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Sydney, Nova Scotia

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Sydney, Nova Scotia

Gaelic: Baile Shidni
Former City
Sydney, Nova Scotia, as seen from Westmount. Prominent landmarks include the Civic Centre, and the CJCB-TV transmitter tower on Hardwood Hill.
Sydney, Nova Scotia, as seen from Westmount. Prominent landmarks include the Civic Centre, and the CJCB-TV transmitter tower on Hardwood Hill.
Nickname(s): The Steel City
Sydney is located in Nova Scotia
Location of Sydney in Nova Scotia
Country  Canada
Provinces of Canada  Nova Scotia
Regional Municipality Cape Breton Regional Municipality
Founded 1785
Incorporated City 1904
Dissolved 1 August 1995
 • Total 25.2 km2 (9.7 sq mi)
Elevation Sea level to 66 m (Sea level to 216 ft)
Population (2011)[1]
 • Total 31,597
 • Metro density 718.50/km2 (1,860.9/sq mi)
  "Metro" population based on a 43km2 sample that is larger than the old boundaries for the former City of Sydney, pre-1995.
Time zone AST (UTC−4)
 • Summer (DST) ADT (UTC−3)
Canadian Postal code B1L - S
Area code(s) 902
Telephone Exchange 202, 217, 270, 284, 304, 317, 322, 371, 408, 509, 537, 539, 549 560-5, 567, 574, 577, 578, 595, 979

Sydney is a community in Nova Scotia, Canada. 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, 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 the First and Second World Wars, 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).[2] 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.[3] 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 [11] 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 aerial view looking towards the north-east.

Sydney Harbour played an important role during World War II once a Royal Canadian Navy base, HMCS Protector, was established to stage supply convoys bound for Europe. These convoys tended to be slower and had the prefix SC for Slow Convoy.[12] 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 SS Caribou in October 1942 on its way from Sydney to Port aux Basque, Newfoundland;[13] and the sinking of the Sydney-based HMCS Shawinigan on 24 November 1944 in the Cabot Strait, near Cape North, on Cape Breton Island.[14] 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.[15] Friday, 13 October 1967, became known as "Black Friday," so named after 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.[17] Four days later the Smith government announced that they were taking over the plant starting in 1968.[18]

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.


Sydney is on the east bank of the Sydney River where it discharges into South Arm of Sydney Harbour. Elevation ranges from sea level to 66 m (217 ft) above sea level.

The majority of properties within the former city limits have been impacted by development and an extensive urban road network. The central business district is located on a peninsula extending into South Arm formed by Sydney River on the west side and Muggah Creek on the east side. The largest park in the former city limits is Wentworth Park.

Distinctive neighbourhoods include Whitney Pier in the north east end next to the former steel plant site, Ashby in the east end, Hardwood Hill in the south end and the "North End" located on the peninsula which contains the Holy Angels convent and the Sydney Garrison known as Victoria Park, headquarters of the Cape Breton Highlanders reserve infantry regiment. The former city completely encircles the Membertou First Nation (First Nations Reserve 28A and 28B).


Sydney experiences a cool summer, and windy, wet and stormy winter, version of a humid continental climate (Köppen Dfb) that is significantly moderated by the community's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.[19] The highest temperature ever recorded was 35.5 °C (95.9 °F) on 10 August 2001,[20] and the lowest ever was−27.3 °C (−17.1 °F) on 8 February 1994.[20] Due to the relatively strong influence from large bodies of water, Sydney experiences strong seasonal lag, meaning February is the year's coldest month on average, and August is the year's warmest month on average. By contrast, in most continental climates in the Northern Hemisphere, January is the coldest month, July the warmest.

In other respects, too, Sydney's climate varies significantly from that of other areas with humid continental climates. The most significant variations are that Sydney experiences unusually cool summers, and relatively windy, wet and stormy winters, relative to other humid-continental areas (i.e. most of Ukraine, the Beijing area in China, and the Upper Midwestern United States). Sydney is in the direct path of fall and winter storms (in the U.S., called nor'easters) migrating from the U.S. Northeastern and New England states; these storms can attain tremendous intensity by the time they approach Sydney, with high winds, heavy snow, ice and/or rain events common, primarily from October to March. Summer thunderstorms are rare in Sydney, because nearby bodies of cool water sharply inhibit the combination of heat and humidity that fuels summer-season thunderstorms elsewhere (for example, the United States' central and southeastern states, and east-central and northern China). While occasional thunderstorms and other rains can occur in summer, June through August are Sydney's driest months on average. Sydney's average annual precipitation cycle reflects these realities; the year's driest month, on average, is July; its wettest month, on average, is December. Average annual precipitation in Sydney is nearly 60 inches, virtually the highest found anywhere in Canada outside coastal British Columbia. Snowfall is heavy, averaging over 110 inches per winter season. However, winter-season storms are variable, and can bring changing precipitation types, commonly from ice/snow to rain and possibly back to ice/snow. As such, actual snow accumulation is variable. A winter storm can bring accumulating snow, followed by heavy rain, then a brief return to snow or ice, resulting in no or minimal additional snow accumulation. Overall, Sydney's climate is moderately cold and strikingly variable, wet, stormy and windy from fall to early spring (October to March), and more stable and drier in summer (June to August).

Climate data for Sydney
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high Humidex 18.2 19.0 24 26.0 36.8 43.4 41.8 41.9 38.9 30.4 25.5 18.5 43.4
Record high °C (°F) 16.9
Average high °C (°F) −1.1
Daily mean °C (°F) −5.4
Average low °C (°F) −9.6
Record low °C (°F) −26.2
Wind chill −42.6 −41.1 −34.3 −21.4 −11.3 −6.1 0.0 0.0 −5.1 −10.5 −19.3 −31.3 −42.6
Precipitation mm (inches) 152.5
Rainfall mm (inches) 80.5
Snowfall cm (inches) 74.3
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.2 mm) 20.6 16.5 16.6 15.8 14.5 14.0 11.7 12.7 13.5 15.9 18.1 21.0 191.0
Avg. rainy days (≥ 0.2 mm) 8.4 7.3 9.5 13.0 14.1 14.0 11.7 12.7 13.5 15.8 15.4 11.5 146.9
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.2 cm) 16.6 12.6 11.0 5.6 0.83 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.62 5.4 14.2 66.8
Mean monthly sunshine hours 91.0 111.6 132.9 141.0 198.0 224.6 246.9 228.4 167.1 130.1 77.0 68.2 1,816.7
Percent possible sunshine 32.4 38.3 36.1 34.7 42.7 47.7 51.8 52.0 44.3 38.3 27.1 25.3 39.2
Source: Environment Canada (1981-2010)[20][Note 1]


Statistics Canada classifies Sydney as a medium population centre, which for census purposes includes the neighbouring communities of Westmount, a significant portion of Sydney River, and other portions of the former Cape Breton County.[26] The 2011 population of the Sydney census area, was 31,597,[1] making it the largest population centre on Cape Breton Island.


A cruise ship docked in Sydney Harbour, a common sight during the summer months.

Sydney suffered an economic decline for several decades in the later part of the 20th century as local coal and steel industries underwent significant changes. The closure of the Sydney Steel Corporation's steel mill and the Cape Breton Development Corporation's coal mines in 2000-2001 have resulted in attempts by the municipal, provincial and federal governments to diversify the area economy.

At the start of the 21st century, Sydney faces a significant challenge in the cleanup of the Sydney Tar Ponds, a tidal estuary contaminated with a variety of coal-based wastes from coke ovens that supplied the steel industry. After extensive public consultation and technical study, a $400 million CAD cleanup plan jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments awaits further environmental assessment.

In one part of Whitney Pier, residents of Frederick St. discovered contamination within several homes and in surrounding soil, including a toxic orange substance oozing into local basements. Testing of the substance lasted over a year and many were outraged by delays, although some residents were subsequently relocated to a safer residential area nearby.

High unemployment and lack of opportunities have resulted in many educated young people leaving the community for jobs in other parts of Canada and the US. Demographic changes, including an aging population and decrease in the birth rate have begun to affect the area's economic outlook. Specifically, many residents have opted to seek work in Alberta and Ontario.

Sydney's economy was buoyed by the 2011 announcement of funding for the Sydney Harbour dredging project, which was completed in 2012. The dredge, which is expected to lead to commercialization of the port, is purported to create hundreds of jobs in the area, and position Sydney as a world-class harbour facility. Other important investments that have helped position Sydney as an eastern hub of Nova Scotia include the twinning of Highway 125 and the creation of the Centre for Sustainability in the Environment at nearby Cape Breton University, which draws hundreds of international students each year.


The "Largest Ceilidh Fiddle in the World". Located at the Sydney waterfront.

In recent decades, Cape Breton Island has become home to a significant tourism industry, with Sydney (as the island's largest urban centre) being a prime beneficiary. Until the early 2000s when its economy was tied to the steel industry, Sydney had been overlooked as a tourist destination, with the more centrally located scenic village of Baddeck being a preferred location for tourists transiting the Cabot Trail, however Sydney has recently witnessed a revival as a result of significant government investment in cruise ship facilities and a waterfront revitalization plan which has seen a boardwalk and marinas constructed, and the world's largest fiddle. This funding is part of the post-industrial adjustment package offered by the federal and provincial governments.

Sydney's tourism draw is increasingly linked to its cultural asset as being the urban heart of Cape Breton Island. Its population is a diverse mixture of nationalities which contributes to various Scottish, Acadian, African Canadian and eastern European cultural events being held throughout the year. Sydney's accommodation sector is centrally located to attractions in Louisbourg (home of the Fortress of Louisbourg), Glace Bay (home of the Glace Bay Miners Museum), Baddeck (home of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum), as well as popular touring destinations such as the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and Bras d'Or Lake.


Sydney is served by Highway 125 which connects to Highway 105 and encircles the former city limits to its eastern terminus. Trunk 4 forms an important secondary road in Sydney running along the Sydney River, connecting to Glace Bay. Trunk 22, connecting to Louisbourg, and Trunk 28, connecting Whitney Pier through to New Waterford, form minor secondary roads.

Sydney is home to two private freight railway companies. The Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway makes Sydney its eastern terminus and provides rail connections to CN in Truro via Port Hawkesbury. The Sydney Coal Railway connects a bulk coal unloading pier in Whitney Pier with the Lingan Generating Station in Lingan. Daily passenger rail service was provided by Via Rail Canada until budget cuts on January 15, 1990. A weekly tourist train, the Bras d'Or was operated by Via Rail Canada from 2000 to 2004 until being discontinued.

Sydney's port facilities include the privately owned bulk coal unloading pier in Whitney Pier as well as the publicly owned Sydney Marine Terminal at the northern edge of the central business district. A recently opened cruise ship pavilion welcomes several dozen cruise ships every year, with the majority visiting in late summer or early fall to take in fall foliage tours. Other port facilities on Sydney Harbour are located outside the former city limits in Point Edward (Sydport) and North Sydney (Marine Atlantic ferry terminal).

The J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport is located several kilometres outside the former city limits in Reserve Mines. Air Canada Express operates 7 flights daily[27] with direct service to Halifax and Toronto. As of February 13, 2009, WestJet operates 1 flight daily to and from Toronto between May and November.[28] Other carriers may also offer seasonal service.


CJCB-TV television studio building

Sydney is the island's largest commercial centre and home to the Cape Breton Post daily newspaper, as well as one television station, CJCB-TV, a member of the CTV Television Network.[Note 2] CJCB was the first television station in Nova Scotia, going on air on 9 October 1954.[30] It was also the eastern terminus of the original country-wide microwave network that went live on 1 July 1958, with the Canada's first coast to coast television broadcast.[31] From its beginnings until 1972, CJCB-TV was the area's CBC affiliate.[30]

Sydney's first radio station was CJCB-AM, founded by Nate Nathanson, and went on the air on 14 February 1929.[32] The Nathanson family would go on to open an FM radio station in 1957, CJCB-FM, and the above-mentioned television station.[33] CBC began operating its own station, CBI-AM, in November 1948.[34] It was part of the CBC's Trans-Canada Network, while CJCB became a CBC affiliate for its Dominion Network.[34] In 1962, the CBC combined the two networks, making CBI the only CBC station, and CJCB became an independent.[34] In 1978, the CBC opened CBI-FM, which belonged to the CBC Stereo network.[35] After 1997, CBI-AM belongs to CBC Radio One and CBI-FM belongs to CBC Radio Two.[34][35] Besides the CBC and CJCB stations, there are other FM radio stations serving the area, most coming into the market in the early 21st century.


Holy Angels High School as it appeared in 2012.

Sydney is part of the Cape Breton – Victoria Regional School Board and is home to one public English language secondary school: Sydney Academy, which is linked to several elementary and intermediate schools. Holy Angels, a female-only Catholic high school founded in the late 1800s, closed at the end of the 2011 school year.[36] A French language school, Étoile de l'Acadie, is also located in Sydney and is part of the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial school board.

In 1951, the original campus of what became Cape Breton University was founded as the Xavier Junior College, affiliated with St. Francis Xavier University and was located in Sydney.[37] Sydney also has other post secondary and private career colleges, including the Cape Breton Business College founded in 1958.


The 1913 Sydney Millionaires Professional Ice Hockey Team, Maritimes Professional Hockey Association champs, Stanley Cup Challengers.

Semi-professional hockey has a long tradition in Sydney. In December 1912, a group formed a professional hockey club to challenge for the Stanley Cup.[38] The short-lived Sydney Millionaires, who received that nickname because the players were the highest paid in the Maritimes, won the 1913 Maritime Professional Hockey League championship.[38] Their victory allowed them to challenge the Quebec Bulldogs, the then current cup holder, in Quebec City.[38] On 10 March 1913, the Millionaires lost the second and final game of the Stanley Cup, and folded shortly thereafter.[38]

From 1988 to 1996, Sydney was home to the Cape Breton Oilers of the AHL, the primary farm team of the NHL's Edmonton Oilers. They won that league's championship, the Calder Cup, in 1993. The franchise moved to Hamilton, Ontario after the 1995-96 season, becoming the Hamilton Bulldogs.[39][40]

The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL play their home games at Centre 200.[41] The franchise, which came into the league in 1969 as the Sorel Éperviers, moved to Sydney from Granby, Quebec in 1997, just one year after winning the Memorial Cup.[41]

Notable people



  1. ^ Sydney's climatic information in the above table are from Sydney Airport (CYQY) for the period 1981-2010. The extreme high and low temperatures are combined from the Airport's long-term records, that start in 1941.[21]
  2. ^ CBIT-TV (CBC) existed from 26 September 1972 until 31 July 2012, when the CBC closed-down its over-the-air analog transmitters in small markets. It produced a local news broadcast until 1991, when local news shows were consolidated to Halifax. The CBC Nova Scotia television signal, which originates from Halifax, is now only available via cable or satellite providers.[29]



Books & Journals
News media
  • CP Special (1967-11-20). "March through Sydney: 20,000 protest DOSCO closing". The Toronto Daily Star (Toronto). p. 5. 
  • Grimes, William (2009-08-07). "Donald Marshall Jr., Symbol of Bias, Dies at 55". The New York Times (New York). p. A20. Retrieved 2013-01-11. 
  • Lebel, Ronald (1967-10-18). "Premier calls for government aid to keep Dosco going four months". The Globe and Mail (Toronto). pp. 1, 2. 
  • Loring, Rex (1958-06-30). "The marvellous microwave network". Scan (Toronto: CBC News Digital Archives). Retrieved 2013-01-11. 
  • MacDonald, Randy (2011-06-20). "Holy Angels graduation "bittersweet" as Sydney school sets to close". CTV Atlantic News (Halifax). Retrieved 2012-05-16. 
  • Milton, Steve (1996-05-09). "New name needed for AHL import: Something from the animal kingdom is very much in vogue now". The Hamilton Spectator (Hamilton, Ontario). p. C1. 
  • Special to the Star (1967-11-23). "Nova Scotia will buy Dosco plant, operate it until at least April '69". Toronto Daily Star. p. 1. 
  • Spectator Staff (1996-10-05). "7,006 fill the Dog House: A large walkup crowd was entertained to Fight Night In Steeltown as the Hamilton Bulldogs officially took to the ice last night.". The Hamilton Spectator (Hamilton, Ontario). p. C1. 
  • Star Staff (1967-11-23). "Nova Scotia will buy Dosco plant, operate it until at least April '69". Toronto Daily Star (2 Star Edition ed.) (Toronto). p. 1. 
Other online sources
  • "Radio History: CJCB-AM, Sydney, Maritime Broadcasting Ltd.". Toronto: Canadian Communications Foundation. 2013. Retrieved 2013-01-10. 
  • "Demographic Information". Planning and Development Department. Sydney, Nova Scotia: Cape Breton Regional Municipality. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-08-18. 
  • CB-VRSB Staff (2012). "Sydney Academy". CB-VRSB Schools. Sydney, Nova Scotia: Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board. Archived from the original on 2012-12-26. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  • Deibel, James; Norda, Jacob (2012). "Historical Weather For The Last Twelve Months in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada". WeatherSpark. San Francisco: Vector Magic, Inc. Archived from the original on 2012-12-26. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  • Dulmage, Bill (2011). "Radio History: CBI-FM (Radio Two), Sydney, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation". Toronto: Canadian Communications Foundation. Retrieved 2013-01-10. 
  • "Revocation of licences for the rebroadcasting stations CBIT Sydney and CBKST Saskatoon and licence amendment to remove analog transmitters for 23 English- and French-language television stations". Decisions, Notices and Orders. Ottawa: Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. 2012-07-17. Archived from the original on 2012-09-09. 
  • Dulmage, Bill (July 2012). "Nova Scotia CBIT-TV (CBC-TV), Sydney, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation". Television Station History. Toronto: Canadian Communications Foundation. Archived from the original on 2012-12-26. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 

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