Sydney Sandstone

There were several historical sandstone quarries around Sydney, Cape Breton, that helped build some of the city’s oldest buildings, including its oldest – St. George’s Church.

The best-known quarry was at Hardwood Hill in the Wentworth Creek ravine. A 1914 report describes the creek as having carved a 40-foot-deep valley through the sandstone bedrock. Stone was exposed for about 200 yards along the side of the ravine.

Stone from this site was mainly used for building foundations but it was also occasionally used as sills and coursing stone in building construction. (In building, each horizontal layer of bricks or stone laid in mortar is called a "course"). The report says the stone was sold in Sydney for $3.50 per cubic yard.

There was a quarry near Lockman’s Beach, Sydney Mines, that provided sandstone for local buildings, including trim in the old Voogt Brothers department store which stood at the corner of Commercial and Court streets in North Sydney. The Voogts were immigrants from England and very successful retailers. Their four-storey brick and stone building, where the Bank of Nova Scotia is now, was the largest department store east of Montreal and it had the first elevators in Atlantic Canada. The store had a brass rail out front so shoppers could tie up their horses and wagons. The store was built after the Voogt’s previous store on the same site burned down in 1902. The larger store was demolished in 1982, according to author Rannie Gillis.

There was a quarry in Sydney Forks on the Sydney River that supplied stone for the Forks Bridge. The quarry was flooded when the Sydney River dam was built in 1902.

There was also a sandstone quarry about eight miles from Sydney along the road to Myra Bay.

Sandstone from the Sydney area was used to build Sydney’s first building, St. George’s Church, between 1785-1791. It was built by engineers of the British 33rd Regiment of Foot, concurrently with the founding of Sydney and its designation as the capital of the new Colony of Cape Breton.

Stone from the destroyed Fortress Louisbourg was also used in St. George’s. After capturing Louisburg a second time in 1758, the British wanted to make sure it could not be used by the French again, so miners tunneled under its defenses and set off explosives to destroy them. Some of its cut stone was reused in buildings in Halifax and Sydney.

The original St. George’s was a simple stone Gothic Revival styled structure, approximately eighteen by twelve meters with three circular windows on the north and south walls. In 1853, a chancel and vestry were added. Starting in 1859, and continuing into the early 1860s, the church was rebuilt from its foundations in the Gothic Revival style, with an open roof and pointed windows, which were slightly ornamented with stained glass. In 1888 a stone tower and spire replaced a wooden tower, which had been destroyed by a gale in 1873.

With the exception of a crypt constructed in 1974, St. Georges is much the same as it appeared in 1873 after its last major renovation.

Originally, the Parish included the whole of Cape Breton Island, and St. George’s served as the British garrison chapel. As a garrison chapel until 1854, it was granted a Royal Pew and became the official place of worship for members of the Royal Family, if they should ever visit.

St. George’s Church also played an integral part in Cape Breton’s history as an independent colony. During the Island’s Colonial Period (1784-1820), the colony's House of Assembly was never called to sit. As a result, the vestry and warden positions at St. George’s were the only elected positions in Cape Breton Island. Many prominent local figures made their bid for the vestry in the hopes that it would further their political interests.

The church no longer offers regular services but is open to the public at various times throughout the summer and fall seasons when a cruise ship is in town.

St. George’s Church.

The Voogt brothers' department store with its staff out front. The rail for tying up horses runs the length of the building and can be seen left and right of the staff in this picture.

St. George’s Church.