Terminal City

Have you ever been to the thriving metropolis of Terminal City, Nova Scotia? No one has because it was never built!

In the late 1880s, a group of capitalists, mostly from Boston, hatched a plan to build a city that would, according to their company’s prospectus, be “a large commercial manufacturing and fishing center near the eastern terminus of the Strait of Canso — a marvelous body of water of great depth, which connects the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the Atlantic Ocean, and separates the beautiful island of Cape Breton from the mainland of Nova Scotia.”

The plan was for Terminal City to be a major international hub for trade because of its proximity to Europe and connections to railways across North America. The city would also be a focus for resource industries, including mining.

The prospectus pitched the idea in much grander language: “The promoters of this Company, perceiving the advantages of the situation, and realizing the magnificent opportunities for founding a great commercial center, and developing the manifold industries attending its growth, have with wisdom and foresight utilized their knowledge, and have begun the foundations of a city which will be the nearest railroad point in America to Europe, and the point through which the great bulk of the shipments from China and Japan to Europe, and from Europe to those great empires must pass.”

Transatlantic shipping would be “shortened from one to three days” because Terminal City would be, for example, 600 miles closer to Liverpool, England, than New York is to Liverpool: “What New York is to the United States, and Liverpool to England, Terminal City must become to this rapidly growing and prosperous empire, and prove a vigorous competitor for the trade of the Great West.”

The company claimed it would provide the “shortest, quickest, safest and cheapest line between any point on the continent of Europe and the Dominion of Canada, the Eastern, Middle and Northwestern States.”

In 1888, the Nova Scotia legislature passed acts to establish the Terminal City Company and the Terminal City Railway Company. The company also received a subsidy to build the six miles of railway necessary to connect Terminal City with the terminus of the Intercolonial and Canadian Pacific railways at Mulgrave.

The prospectus said the company purchased “the coal area at Cariboo Cove, consisting of seven hundred and fifty acres of land, on which five veins of bituminous coal crop out at the shore, one measuring three feet in thickness, two four feet each, one seven feet, and one eleven feet; these veins have been worked by tunnels and drifts, but never below water level. The coal produced has proved of a most valuable quality for the manufacture of gas and the generation of steam, and is a clean, free-burning house coal…The opening of these veins lies so near to the shore that the coal can be carried in a chute directly from the mine to the hold of the vessel. There is no reason why, from this industry alone, a town may not grow excelling Spring Hill, which a short time ago contained only a few miserable huts, and now contains a population of over seven thousand souls; the coal mines alone giving employment during the last year to more than a thousand persons.”

The company planned “to push the development of its coal property to a producing point, lay out its land into suitable lots which it will offer for sale, build streets, wharves, dwelling-houses, storehouses, warehouses, and complete and equip its railroad with all possible dispatch, and give suitable encouragement and aid to others to join in its fortunes.”

The Terminal City Company saw other minerals also playing an important role in the project: “Cape Breton is one vast bed of minerals, waiting only the touch of capital to make it a swarming hive of industry. Terminal City is the centralizing point of all these industries, and has every natural facility for smelting and refining center.”

In July 1889, the New York Times reported that “The Terminal City people are jubilant to-day over the receipt of a cable-gram from the agents of the company in London, England, announcing the sale of a block of 100,000 shares of the company’s Treasury stock for the round sum of $200,000, or $2 per share. This sale, it is claimed, will enable the company to carry out successfully the plans laid when it began operations about a year ago.”

A year later, an article in weekly newspaper “The Age of Steel” described a week-long “excursion” the company hosted for potential investors: “On the morning of the 21st of July, 1890, a party of some fifty prominent gentlemen and ladies left Boston, Mass., in a special train of three cars of the Worcester Excursion Car Company, to celebrate an event which is destined to mark a new era in ocean transportation. The excursion was arranged by the Terminal City Company, of 31 Milk Street, Boston, and was in charge of Mr. Hiram M. Pearl, the managing director of the Terminal City Company. Its destination was Terminal City, Nova Scotia.”

The party arrived early afternoon on July 22 at “…Chedabucto Bay, one of the finest harbors in the world, large enough to allow all the navies of the world to ride at anchor in the same.” The author raved about how beautiful the area was, its deep water and its alleged lack of fog.

In the next several days, the group was treated to a steamboat ride up and down the Strait of Canso, a tour of the Bras d’Or Lake and a sod-turning ceremony that took place on July 23.

Several speakers addressed the audience, including Judge J. W. Hodder of New York who said, in examining the Terminal City company’s affairs, he “had been struck by the manly, straight-forward and honourable course adopted by the company in all its dealings.” He said, “he looked upon this scheme as one of the best – if not the very best – now before the people, and he expected to identify himself with this great enterprise,” according to the Age of Steel.

Senator A. W. Ogilvie of Montreal said that he had persuaded Prime Minister John A. MacDonald to delay for six months handing out a 10-year contract for transatlantic mail delivery. The delay would give the Terminal City Company time to prove that it could reduce shipping by 24 hours. It was his expectation that both Dominion (Canadian) and US transatlantic mail would pass through Terminal City.

Ogilvie then stuck a shovel in the ground and turned over the first sod on the new railroad extension from Mulgrave to Terminal City.

According to the article, the trip “passed without a single mishap or unpleasant incident.”

Unfortunately, the trip was the Terminal City Company’s high point. The city was never built and little work was done on the railway extension or coal mining plans.

The 1888 Department of Mines annual report said three men were working “in a seam of coal above tide level” when an inspector visited the site on October 17 that year. A shaft was also being sunk about 600 feet to the west near an outcrop of the coal seam. The shaft was 12x6 feet and about 40 feet deep. The plan was to sink it to a depth of 400 feet “and if the seam was not struck at that depth to tunnel from the bottom of the shaft into it. There were also men preparing and clearing a place to sink a shaft on what they called the seven feet seam. This is to be sunk to six hundred feet. One or two small buildings were partly finished and another in course of construction.”

This activity took place in Caribou Cove, by Seacoal Cove, which had first been mined in 1860 when John A. Campbell sunk two 50-foot shafts and drove a 350-foot-long adit (tunnel) from the shoreline in Seacoal Bay. Campbell continued mining intermittently for the next eight years, producing approximately 1,200 tons of coal.

Department of Mines annual reports show that the Terminal City Company continued to hold its coal leases well into the 1890s but there is no indication of the company doing additional mining after 1888.

Learn more about Richmond County’s coal mines at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/richmond-county