Cape Breton Electric Company Limited

Cape Breton Electric Tramway & Power
Company Limited

Historical Notes




General Overview

The Act of Incorporation for the Cape Breton Electric Tramway & Power Company was passed by the Nova Scotia legislature on 30 March 1900.

In 1901, the company's name was changed to Cape Breton Electric Company.

From 1919 to 1924, Cape Breton Electric Company was under the management of Stone & Webster Inc., Boston.

In 1931, Cape Breton Electric Company went bankrupt.  The electric utility part of the company's operation (generating plant, transmission and distribution lines and equipment, etc.) was taken over by Eastern Light and Power (but EL&P was not interested in getting involved in the electric railway)... The Glace Bay employees (of the electric railway formed a group)... We had a good man to head the thing off, Angus D. MacDonald.  He was the inspector with the old Cape Breton Tram Company.  He'd been the overseer over the Glace Bay division.  I think it was his idea first to form a company.  He mentioned it to different fellows, wondered if we could do such a thing.  It was talked over among the men.  [Q: Was there anybody who thought it couldn't be done?]  Oh, I don't think.  Because the conditions things were in, everybody had the idea, well, there was nothing else for them to do.  We figured if we took it over and ran it – supposing we ran it for a year or two.  If we could maintain the wages we were getting or even less, for even a year, that it would be worth our while to take it over.  [Q: Were there any who said they wouldn't take the chance, and quit instead?] I don't think there were any in Glace Bay.  I think all the Glace Bay fellows were agreeable to try it.  There was a little doubt among some, but really we had no alternative.  We formed a company.  I think there were 32 or 33 employees, and we were all shareholders.  [Q: You were all equal owners?]  Yes... It was just a private employees' affair.  It was in desperation.  Now, the Sydney part of it, they were in the same box.  That division was being done away with too.  The city of Sydney wanted to do away with the tram cars.  Do away with the old tracks.  They were putting on a paving program and wanted to get clear of them altogether.  But they did offer the employees if they wanted to form a co-operative like we had and put buses on – they'd agree to that.  But after much discussion and figuring the expense of buying buses, the employees on the Sydney division gave up the idea.  They figured they couldn't handle it – biggest mistake they ever made.  [Q: How much money are we talking about?]... We contributed 200 dollars first, each man... Well, that was the down payment.  Then later on I think we contributed the same amount again.  Well, from there on the company was able to support itself.  After two years, it began to pick up.  [Q: So, the depression for you meant that all these men had work?]  Oh yes.  All had steady work.  Turned out to be remarkable.  Everybody pitched in, put their shoulder to the wheel... We worked long hours and worked a lot of overtime for nothing and all that – that is, the first couple of years – but after two years, things began to pick up a little... We took it over with the intention of running it for a few years and then converting to buses, but when the war came on (in 1939) everything was frozen, you weren't allowed to take off any transportation that was in existence at the time.  So we ran all through the war.  We ran trams (electric streetcars) till 1947.  And it was a success story all the way through.  We took it over in the depression.  But we bought it for junk price because that was all they could get for the rolling equipment, the track and all that stuff.  When we first took it over, we put in some new track, because the old company, the last years, they ran it right out as long as they could.  So we had to do a lot of work when we took it over.  We had to get carloads and carloads of ties to put in, lot of new rails too.  It wasn't all renewed, patched up – but we had it in pretty good shape after a few years... And then when the war started and they started to build an airport out halfway between (Sydney and Glace Bay) and we had, well, all the traffic we could handle then.  Gas was rationed – so people travelled by tram or bus or any other way they could travel.  Then when the airport was finished and all the airmen came in there and it was all the business you could handle, between soldiers and airmen and all the local people travelling and everything going full bloom in Sydney and the mines going full slick and everything.  Some nights you had a job to squeeze on (the tram car) or get off... [Q: Why did the employees decide to sell out?]  Well, everyone wasn't agreeable to that either, and we had several meetings.  The older fellows all felt that soon they'd be retiring, and they thought they should get some money out of it, and by selling at the time, they thought they could get a pretty good price.  Compared with what we bought it for.  Others felt we should hang onto it, keep it.  But the older fellows wanted it sold, and that's what they did... The company had cost the employees about $6000 in 1931 and about the same amount in 1932.  They sold it in 1947 for $216,000... (It is not known who bought this electric railway company in 1947.)

Source: When the Employees Owned the Trams
Interview with Dougald Blue (1901-   )
Cape Breton's Magazine, number 24, pages 1-8
Published in Wreck Cove by Ronald Caplan, 1 Dec 1979

On 30th December 1966, all of the outstanding shares of Eastern Light & Power Company Limited (which included the former Cape Breton Electric Company utility assets) were purchased by the Nova Scotia Power Commission, an agency of the Nova Scotia Government, at a cost of $3,900,000.

In 1973, the Nova Scotia Power Commission was legally and financially reorganized as the Nova Scotia Power Corporation, a provincial crown corporation.

On 12 August 1992, all the electric utility assets of the Nova Scotia Power Corporation were sold to Nova Scotia Power Inc., a private (non-government) corporation.

On 1 January 1999, ownership of Nova Scotia Power Inc. (NSPI) was transferred to NS Power Holdings Inc. (NSPH).  On that date, all NSPI common shares were transferred from the previous owners (individuals, pension funds, etc.) to NSPH — which issued to the former NSPI shareholders, one NSPH share for each NSPI share.  Thus Nova Scotia Power Inc. became a wholly-owned subsidiary of NS Power Holdings Inc.

On 17 July 2000, the company name was changed to Emera Inc. from NS Power Holdings Inc. After this name change, Nova Scotia Power Inc. continued as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Emera Inc.




Legislative History

NSL 1900 chapter 130 — Act to incorporate the Cape Breton Electric Tramway & Power Co. Ltd.
NSL 1901 chapter 159 — Change name to Cape Breton Electric Co. Ltd.
NSL 1902 chapter 183 — Amendment
NSL 1909 chapter 136 — Amendment
NSL 1911 chapter 115 — Amendment
NSL 1917 chapter 197 — Amend chapter 130 of 1900




The Cape Breton Electric Tramway & Power Company was incorporated in 1900.  In 1901, the company's name was changed to Cape Breton Electric Company.  It operated a local street railway service in Sydney, and a separate (not physically connected) 6 mile 10 km street railway line between North Sydney and Sydney Mines.  The company also operated a ferry service across Sydney Harbour between Sydney and North Sydney.  These three public transportation services were operated with integrated schedules – the ferry departures and arrivals at each terminal were coordinated with the local streetcar arrivals and departures.


In 1887, Frank J. Sprague demonstrated the first electric streetcar in Richmond, Virginia.  His invention, known as electric traction, offered a new, much cleaner, and more efficient way to move people which, combined with the safety elevator, would permit much denser urban development.

Electric traction — from the 1890s to the 1950s usually called “electric streetcars” or “electric street railways,” and since the 1970s generally known as “light rail” (all these names refer to the same technology) — created one of the first commercially profitable uses for electric power, preceding the spread of electric lighting, industrial machinery, and domestic appliances.

In the six decades 1870-1930 (approximately), there were two basic approaches — urban transit and interurban transit — to providing public transit services by railway.

An urban transit system operated within the boundaries of a single city or town, or within the metropolitan area formed by adjacent cities or towns.

An interurban transit system operated between two or more towns that were separated by rural (low population density) areas, such as the interurban line between Sydney and Glace Bay.

Urban and interurban electric railways played a major part in defining early twentieth century transportation routes and growth patterns throughout North America, at a time when highways were primitive.

In Nova Scotia, urban transit systems were built and operated in Halifax, Sydney, Glace Bay, New Glasgow, and Yarmouth.

Two interurban electric railways were built in Nova Scotia in the early 1900s — the Cape Breton Electric Tramway & Power Company, incorporated 30 March 1900, built a high-speed electric interurban line between Sydney and Glace Bay, and the Egerton Tramway Company, incorporated 27 March 1902, built an electric streetcar line in Pictou County, Trenton - New Glasgow - Stellarton - Westville.


There were serious plans made to build other electric railways in Nova Scotia.  In the years 1888-1890, the Amherst Street Railway Company spent money on plans to build and operate an electric railway between downtown Amherst and Fort Lawrence, near the New Brunswick border.  This electric railway was planned in association with the new Chignecto Ship Railway then being built across the isthmus of Chignecto.  The Amherst Street Railway plans were abandoned when the Ship Railway Company collapsed in 1892.

Other electric railways also were planned, including a line between Halifax and Bedford along the west side of Bedford Basin, and a line between Halifax and Lunenburg.  The Yarmouth & Digby Electric Railway Company was active enough to get legislation passed by the Nova Scotia Legislature in 1902 and 1903, and again in 1909.  The Blomidon Railway Company Limited planned an electric railway line in Kings County, from Wolfville through Canning to Scots Bay.  Financing problems, and then World War One, caused delays which ultimately defeated these proposals.


These electric railways required large amounts of reliable electric power.  The power generation machinery needed to operate them was able to supply electric power at reasonable prices for other purposes such as printing presses, elevators and other industrial machinery, and lighting.  What began as an electric railway often turned into an electric utility company.

At this time, streetcar services and most other utilities were privately financed and owned although their performance was subject to charters or franchises granted by cities and other local governments.

The rapid multiplication of uncoordinated streetcar and interurban lines in the 1890s and early 1900s begged for consolidation, a process in which the giant Stone & Webster Management Company became prominent throughout North America, including Nova Scotia.




In Glace Bay, the Cape Breton Tramways Company operated an electric streetcar line along Commercial Street.  At first the track was on the east side of the street and later it was moved to the centre of the street.  The tram car line on Commercial Street was part of a loop.  In one direction the line ran up McKeen to New Aberdeen, Bridgeport, Dominion and into Reserve Mines where it joined the main line between Glace Bay and Sydney.  In the other direction from Commercial Street, the line ran along Brookside Street to Passchendaele and onto Reserve Mines where the car would go on to Sydney or returen via Dominion to downtown Glace Bay.

Source — "Commercial Street Heart of Glace Bay"
Cape Breton Post, 2 October 1993




The Cape Breton Electric Company reported that, during the year 1912, its operating revenue was $114,407 and operating expenses were $41,636 for the electric utility department, while the tramway (interurban streetcar line) department had operating revenue of $216,133 and operating expenses of $124,533.  For the company as a whole, including the electric utility, tramway, and ferry, taxes were $6476, interest on funded debt was $44,400, and it paid out $70,290 in dividends on capital stock of $1,359,000.

Source — Source: PUB Annual Report 1912-13




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