Fact:
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.

 

Fact:
The construction of Disco began in 1900 and finished in late 1901. It was the most modern steel plant in the world.

 

Fact:
Construction of the plant finished late in 1901 and the first steel was produced on Dec. 31, 1901.

 
 
 
 

 

Black Friday (continuation)
By Sydney S. Slaven


Looking back today from the year 2003, from a personal viewpoint, the events of November 19th, 1967 almost take on a surreal atmosphere. It had rained all morning, but just before the parade started at 1 pm, the skies cleared leaving a sunny, crisp, autumn day. 20,000 marchers gathered near the plant gate and the Sydney Shopping Centre to start the one-mile march up Prince Street to the Sydney Sports Centre. Thousands more lined the route.

This was the largest crowd ever assembled in Cape Breton and they staged a starkly dramatic and inspiring parade that struck all the chords of a community’s comradeship, hope and resolution. Cape Bretoners from all walks of life joined in the march. Students, steelworker’s families, coal miners, fishermen, doctors, clergymen, lawyers, the business community, teachers, nurses, all jointed the steelworkers themselves.

Perhaps the most inspiring marchers were our future, the babes in arms, along with people in wheelchairs and, the most inspiring to me, the steelworker with an artificial leg who, when offered a drive said: “I’ll die before I quit marching.” And, he successfully completed the whole route.

It took an hour for the marchers to file into the muddy field and racetrack of the Sydney Sports Centre. The main speakers were to be provincial and federal politicians but, before this, an inspiring event took place. A local balladeer and steelworker, Charlie MacKinnon, had written a song for the occasion, “Let’s Save Our Industry.” There was not a dry eye in the crowd by the time this pleading song from a proud and strong people was finished.

Both speakers had been noticeable affected by the emotion of the march and the song. Premier G.I. Smith and Federal Minister Allen MacEachen both spoke with quivers in their voices along with long pauses to get their emotions in check before continuing on. The message they both delivered was that both levels of government were committed to keeping the plant operating beyond the April 30th closing date until a solution could be found.

Tough bargaining continued on November 20th between Hawker-Siddeley and the Provincial Government. Hawker-Siddeley was driving an extremely hard bargain for a higher price for the assets then province was then willing to pay. Finally, in a key move, Provincial Government auditors revealed that the plant’s monthly losses were only a small fraction of the $1,000,000 per month they claimed. Hawker-Siddeley was then told to become more cooperative or face provincial expropriation proceedings. On November 21st, 1968, Hawker-Siddeley returned to negotiations with a changed attitude of full cooperation.

Premier G.I. Smith announced on November 22nd, 1967, that as of January 1st, 1968, the Sydney steel plant would become a full crown corporation under the ownership of the Nova Scotia Government and henceforth would be known as the Sydney Steel Corporation, (SYSCO). The price of the takeover would be determined by an independent group of steel experts. Premier Smith also stated that the plant would be fully modernized as soon as possible.

Thus ended the crisis of October the 13th of 1967, the day that became known as “Black Friday.” The Nova Scotia Government went on to operate the Sydney Steel Corporation for 32 years until its closure in the year 2002.

What was the decisive factor in saving the Sydney plant in 1967? No doubt it was the Parade of Concern and the effect it had on the government officials. Along with the community, they were caught up in the emotional experience of a hardworking, proud, and strong people’s desire to save the Cape Breton industrial community.


Author’s note: Many of the chronological events were drawn from a five-week period of the Cape Breton Post. Both the editor, Ian MacNeil, and the publisher, Roy Duchemin, demonstrated remarkable skills in the field of responsible journalism. Also, a large part of the events come from my own personal memories and those of my fellow steelworkers.


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Last updated February 1, 2006