In 1672, French explorer Nicholas Denys identified Cape Breton’s coal deposits, but they remained undeveloped until 1720 when coal mining began to fuel the fortress at Louisbourg on the south east coast of Isle Royale, as Cape Breton Island was called then.
The first mining in Sydney Mines on the north side of Sydney Harbour took place in 1766 by using iron bars to pry the coal from the exposed coal seams along the cliffs into nearby boats.
After Cape Breton was given separate colonial status in 1784, Lieutenant Governor J.F.W. DesBarres began mining operations at Sutherland’s Corner, a wharf was constructed for coal shipment, and Sydney Mines was founded. Roads were trails, housing primitive, and profits slight.
In 1827 the General Mining Association took over “The Mines” under the direction of Richard Brown, a mining engineer from England. The GMA built workshops, company houses, a foundry and a railroad, as the first in a series of large commercial coal mining developments which dominated the economic life of Cape Breton for over a century.