Tobin Road, Sydney Mines.

Cape Breton has an amazing history of coal mining. Coal was first mined in Sydney in 1672. The first commercial coal mining venture in Canada was established by the French three centuries ago, in 1720, in Cow Bay to supply the Fortress of Louisbourg.

Coal still provides half of Nova Scotia’s electricity.

There have been 16 different coal mines in the Tobin Road area, dating back to the 1850s. The partial map below shows some but not all. (The full map is available at

There was also a great deal of bootleg mining in which shallow shafts were sunk on the coal outcrop to extract small quantities to sell or heat homes.

Note that many historical mines and quarries operated under different names in different periods, often based on who owned them at the time. We note below where mines had more than one name.

The General Mining Association, which had a monopoly on most Nova Scotia mineral rights from 1827-57, operated the Railroad Pit (aka Old Jubilee mine) in the 1850s (the specific dates of production are uncertain). The mine worked the Stony (No.3) Seam.

The Ingraham mine was developed by Roach & McInnis who purchased the property in 1863 and later sold it to a Mr. Ingraham. The mine opened in 1864 and produced a modest quantity coal from the Indian Cove Seam until 1869 when it closed. It was operated again from 1874-76.

The MacKay Mining Company operated the Colonial No. 2 mine (aka the Bras d’Or Coal Company Colonial No. 2 mine and the Beaver Hat mine). The mine operated on the Stony (No. 3) Seam from 1897-1903 and from 1907-1924. The site was also mined for clay for the steel plant.

William MacKay (1873-1934) was an engineer and businessman from Newfoundland but his father was from Pictou, which is where young William got his early education. MacKay later worked in St. John’s, New York on the French Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon in the telegraph, electricity and railway industries.

He moved to Sydney, Nova Scotia, in 1901 where he worked for a local electrical utility. In 1902, William and his brother, Gower, established the electrical contracting firm of W.A. Mackay & Company which did contracting work throughout Atlantic Canada.

In 1904 the two brothers established the Sydney Mines Electric Company which constructed and installed an electric lighting station in Sydney Mines. This was during a period of prosperity in Sydney Mines. Construction of the most efficient and modern steel plant in Canada began in there in 1902 and much of the town’s infrastructure was built in the early 1900s (i.e. sewer, water, electricity, paved streets).

William and Gower got into coal mining as the Mackay Mining Company (known later as the Colonial Coal Company Limited) around 1906. In 1913-14 William was mayor of North Sydney. By 1920 William had returned to Newfoundland where he continued to pursue a range of business interests.

The Bras d’Or Coal Company Colonial No. 3 mine operated briefly from 1917-1918 on the Collins (Phalen) Seam.

The Bras d’Or Coal Company’s Last Chance mine also worked the Collins (Phalen) Seam. When it operated is not known.

The Indian Cove Coal Company’s Tom Pit operated from 1918-1963, but for the last 20 years it only served as ventilation for the Greener colliery (shown in the bottom right-hand corner of the map).

The Hartigan Coal Company’s Jessie’s Slope mine operated in 1925 on the Stony (No.3 Seam).

The Sydney Mines Coal Company’s MacDonald Prospect (aka Dead Rat) worked the Indian Cove (Backpit) Seam from 1928-1932.

The Sydney Mines Coal Company’s New Beaver Hat mine (aka the Paradise mine, and the MacDonald mine when opened) operated from 1932-1934 on the Stony (No.3) Seam.

The Sydney Mines Coal Company’s Second Last Chance mine operated from 1933-1936 on the Collins (Phalen) Seam.

The Indian Cove Coal Company ran the Sullivan mine from 1933-1946 on the Edwards (Millpond) Seam.

The British Coal Company operated the MacDougall mine from 1934-1939 on the Stony (No.3) Seam.

The Sydney Mines Coal Company’s New Beaver Hat No. 2 mine (aka Paradise) operated briefly in 1935 on the Stony (No.3) Seam.

The British Coal Company operated the Black Diamond (aka Astefen) mine from 1938-1940 on the Stony (No.3) Seam.

The Indian Cove Coal Company’s Tomson mine operated from 1938-62. It was opened on the Indian Cove (Backpit) Seam by the British Coal Company which operated it from 1938-1940.
The British Coal Company ran the Stanley mine from 1940-1942 on the Collins (Phalen) Seam.
The area was not mined for several decades until 2004 when Cape Crushing Ltd. took a surface bulk sample of 10,000 tons from the Collins (Phalen) Seam. This was the last mining that took place there.

The reclamation work Cape Crushing did after its bulk sample was studied along with several other modern-era surface coal mines at Alder Point, Little Pond, Reserve Mines, Toronto Road and Point Aconi. The study concluded that “that when mining companies plan for and employ best surface coal mine reclamation practices, land in Nova Scotia can be returned to an Acadian forest, or other beneficial land uses” (

The Department of Energy and Mines recently completed some reclamation work on the old Ingraham mine site, eliminating hazards posed by slopes and shafts created in the 1800s.

Unfortunately, historical mines were often not reclaimed for the simple reason that there was no understanding of human impacts on the environment back then. Bootleg/illegal mines also left an unfortunate legacy of abandoned mine openings that can be safety issues.

In the modern era, before getting operating permits, mining companies must get government approval of reclamation plans and post reclamation bonds (money in escrow, basically) that ensure funds are available to properly take care of sites. In fact, reclamation is a key part of the mining process today and progressive reclamation - reclaiming areas where extraction is complete while continuing to mine elsewhere on-site – is standard industry practice.