star mine which opened in 1948 and was shut down by the Cape Breton Development Corporation (Devco) in 1969.

Since then, the ruins of Broughton have been slowly reclaimed by the forest and, some believe, by the ghosts of miners and soldiers who spent time there in the early 1900s.

Eleanor Anderson’s book “Broughton: A Return To Cape Breton’s Ghost Town” and Mike Parker’s “Gold Rush Ghost Town of Nova Scotia” are both great reads for more tales of ghostly happenings at historical mines.

Happy Halloween!