The Founder of Sydney

Welcome to Sydney, Cape Breton Island  

(Excerpts from Wikipedia)

“Sydney was founded by Col. Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres in 1785, and named in honour of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney (also the Home Secretary in the British cabinet at the time). Lord Sydney appointed Col. DesBarres governor of the new colony of Cape Breton Island. Col. DesBarres landed a group that consisted primarily of poor English citizens and disbanded soldiers. A group of Loyalists from the state of New York, fleeing the aftermath of the American Revolution, were added to the immigrants upon their arrival in the neighbouring colony of Nova Scotia. The site DesBarres chose for the new settlement was along the Southwest Arm of Sydney Harbour, a drowned valley of the Sydney River, which forms part of Spanish Bay. Between 1784-1820, Sydney was the capital of the British colony of Cape Breton Island. The colony was disbanded and merged with neighbouring Nova Scotia as part of the British government’s desire to develop the abundant coal fields surrounding Sydney Harbour; the leases being held by the Duke of York. In 1826, the leases were transferred to the General Mining Association and industrial development around Sydney began to take shape.

Sydney Convoy Heading for Britain – Note Naval Escort

By the early twentieth century Sydney became home to one of the world’s largest steel plants, fed by the numerous coal mines in the area under the ownership of the Dominion Coal Company. Sydney’s economy was a significant part of Industrial Cape Breton with its steel plant and harbour and railway connections adjoining the coal mining towns of Glace Bay, New Waterford, Sydney Mines and Reserve Mines. The economic boom brought about by industrialization saw the community incorporate in 1903. By the late 1960s the coal and steel industries had fallen on hard times and were taken over by the federal and provincial governments and both industries were permanently closed by the end of 2001. Forced to diversify its economy, Sydney has examined a variety of economic development possibilities including tourism and culture, light manufacturing and information technology.

Sydney Harbour played an important role during World War II, staging convoys bound for Europe. They tended to be slower convoys and had the prefix SC (for Slow Convoy). Convoy SC-7 typified the dangers inherent with the Nazi U-boats off the coast of Cape Breton and Newfoundland during the Battle of the Atlantic. Sydney’s coal shipping and steel manufacturing were essential ingredients in the Allied victory, however federal Minister of Industry, C.D. Howe favoured Central Canada’s steel industry given its proximity to a larger workforce and less exposure to coastal attack. The lack of significant war-time investment in Sydney’s steel plant led to its decline after the war from which it was unable to recover.

Sydney suffered an economic decline for several decades in the later part of the 20th century as local coal and steel industries underwent significant changes. The closure of the Sydney Steel Corporation’s steel mill and the Cape Breton Development Corporation’s coal mines in 2000-2001 have resulted in attempts by the municipal, provincial and federal governments to diversify the area economy.”

U-Boat to Starboard – Commence Firing

“In recent decades, Cape Breton Island has become home to a significant tourism industry, with Sydney (as the island’s largest urban centre) being a prime beneficiary. Until the early 2000s when its economy was tied to the steel industry, Sydney had been overlooked as a tourist destination, … however Sydney has recently witnessed a revival as a result of significant government investment in cruise ship facilities and a waterfront revitalization plan which has seen a boardwalk, marinas constructed and the world’s largest fiddle. This funding is part of the post-industrial adjustment package offered by the federal and provincial governments.

Sydney’s tourism draw is increasingly linked to its cultural asset as being the urban heart of Cape Breton Island. Its population is a diverse mixture of nationalities which contributes to various Scottish, Acadian, African Canadian and eastern European cultural events being held throughout the year. Sydney’s accommodation sector is centrally located to attractions in Louisbourg (home of the Fortress of Louisbourg), Glace Bay (home of the Glace Bay Miners Museum), Baddeck (home of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum), as well as popular touring destinations such as the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and Bras d’Or Lake.” (end of Wikipedia Excerpts)

The north end of the city contains six 18th century buildings and two others which are almost as old. There are 12 buildings constructed between 1840 and 1885 and another 15 built before 1938.

The Cosset House – Worth a Visit


Cossit House, built in 1787, is believed to be the oldest in Sydney. Cossit lived here with his wife, Thankful, and their family. Six of the Cossit’s 13 children were born in this house. The refurnishing of the house is based on an 1815 inventory of Cossit’s estate.

Once the home of a prominent merchant, Jost House, circa 1786, was purchased by Thomas Jost in 1836. Jost was a Halifax merchant and his family remained on the property until 1971. Today the house is filled with Victorian artifacts and each room features a different theme. The kitchen is housed in the basement with a cooking fireplace and a beehive bake-oven. Local collections can be found within the house, as well as 20th century medicinals, marine display and exhibits of local interest. This building shows the evolution of a wooden dwelling over two centuries.

St. George’s Anglican Church was the garrison church when Sydney was founded. Nearby is Cossit House. Built in 1787, Cossit House is probably the oldest house in Sydney. It was home to Cape Breton’s first Anglican Minister and first rector of St. George’s Church, the Rev. Rana Cossit. The period furnishings are based on a inventory of Cossit’s estate in 1815.

On the Esplanade, a street which parallels the waterfront, there are monuments and plaques which commemorate some of the city’s famous people and events.

Also, on the Esplanade, across from the Government Wharf, is the old stone St. Patrick’s Church Museum. This is the oldest standing Roman Catholic Church on the island (1828) and it now houses a collection of early Sydney artifacts. It is the starting point for guided walking tours of the historic north end.

The Jost House – Also Worth a Visit

The Cape Breton Centre for Science and Heritage, is a museum which features changing exhibits. There is a museum shop with books of local iinterest, souvenirs and jewellery. Jost House is a 200 year old building which illustrates the evolution of a wooden dwelling house in Sydney. There is an authentic cooking fireplace and bake-oven and special displays on local marine artifacts and an apothecary shop.


The Holy Ghost Ukrainian Church is the only one of its kind east of Montreal and is richly decorated with Byzantine-style holy pictures, icons and scrollwork. St. Mary’s Parish Church has a white gothic pulpit decorated with Poland’s national symbol – the eagle. St. Phillips is the only African Orthodox Church in Canada and was originally founded by West Indians who settled in Cape Breton. The three churches are open for regular services and all found in Whitney Pier.

The Big Fiddle – Sydney

(Part II will follow with a selection of Sydney location descriptions from residents of the city describing how life was there in their days working and playing and socializing. – CAPER)

One response to this post.

  1. Great!!!
    such a very nice blog.


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