Cape Breton Magazine Curriculum Units 

Grade 10 English  

Topic: Sydney Steel Workers and their Lives

Gender in the Plant

Bias Issues

Details of the Work

Focus: Literacy, Critical Reading and Responding using primary resources of Steel Workers, both men and women

Grade 10 English Studies

Lesson Plan:

Magazine Volume Issue: 37

Women in the Steel Plant

Pages 1-14 & 15-20

Magazine Volume Issue: 52

Frank Murphy & the Open Hearth

Pages 1-22

Magazine Volume Issue: 60

A Visit with Winston Ruck, A Steelworker

Pages 11-34

Front Loading Activity:

Have the students write or discuss in their groups the importance of steel in today’s world. Talk about why Sydney was an important factor in the steel making industry in the early 1900’s

Teacher Resource Link:

The Birth of a Steel Plant
By Sydney S. Slaven

The 20th century marked the rise and fall of a major steel industry in Sydney, N.S.
A small government town was transformed into a large industrial city that became known as “the steel capital of Eastern Canada”.

Today, bare acres and a few buildings are all that remain of the steel plant. The demise of the steel mill was due to several factor. The main factor was the reliance on only one product - the steel rail. Another factor was the disappearance of the third world market that began producing their own steel. Also, the North American Free Trade Act affected sales to Mexico. At one time, Sydney supplied all the rail needs of Mexico. It became cheaper for Mexico to produce its own rails due to the lower wages paid to its workers.

In 1899, an American businessman and promoter named Henry M. Whitney formed a consortium with the intention of constructing an integrated steel plant at Sydney, N.S.
Mr. Whitney was well known as an astute businessman who, in fact, had once been a chief advisor to the President of the United States. He had already formed the Dominion Coal Company in 1893 and envisioned a local steel plant as the ideal outlet for coal.

Another steel plant was constructed at the same time in Sydney Mines by the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company, (Scotia). Mr. Whitney negotiated a deal to share the Wabana iron ore mine at Newfoundland with Scotia and named the Sydney operation the Dominion Iron and Steel Co. (DISCO). Limestone was also available in Aquatuna, Newfoundland. Consequently, all of the ingredients were on hand for the production of steel.

Sydney harbour also provided a shipping outlet to the world and to the Canadian National Railway, which terminated at Sydney and was a path to the central Canadian markets.
The Scotia plant in Sydney Mines was a basic iron and steel producer feeding its finishing mills to New Glasgow, N.S. The Sydney plant was for the sale of semi-finished ingots, blooms and billets.

The construction of Disco began in 1900 and finished in late 1901. It was the most modern steel plant in the world with a state of the art battery of 400 Coke Ovens capable not only of producing coke, but also of recovering saleable by-products such as tar, benzene, and industrial salt. Four Blast Furnaces with a capacity of 1200 tons of iron fed off of themselves and used the heated gas produced to fuel further casts. Ten 50-ton Open Hearth furnaces of the tilting variety gave Disco the most advanced steel making process of the day.

Construction of the plant finished late in 1901 and the first steel was produced on Dec. 31, 1901(likely rushed in order to reach the target of a 1901 completion date). This was the beginning of 100 years of boom and bust cycles for the Sydney Steel Plant.

The downside of this modern plant was, the iron ore from Wabana and the coal from Cape Breton. The ore was of a very poor grade and the Cape Breton coal had extremely high sulfur content. For the next 60 years, removal of these impurities was a constant struggle for the steel makers. The mountain of slag adjacent to Muggah’s Creek is a testament to the amount of impurities removed over the years.


Have the students take some time to research various topics on the Sydney Steel Plant Museum site before reading the articles.


Students then take the time to read the articles and create a Venn Diagram with a comparative approach to two of the people from the articles. In the venn diagram compare how their lives were similar and how they differ.


In conclusion you could have the students write what it would be like to work in the Steel Plant at a time when Steel Making was a viable industry to the Cape Breton economy.

Further Exploration:

The issue of gender is one that is referred to in the article, “Women in the Steel Plant”. How do you feel about women and what they did during war time to ensure the plant and their families survived during those days? Do you think women still today struggle with gender issues around equal employment in a job market that is predominately male? Tell how you think this should change and why. What sorts of inequalities do you witness in today’s career fields?