Sydney is a Canadian community in Nova Scotia. Situated on Cape Breton Island's east coast, it belongs administratively to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. Sydney was founded in 1785 by the British Crown, and was incorporated as a city in 1904, and dissolved on 1 August 1995, when it was amalgamated into the regional municipality. It served as the Cape Breton Island colony's capital, until 1820, when the colony merged with Nova Scotia and the capital moved to Halifax. Its rapid population expansion occurred just after the turn of the 20th century, where it was home to one of North America's main steel mills. During both World Wars One and Two, it was a major staging area for England-bound convoys. The post-war period witnessed a major decline in the number of people employed at the Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation (DOSCO) steel mill, and the Nova Scotia and Canadian governments had to nationalize it in 1967 to save the region's biggest employer, forming the new crown corporation called the Sydney Steel Corporation (SYSCO). The city's population steadily decreased since the early 1970s due to the plant's fortunes, and SYSCO was finally closed in 2001. Today, the main industries are in customer support call centres and tourism. Together with Sydney Mines, North Sydney, New Waterford and Glace Bay it forms the Industrial Cape Breton region.
Early history 1700s to 1899
Prior to a permanent settlement being established, there was significant activity along the shore. During the American Revolution, on 1 November 1776, John Paul Jones - the father of the American Navy - set sail in command of Alfred to free hundreds of American prisoners working in the coal mines in eastern Cape Breton. Although winter conditions prevented the freeing of the prisoners, the mission did result in the capture of the Mellish, a vessel carrying a vital supply of winter clothing intended for John Burgoyne's troops in Canada. A few years into the war there was also a naval engagement between French ships and a British convoy off Sydney, Nova Scotia, near Spanish River (1781), Cape Breton. French ships (fighting with the Americans) were re-coaling and defeated a British convoy. Six French sailors were killed and 17 British, with many more wounded.
Sydney was founded after the war by Colonel Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres, and named in honour of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney, who was serving as the Home Secretary in the British cabinet. Lord Sydney appointed Col. DesBarres lieutenant-governor of the new colony of Cape Breton Island. In November 1784 the 600-ton ship Blenheim landed a group that consisted primarily of English citizens and disbanded soldiers. A group of Loyalists from the state of New York, fleeing the aftermath of the American Revolution, were added to the immigrants upon their arrival in the neighbouring colony of Nova Scotia. DesBarres arrived at Sydney on 7 January 1785. He held the first meeting of his executive council on 21 February 1785, where he was proclaimed lieutenant-governor in a formal manner and the first minutes of the new colony were taken. The site DesBarres chose for the new settlement was along the Southwest Arm of Sydney Harbour, a drowned valley of the Sydney River, which forms part of Spanish Bay. Between 1784-1820, Sydney was the capital of the British colony of Cape Breton Island. The colony was disbanded and merged with neighbouring Nova Scotia as part of the British government's desire to develop the abundant coal fields surrounding Sydney Harbour; the leases being held by the Duke of York. In 1826, the leases were transferred to the General Mining Association and industrial development around Sydney began to take shape.
Steel town 1900—1945
By the early 20th century Sydney became home to one of the world's largest steel plants, fed by the numerous coal mines in the area under the ownership of the Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation (DOSCO). Sydney's economy was a significant part of Industrial Cape Breton with its steel plant and harbour and railway connections adjoining the coal mining towns of Glace Bay, New Waterford, Sydney Mines and Reserve Mines. The economic boom brought about by industrialization saw the community incorporate as a city in 1903. The growth continued until the 1930s, with the Great Depression causing a slow down in production and growth. World War Two brought prosperity again for the plant, and the coal mines.
Sydney Harbour played an important role during World War II once a Royal Canadian Navy base, , was established to stage supply convoys bound for Europe. These convoys tended to be slower and had the prefix SC for Slow Convoy. Convoy SC 7 typified the dangers inherent with the Nazi U-boats off the coast of Cape Breton and Newfoundland during the Battle of the Atlantic, when 20 of the 35 merchant cargo vessels were sunk on their journey to England. Sydney Harbour was one of the hotspots of the Battle of the St. Lawrence. Two notable shipping attacks occurred during this battle: the sinking of the train ferry in October 1942 on its way from Sydney to Port aux Basque, Newfoundland; and the sinking of the Sydney-based HMCS Shawinigan on 24 November 1944 in the Cabot Strait, near Cape North, on Cape Breton Island. Sydney's coal shipping and steel manufacturing were essential ingredients in the Allied victory, however federal Minister of Industry, C. D. Howe favoured Central Canada's steel industry given its proximity to a larger workforce and less exposure to coastal attack.
Post-war years 1950—2012
By the late 1960s the coal and steel industries had fallen on hard times. Friday, 13 October 1967, became known as "Black Friday," so named after Hawker Siddeley Canada, the plant's owners, announced they were closing it in April 1968. Both the provincial and federal government were involved in negotiating with the steel plant's owners, when Cape Breton's citizens held the largest protest in the city's history on 19 November 1967: "The Parade of Concern." Around 20,000 people marched about a mile from the plant's gates to a horse racetrack to show their support for the steel plant. Newly appointed Nova Scotia premier G.I. Smith and federal Health Minister, and Cape Breton MP, Allan J. MacEachen spoke to the crowd and assured them that their respective governments were going to help. Four days later the Smith government announced that they were taking over the plant starting in 1968.
Both the steel and coal industries continued under government ownership for the rest of the 20th century. By the early 1990s, both industries were in trouble again, and were permanently closed by the end of 2001.
Forced to diversify its economy after the closures of the steel plant and coal industries, Sydney has examined a variety of economic development possibilities including tourism and culture, light manufacturing and information technology. Cleaning up the former steel plant, and the toxic Sydney Tar Ponds it left behind in Muggah's Creek, were a source of controversy due to its health affects on residents, although it has provided some employment since SYSCO closed.