Prior to municipal amalgamation in 1995 which saw the formation of CBRM, Whitney Pier is a neighborhood on the northern boundary of the City of Sydney. It is a triangle-shaped area north of the Muggah Creek estuary running along the eastern shore of Sydney Harbour.
Whitney Pier derives its name from Henry Melville Whitney, an American industrialist who established the Dominion Coal Company (DOMCO) in 1893 and its subsidiary the Dominion Iron & Steel Company Ltd. (DISCO) in 1901.
It was separated from Sydney's central business district by Canada's largest integrated steel mill, as well as a large railway yard and tracks running from the harbour to coal mines in nearby New Waterford and Glace Bay.
The geography of Whitney Pier is defined by its relationship to the heavy industry of coal mining and steel manufacturing. The International Shipping Pier is located at the southern edge of the neighborhood, adjacent to the steel plant property and is the current location for coal imports that feed the Lingan Generating Station, with the coal being hauled by the Sydney Coal Railway. From 1968–2001, the Cape Breton Development Corporation's Devco Railway hauled coal from coal mines northeast of Whitney Pier to this shipping pier for international export; the last coal mine in the area known as Industrial Cape Breton closed in November 2001, forcing the power plant to rely on coal imports for the first time ever.
From the 1880s to 1968, the Sydney and Louisburg Railway and its predecessors hauled coal from various coal mines to the shipping piers at this location; it was the owner of the S&L during the 1890s-1900s, Henry M. Whitney, who the community is named after - "the Whitney Pier".
The steel mill was responsible for the neighborhood's economic growth during the 20th century but it is also responsible for its economic decline as well. From the steel mill's inception in 1901 until the mid-1980s, the mill was fueled with coke, a byproduct of cooking raw coal over a multiple hour periods. To do this, coal was shipped by the Sydney & Louisburg Railway (and later the Devco Railway) from the mines to a large battery of coke ovens bordering the railway lines on the south side of the neighborhood along Frederick Street on a hill overlooking the steel mill. The coke ovens produced coke for the steel mill's oxygen blast furnaces 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for almost 90 years.
The resulting runoff of contaminants from the coke production, as well as general contaminants from the steel mill itself, drained into Muggah Creek, a tidal estuary that geographically separated the steel mill and Whitney Pier from Sydney's central business district.
Currently, after several decades of environmental reviews and scientific studies, the federal and provincial governments are undertaking a $400 million cleanup of the site which will see the industrial contaminants in the estuary sealed with cement.
Whitney Pier has been the primary settlement for Barbadians, and smaller numbers of African Americans and African Nova Scotians, in Cape Breton since 1901. In the 1920's, Garveyism and Pan-Africanism became popular among the 600 Afro-Caribbean and African Nova Scotian residents of Whitney Pier, resulting in establishments of the St. Philip’s African Orthodox Church and the Universal Negro Improvement Association Hall. Whitney Pier's black community is distinguishable from other African Nova Scotian settlements, due to the largely Caribbean influence in the neighbourhood. Lines from the popular Bob Marley song, Redemption Song, were taken from a speech given by Marcus Garvey in Whitney Pier in October 1937, that was also published in his Black Man magazine:
We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind ...
The neighbourhood is centred along Victoria Road, stretching north from a railway overpass at the northern edge of the steel mill property through to a section of the road known as "Dead Man's Turn". Also, Whitney Pier Memorial Junior High, Harbourside Elementary School and Cape Breton Business College (CBBC) are the three schools that are located in Whitney Pier.
Victoria Road has been home to a variety of well known shops, restaurants, and community venues, including:
- Dye's Canteen
- Fred Tomie's Athletic Club
- Ursula's Hair Design
- Swan Lunch
- Purity Bakery
- LeBlanc Printing Shop
- Canadian Tire Gas Bar
- Joe Brookes convenience store
- Thistle Tavern
- a liquor store
- Polish Village
- Trinity Hall
- Paramount Store
- Eat more Eat In Or Take Out
- Mary Duck's
- Maw Morrison's
- Tate's Grocery Store
- Henry Street Pub
- Louie Mendleson's
- Jay's Dairy
- Bordens Barber
- Mine Abby's
- Quirks Gas Station
- Freta Gaums
- Tim Hortons
- Pier Deli
- Sam Shermans
- Archie Nathansons
- Mary Rowe seamstress
- Eddie Bruno Pharmacy
- Morraffs Yarn and crafts
- Cape Breton Business College
- Bernie's Bread and Pizza Bakery
- Sydney Ship Supply
- PJ's Variety & Laundromat
- Pizza Palace
Whitney Pier's residents can trace their ancestry to multiple ethnic backgrounds. The opening of the steel mill by the Dominion Steel Company in 1901 attracted many workers from Newfoundland, Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, Italy, the Caribbean and African Nova Scotians to settle in the area.
Notable people from Whitney Pier include:
- Godfrey Cambridge
- Nathan Cohen
- Carolyn Dunn
- Mayann Francis
- Austin Gallivan
- Danny Gallivan
- Gordie Gosse
- Frankie MacDonald
- Paul MacEwan
- Valerie Miller
- Isaac Phills
- Lisa Raitt
- Calvin Ruck
- Duncan Wells
In May, the Whitney Pier Society for the Arts organizes the PierScape Arts Festival showcasing art from dozens of Cape Breton artists across a variety of mediums. The festival also holds a number of art workshops and events for the public and recognizes distinguished artists, musicians, and contributors to the community.
The first week of August sees an annual neighborhood celebration called "Action Week". In recent years, this has consisted of events such as a memorial "fun run", street dances, a Caribbean festival, a baseball game, picnics, and various activities for children.
- Beaton, Elizabeth (4 April 1995). "An African-American Community in Cape Breton, 1901-1904". Acadiensis. 24 (2). ISSN 1712-7432.
- "Community of Whitney Pier has unique past | Cape Breton Post". www.capebretonpost.com.
- Black Man, Vol. 3, no. 10 (July 1938), pp. 7–11
- "Shunpiking Online Edition Black History Supplement 2005 . Marcus Garvey and Nova Scotia". www.shunpiking.org.
- The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers, Vol. VII: November 1927–August 1940; ISBN 978-0-520-07208-4. Marcus Garvey, author; Robert A. Hill and Barbara Bair (eds), p. 791.
- Canada, Parks; Canada, Parks (10 August 2017). "The Development of Whitney Pier". gcnws.
- Reid, Jennifer. "A Toolshed from Gate #4: The Dominion Iron and Steel Company and the Formation of an African American Church": 87. Retrieved 22 February 2019. Cite journal requires
- "Sydney Ship Supply". Mississauga, Ontario: Profile Canada. Archived from the original on 2012-09-07. Retrieved 2012-09-07.
- Northern Stars biography Retrieved July 15, 2011.
- Whitney Pier Website
- PierScape Art Festival
- The Whitney Pier Nickname Song
- The Long Walk Home
- Marcus Garvey
- St. Phillip's African Orthodox Church