Tom Pit

What’s the connection between an historical Cape Breton coal mine and TV show Survivor? Here’s the story:

Mining in what would eventually be known as Sydney Mines’ Tom Pit began in 1889. The mine, located in the Tobin Road area, was first worked from a level (tunnel) driven west near the outlet of Barrington Brook that year. The General Mining Association, which had a monopoly on most Nova Scotia minerals from 1827-57, was the operator (

In 1895, the North Sydney Mining & Transportation Company mined coal using this level as they proceeded to the west and uphill, with the level serving as a natural drainage path for water that seeped into the mine. Water enters most mines through the surrounding rock and pumping systems are usually used to remove it, but some fortunate mines have natural drainage when an uphill tunnel allows the water to flow out on it own.

In 1901 the mine was taken over by the Sydney Coal Company which operated until May 1918 when the Indian Cove Coal Company took over operations.

Soon after, in July 1918, the Indian Cove Coal Company started work 1,800 metres to the west of the original level at Barrington Brook. The first coal was raised in February 1919.

The original Tom Pit workings by Barrington Brook, also known as the Jack Pit in their final years, ceased operations in 1920. By that time, the workings extended to the west for approximately one kilometer.

At the same time the Indian Cove Coal Company opened the Greener mine with slopes (decline tunnels) immediately east of the Jack Pit.

In 1923, the Tom Pit and Greener mine were connected underground and the Tom Pit’s return air slope helped the ventilation of both mines.

Extraction in the Tom Pit stopped due to an explosion in the mine in summer 1941. Two men, James Ross and G. Hector William, were killed.

The Department of Mines annual report for that year only has a one-sentence reference to the explosion, which is unusual, particularly since the Tom Pit was a relatively large mine. Significant accidents in mines usually result in official investigations and write ups in the annual Department of Mines reports, but that was not the case with the Tom Pit’s explosion.

The explosion, which took place about 175 feet underground, created a series of cracks at surface, which the company mapped (see the red, wavey lines on the 1941 map below). The location of the explosion and a roof fall are also shown on the map.

The outcrop of the coal seam between the Tom Pit and Greener mine is one of the most heavily bootlegged areas in Nova Scotia. (Learn about bootleg coal mining at

Around 1960 the area was subdivided, but it wasn’t until the mid 1990s that a developer started planning to build on the site. However, the shallow historical and bootleg tunnels hindered construction and the lots did not sell, likely due to safety concerns and potential impacts on property values.

The land ended up being sold at a municipal tax sale, basically for the value of the unpaid property taxes.

Richard Hatch, the winner of Survivor’s first season, bought a number of the properties in the area of the Tom Pit and Greener mine. He has bought about two dozen properties in Cape Breton, including 17 in Sydney Mines, Glace Bay and New Waterford that he bought in a 2002 tax sale for a total of $13,800.

Hatch later tried to sell some of his Cape Breton properties but was unable to find buyers, so he allowed them to again be sold in tax sales. In 2021, Saltwire reported that eleven of his properties were being sold in a tax sale because Hatch had not kept with his tax payments.

Hatch reportedly visits Cape Breton several times a year. He tweeted in 2017 that “Cape Breton, Nova Scotia is, simply put, a special place.” He also tweeted that year: “LOVE Nova Scotia... Been there many times, and would like to spend more time there than I already do!”

There have been 16 different coal mines in the Tobin Road area, dating back to the 1850s. Reclamation work done there and at several other former Cape Breton mines was studied by the provincial government. 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.” (See the story of the area's coal mines at

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.

Cape Breton’s Donkin coal mine may reopen. That might surprise some people given all the talk about phasing out coal, but the Donkin mine has the potential to provide two types of coal that are very important. Learn more at