Inverness and Cabot Links

Cabot Links, one of the best golf courses in the world, is on a reclaimed coal mine! It’s a great example of how former mines/quarries can serve communities in other ways after mining is done.

Bootleg mining had taken place along Inverness’ shore for years with people prying it from outcrops to heat their homes and for burning in the forges of local blacksmiths.

In 1863, the first sign of significant coal deposits was found in Inverness, which was called Broad Cove until renamed in 1903. John Beaton (Red) discovered coal on his farm at Big River. He exposed the coal face but Inverness lacked shipping or rail to sell significant quantity of coal beyond the community so little was done with the discovery.

Beaton sold his land to Reverend Hugh Ross who opened a small mine and sold small amounts of coal locally.

Two men named McCully and Blanchard tried organize a company in London, England, to mine the coal in 1866 but failed. Fifty tons were mined in 1867 but activity stalled after that.

It was not until the entrance of two Moncton men, Alexander Wright and J. Harry Ladd, that the first shipments of coal were exported. In 1872 they established a mining operation along the bank of the Big River. They dammed the river and built lock gates in order to transport the coal by loading it on large scows capable of holding up to 11 tons and floating them to open sea where the coal was then loaded onto vessels anchored in deep water. The coal was sold in Prince Edward Island.

This mining operation continued until 1880 when the wharf was destroyed in a major storm. Again, transporting the coal was the key obstacle.

Massachusetts coal merchant Willian Penn Hussey bought the mine in 1888 for $62,500 and formed the Broad Cove Coal Company with capital from Europe, mainly from Switzerland.

Hussey was a colourful figure, to say the least. He was described as a man of “excessive weight,” rode around on a white horse wearing a six-gallon hat and wore pistols at his sides.

It is said that Hussey had the cliffs painted black to impress a potential Swiss investor – from a boat, it looked like the cliff was solid coal!

Hussey, clearly a man of big ideas, solved the transportation problem by turning MacIsaac’s Pond into a harbour. He brought a dredge with a fleet of scows up from Massachusetts and cut a channel from the sea to the Pond. He built a breakwater, two piers at the mouth and a shipping wharf inside the harbour. He also laid a narrow-gauge railway from the mine to the shipping wharf. (When Canadian Public Works Minister Israel Tarte visited the newly-built harbour, he was reportedly surprised to see such infrastructure built with no government money!)

Inverness was booming with miners and merchants. Streets were laid out in the late 1890s and houses were built to accommodate the growing population.

In 1899, Hussey sold the mine to the Inverness Railway and Coal Company which was run by William MacKenzie and Donald Mann. They were successful railway men, said to have built an average of a mile of railway per day throughout much of Canada – largely at public expense.

They built the Inverness Railway to carry coal and passengers, securing a subsidy of $6400 per mile from the federal government, $4000 per mile from the Nova Scotia government and $2000 per mile from Inverness County.

The pitch to governments was that they would build a railway from Point Tupper to Cheticamp, a distance of 100 miles. However, they stopped once the rail line reached their coal mine in Inverness - about 60 miles only.

They then turned their attention to further developing the mine. A new slope was dug, over 150 miners’ houses were built and a new plant was installed. For a dozen years, they produced about 1000 tons of coal per day. In the early 1900s, 14 cars of coal per day were shipped from Inverness to piers at Port Hastings.

Inverness was incorporated in 1904 and the town had a population of 3000 at the time. The mine employed 482 men who earned $1.25 per day. By 1917, 725 men worked in the mine.
The mine continued to operate into the 1960s when it shut down for good.

Since Cabot Links opened, it has served as an economic engine for the town and the region, much like the coal mine did a century earlier – creating jobs, opportunity and investment that have reinvigorated the area. It illustrates how former mines can continue to serve communities after mining is done.

W.P. Hussey, who played such a key role in making the Inverness mine successful, returned to his home in Danvers, Massachusetts, after he left Cape Breton. He died there in 1910 at the age of 63. His last wish was to have his body mummified and placed in a glass case displayed in a standing position on the lawn at his estate. It didn’t happen. He was instead buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery. Hussey would not be entirely disappointed though - a statue of him riding his horse marks the site.