The Birth of a Steel Plant
(continued) - The Disco and Dosco Years
By Sydney S. Slaven
The Blooming Mill and Billet Mills were commissioned in 1902 and
the sale of ingots, blooms and billets began. Although duties on
imported steel were in place in Canada, it soon became apparent
that Disco could not survive on the international sale of semi-
finished products. Plans were made to diversify into other products
such as rails, bars, rods, wire and nails. A Rail Mill opened in
1905 and rails became the chief product until the plant closed its
doors in 2000. Two Bessemer converter furnaces were added in 1907
in an attempt to deal with the low grade iron ore and the high sulphur
Disco had been a constant money loser up to this point but this
situation improved when a domestic market developed for its rails.
Whitney took this opportunity to promote the stock well above the
book value and made a fortune when he sold out the steel and coal
companies to a Canadian consortium in 1909. These two companies
merged under the name Dominion Steel Company.
Disco floated a public bond issue to raise expansion capital and
a new Blast Furnace came on stream in 1909. This was followed shortly
by the commissioning of a Rod and Bar Mill as well as a Wire and
Nail Mill in 1910. In the next two years, 4 Coke Ovens with 30 ovens
each and another Blast Furnace were added. In 1913 another attempt
to deal with steel impurities was made with the addition of two
500-ton mixing furnaces.
World War I (from 1914 – 1918) was a major boom cycle when
the war effort took all of the steel that Disco could produce. A
Plate Mill was constructed in 1918 but was mothballed because the
war ended before it could begin operation. However, this mill would
prove invaluable to the saving of Great Britain during World War
II. More Coke Oven improvements were made in 1918 with the installation
of two 60-oven batteries.
In 1920, a syndicate known as the British Empire Steel Corporation,
(BESCO), acquired all assets of not only Disco, but Scotia as well.
These included the mines at Wabana, the limestone operation at Aquatuna,
Nfld., as well as the Halifax Shipyards. By now the steel industry
was in a recession with the drop in demand, which accompanied the
end of the war. Besco was badly undercapitalized and found itself
in financial trouble from the start. Capital for modernization and
expansion was not available and a number of money reducing routes
were taken This led to a very violent period in the history of Cape
Breton steel and coal.
The Scotia Plant at Sydney Mines was shut down and the works at
New Glasgow were now to be fed from the Sydney works. Wages were
cut and massive layoffs triggered violent strikes in the area. Besco
formed a police force, (some would say a goon squad), to combat
the strikers. The Canadian Military had to send in a large force
of troops to act as peacekeepers between Besco and the workers.
However, there was just not much demand for steel and, by 1927,
Besco had collapsed into bankruptcy and went into receivership.
Strangely enough, the Sydney Plant prospered over the next two years
because of government freight subsidies which allowed the plant
to compete in the Central Canadian market. This short boom cycle
attracted new investors and, in 1929, a British consortium took
over the Besco operations and was called the Dominon Steel and Coal
Dosco inherited a disgruntled workforce and, in order to rectify
this, introduced a concept that became known as “Welfare Capitalism”.
This was implemented to meet some of the worker’s basic social
welfare needs and, the main goal was a happy, contented worker.
1931 saw the completion of an on-site, completely integrated, modern
hospital. It provided outpatient and in-patient treatment. There
was a fully equipped operating room, a treatment room, a doctor
on duty, an X-Ray room, a six-bed in-patient ward, and a live-in
nursing staff. An ambulance was purchased for transportation of
injured employees. From the start, lost time due to accidents was
dramatically reduced and there were other side benefits as well.
For example, hospital operations led to lower compensation costs
while chest x-rays prevented the hiring of personnel suffering from
tuberculosis. (Tuberculosis was a major illness of the first half
of the 20th century).
The Birth of a Steel Plant .....Continued