Trenton Steel

The first steel ingots produced in Canada were made in Trenton, Pictou County. It was a milestone in a long history of steelmaking in Nova Scotia that relied on coal, iron and other materials mined in the province.

In 1872, the Hope Iron Works were established in New Glasgow by blacksmiths Graham Fraser and Forrest MacKay with $4000 in capital and ten employees. At first, the company made ship forgings (i.e. anchors and fastenings) but later got into manufacturing rail car axles and spikes because it was the era of railway-building.

In 1878, Fraser, MacKay and other investors reorganized Hope Iron Works as the Nova Scotia Forge Company. A new plant was built two miles north of New Glasgow, forming the nucleus of what would become the town of Trenton.

The company decided in 1882 to manufacture steel locally, so Nova Scotia Forge Company stockholders organized the Nova Scotia Steel Company. According to Pictou County historian James M. Cameron, Graham Fraser spent two months in Britain where he ordered the melting furnaces, rolling mills and other necessary equipment.

After Fraser returned to Trenton and set up the plant, the company produced the first steel ingots made in Canada in 1883. (A steel ingot is a piece of steel that has been formed into a particular shape, often to make it easier for transportation and storage. Steel ingots are made by melting the metal and pouring it into a mold. Ingots are later further worked to turn them into steel products.)

Trenton is sometimes credited with being the place where steel was first produced in Canada, but steel was produced in Londonderry, Colchester County, starting in the 1870s: Trenton was, however, where Canada’s first steel ingots were made.

By the end of 1883, 2270 tons of finished steel had been produced in Trenton. The following year, production increased to 12,000 tons and the company’s workforce had grown from 100 to 400 men.

In 1889, the Nova Scotia Forge Company and the Nova Scotia Steel Company merged to form the Nova Scotia Steel and Forge Company with $392,000 in capital.

The company’s steel mill was being fed with scrap metal and pig iron imported from Scotland. However, supply of these materials was uncertain so the New Glasgow Iron, Coal and Railway Company was formed with one million dollars in capital. This led to more iron mining in central Nova Scotia in places like Bridgeville ( and the establishment of a pig iron and steel plant at Ferrona (

In 1894, the Nova Scotia Steel and Forge Company bought the Wabana iron ore deposits at Bell Island, Newfoundland. (Nova Scotian Robert E. Chambers played a key role in opening and operating the Bell Island mines. See the story at

The Nova Scotia Steel and Forge Company was merged in 1895 with the New Glasgow Iron, Coal and Railway Company to form the Nova Scotia Steel Company, with a capitalization of over two million dollars.

In 1900, the Nova Scotia Steel Company acquired the General Mining Association’s coal mines in Sydney Mines. This gave it virtually unlimited supply of thermal coal, which is used to generate electricity, and metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel. (Steel is mainly iron and carbon, and the carbon is derived from metallurgical coal, which typically contains more carbon, less ash and less moisture than thermal coal.)

Another reorganization took place in 1901 and the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company was born with a capital of $6.6 million. By 1916, its capital had grown to $16 million, it employed 7,000 people and it was one of Canada’s largest companies. This home-grown company had become a tremendous Nova Scotian success story.

The company sank new coal shafts and built a new plant in Sydney Mines with capacity to produce 100,000 tons of steel per year. What was then the most efficient and modern steel plant in Canada took advantage of the local supply of metallurgical coal and proximity to the large, high quality iron deposits on Bell Island. The Ferrona facility was shut down in 1904 and production was consolidated in Sydney Mines.

According to “Nova Scotia’s Industrial Centre,” a 1916 book about Trenton, New Glasgow, Westville and Stellarton, the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company continued to have a significant footprint in Trenton, as well as in Sydney Mines. By 1911, when Trenton was incorporated, it had a population of 1400. Its population more than doubled to over 3000 by 1916.

Four thousand of the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company’s 7,000 employees were based in Trenton. Its Trenton rolling mills, forges, railway car axle shops and other facilities that produced finished steel products were housed in modern steel and concrete buildings that covered about 25 acres. Its railway car axle manufacturing shop produced more output monthly than any similar works in the British Empire.

In 1911, the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company established the Eastern Car Company Ltd. to manufacture rail cars. Its 68-acre property was adjacent to the steel company’s Trenton property, and it employed more than 1000 men.

During WWI, the company manufactured artillery shells and, later, ships to replace ships lost to German submarine attacks. It produced six steam cargo ships and one sailing vessel during the war. The first of the ships, War Wasp, survived two torpedo attacks but was sunk by a third.

After the war, demand for rail products decreased and the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company merged with the Dominion Steel Corporation, which operated the steel mill in Sydney and coal mines in Cape Breton ( The new company was called the British Empire Steel Corporation. It was bought in 1928 by the Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation (DOSCO).

During WWII, part of the Eastern Car Company was taken over by the Government of Canada for the production of gun mounts and shells. The new business was called Trenton Industries Ltd.

The company went through several owners in the following decades: A.V. Roe Canada Co./Hawker Siddeley Canada Ltd. (1957), Hawker Industries (1967) and Lavalin Industries (1988). The chart below, produced by Hawker Siddeley Canada in 1980, shows the ownership changes up to that time.

The Government of Nova Scotia took the company over in 1992 after the demise of the Lavalin Group. The government operated it as an independent railcar manufacturer until February 1995 while searching for a new owner.

Greenbrier Corporate of Oregon bought the company in 1995 and renamed it TrentonWorks Ltd. The company’s forge operation was sold in 2004 to Forged Metal Products Inc. of Houston, Texas. Later that year, TrentonWorks and Forged Products created Nova Forge Corp.

In 2005, Greenbrier reported a 40% increase in revenue for fiscal 2004-05. For the first time in the company's history, revenue eclipsed $1 billion. Despite this, Greenbrier decided to concentrate orders at its U.S. and Mexico facilities because of higher costs at TrentonWorks. The Trenton plant went from two shifts to one and over 300 people were laid off. In 2007, Greenbrier announced that the plant would close when current orders were completed.

In 2010, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering made an agreement with the Government of Nova Scotia to open the facility as a wind tower manufacturer. The first tower section rolled off the assembly line the following year. Unfortunately, the company announced in 2016 that it would close DSME Trenton.