The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum
Sheldon Currie was born in 1934 in Reserve Mines, a community located in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Earning a BA and a BEd from St. Francis Xavier University and PhD from the University of Alabama, Currie worked first as a high school teacher and then as a university professor. The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum was first published in The Antigonish Review in 1976 and later in a collection of short stories published by Deluge Press in 1981. In 1991, The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum was adapted into a radio drama by Wendy Lill. In 1995 Wendy Lill adapted the story again, this time into the stage play which continues to be produced. 1995 was also the year that the film Margaret’s Museum was released starring Helena Bonham Carter as Margaret MacNeil.
Mining in Eastern Canada
Mining in Cape Breton dates back to the early 1700s. The first mine established circa 1720 was created to supply coal for the Louisbourg Fortress. At the height of the industry between 1858 and 1893 there were 30 mines operating and approximately 700,000 tons of coal produced in the last year alone. Glace Bay was home to one of the largest mines in the area called The Hub Mine which opened in 1861. At one point, Glace Bay had twelve coal mines operating. In 1894 an American syndicate was given exclusive mining rights in the area and by 1912 coal production in Glace Bay and the surrounding areas were producing 40% of Canada’s total output. The last mine operating in Glace Bay was closed in 1984 but mining continued in the area, albeit very limited in scope, until the last mine, Prince Colliery, was closed in 2001.
Women and Mining
Both Sheldon Currie and Wendy Lill depict strong, brave and confident women in The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum. While there is not much documented information on women’s lives during the height of the mining industry, it is reasonable to say that many women carried much of the hardship that came with the income provided by mine workers. Women dealt with the worry that their fathers, husbands and brothers would be hurt or killed in the mine, and, if they were, they had to find ways to do more with less and find work themselves in addition to caring for their families. Young boys could find work in the mines for a lesser wage than adults and it was important for each member of the family to contribute to the household. Since there were very few other types of industry or jobs available, mining was both a blessing and a curse for the residents of Glace Bay and surrounding areas.
About Glace Bay, Nova Scotia
Inhabited by the French in the early 1700s, the name Glace Bay comes from the French word for ice, glace, because of the sea ice that filled the ocean every winter. Glace Bay became an independently incorporated town from 1901 to 1995, at which point the municipality was dissolved and incorporated into the wider regional area. The population in 1901 was approximately 7,000, and at the height of the mining industry around the 1940s (the era in which The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum is set), the population was approximately 28,000 making it one of Canada’s largest towns at that time. Today there are fewer than 20,000 residents in Glace Bay.