Oh yes, of course we loved Sydney, Australia, but the North American Sydney is worth seeing too. We visited Canada’s Sydney (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia), as a port stop on Holland America’s St. Lawrence cruise from Montreal to Boston––a short visit that made us want to go back.
We disembarked from the ship and our local guide met us at the dock, and offered up that Cape Breton is straight across from France. As he rambled on about chronometers and seagoing navigation, I was wondered why the area seemed so Celtic, if France arrived first.
A trip to Wikipedia and a multitude of other sites helped me understand that following the British-French Seven Years’ War, Irish and Scottish immigrants merged with local French communities to form a culture rich in music and tradition. Our guide will tell us later that 40% of Cape Breton Island is Scottish, and another 40% Irish and English.
Most people from the ship were disappointed in Sydney––true, there isn’t much “there” there. But this little municipality (those who took a walking tour of downtown never lost sight of the ship) in its industrial region of shuttered steel mills and closed coal mines can still give one a taste of all that touristic Cape Breton Island offers. For our day excursion, we chose to visit the miners museum.
We drove about an hour from the port of Sydney to Glace Bay, where we were to enter a mine, developed as a part of the museum. The escort on the bus continued to tell us what visits his bird feeder at night, and pass around cones and twigs of local trees. The man was a wealth of information, but that wasn’t the best part. The best part was the mine.
Our mine guide Sheldon gave us a talk at the beginning, as we donned hard hats and capes. He showed a great deal of grandfatherly patience when a precocious girl about to enter the 4th grade, asked question after question: Will we get paid? Will we be down there for 12 hours? She wouldn’t shut up. You say we will see it just like it was, but how can we if they didn’t have telephones before? I became so preoccupied with this pesky little girl that I missed some of what he said. But I know he mentioned that Cape Breton Island is the home of Men of the Deeps. I had never heard of them, but found this on YouTube: Stay to the end. It’s moving.
Solid black coal lined the earth on the other side of support beams.
He told us he started working in the mines in 1965, and retired when the mine closed, with 20% of his lung capacity lost due to black lung. A short guy, he tells us that tall guys worked in mines too, on hands and knees. I can hardly imagine––the first of many learning moments for me.
The miners were hauled in total darkness, six miles out to dig coal under water. (Wow! I didn’t know that.) The miners kept their headlamps off while going down, so as not to waste battery life of the only light they would have.
The talkative little girl continued to battle Sheldon for air time: Why do we have these capes on? Are the rats here now? Did a rat eat that horse’s ear?
Close to the end of the tour, the little girl started to ask yet another question just as a woman in the group began to speak. After the woman apologized, the smart little girl said, “No, you go ahead. I’ve been talking a lot.” More precocious than I first thought.
Ever wonder why unions were formed? Think government regulations aren’t needed? Go experience the mine, but if you can’t get there: video, 5 min.
We took off our capes and had time to visit the Company homes and eat an ice cream.
Date of travel: end of July, 2018.