As early as the 1720s the French inhabited the area to supply Fortress of Louisbourg with coal. They named the location baie de Glace (literally, Ice Bay) because of the sea ice which filled the ocean each winter. In 1748, after the capture of Fortress Louisbourg, the British constructed Fort William at Table Head in order to protect a mine that produced coal to supply the Louisbourg garrison. The fort was a blockhouse, brought from Boston, with a palisade. When Cape Breton Island was returned to French control, Fort William continued in service until 1752 when it was destroyed by fire.
More permanent settlement of Glace Bay probably can be dated from 1818 when Walter Blackett obtained a grant of land on the south side of the Bay. Coal mining existed on a small scale until the 1860s. In 1861 a total of 12 mines in Glace Bay were in operation. Following the formation of the Dominion Coal Company in 1893, the coal mining industry expanded significantly in what was to become Glace Bay with the opening of several new mines. At its high point the company was responsible for 40% of Canada's coal production. Glace Bay's extensive coal and rail operations made the town the industrial centre of Cape Breton.
Small communities grew up around the mines and by the 1940s, the population of the area exceeded 28,000. None of the 12 collieries remain. The industrial decline resulted in the core population falling to 17,000 in 2001.
Fishing was also an important industry throughout the 20th century. However, by the 1990s fish stocks were so depleted that the fishery was closed. Some fish processing still occurs here.
Glace Bay experiences a cool summer, and windy, wet and stormy winter. August is the hottest month in Glace Bay, and February is the coldest month on average.
- By car: Glace Bay is 20 km east of Sydney on Highway 4.
- By bus: Transit Cape Breton Route 1 travels from Sydney M-Sa, usually hourly (45 min, $5). Route 14 runs the same route 4 times on Sunday.
- By plane: via Halifax. J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport (YQY), a regional airport, is the closest airport but flights to Sydney were suspended indefinitely in Jan 2021.
- Cape Breton Miners Museum, on Birkley Street (off South Street)., ☏ . Late May to mid-Oct: daily 10AM-6PM. Underground mine tour, mining history museum with modern exhibits (admission to museum only: adult $6.95, child $5.22). Miners Village Restaurant. Stroll through a historic village. "Men of the Deeps" miners' choir offers performances ($13/person) several times per season. Adults $16; children $13.
- 1 Marconi National Historic Site, 15 Timmerman Street (at Table Head), ☏ . Jul Aug: daily 10AM-6PM. Parks Canada maintains an interpretive centre at the site honouring the role of Guglielmo Marconi in the development of radio communications. In December 1902, Marconi transmitted the first complete messages to Poldhu from stations at Glace Bay. Marconi chose this site for its elevated flat expanse and unobstructed view out over the ocean. Some of the concrete footings for the massive towers can still be seen on the grounds. Marconi built a much larger wireless site west of here then known as Marconi Towers. In 1907 he initiated the first permanent trans-Atlantic wireless service from Marconi Towers to its companion site in Clifden, Ireland. Free.
- 2 Glace Bay Heritage Museum (Old Town Hall), 14 McKeen St, ☏ . Jan-Mar: by appointment; Apr-Jun and Sep-Dec: Tu Th Sa 2-4PM; Jul Aug: Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM. The town's memorial to its deceased coal miners is located on the museum grounds. Some items contained in the museum are: Central School "1988" Time Capsule, Joey Mullins' (Olympic Runner 1960 Olympics) original running shoes, extensive mining photographs and artifacts, collection of yearbooks and yearly almanacs, fishing artifacts. First floor is wheelchair accessible. By donation.
- Sterling Mall, 3 Sterling Rd. Dollarama, Home Hardware and other stores.
- Colette's Restaurant, 201 Brookside St, ☏ . Tu F 6AM-9PM, M W Th 10AM-7PM, F Sa 9AM-6PM. Home cooking, clam chowder, fish and chips, Italian dishes. Featured on the Food Network's You Gotta Eat Here in 2012.
- Talo Cafebar, 195 Commercial St, ☏ . Su-Tu 11AM-8PM, W Th 11AM-9PM, F Sa 11AM-10PM. licensed bar, restaurant and coffee shop. Casual, relaxed dining in a stylish atmosphere. A wide range of sandwiches, paninis, fresh soups and salads, appetizers and entrées. a wide range of specialty teas and coffees. Free Wi-Fi and comfy seats are available.
- Huang Family Restaurant, 19½ Commercial St, ☏ . Tu-Th noon-8PM, F noon-9PM, Sa 3-9PM, Su M 3-8PM. Chinese restaurant.
There are no hotels in Glace Bay. There are accommodations 21 km to the west in Sydney (Nova Scotia).
- Port Morien Rectory B&B, 2652 Morien Highway, Port Morien (15 km east of Valve Bay on Route 255 (the Marconi Trail)), ☏ , toll-free: . A restored Anglican Church Rectory, built in 1885. The rectory displays some characteristics of the Italianate style of architecture popular in the second half of the 19th century. It is a large squarish high-pitched roof, two-storey building, with a shallow projecting centre bay and gable roof encompassing the two floors. Two rooms. $95-110.
|Routes through Glace Bay|
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