I was born in Glace Bay and lived there for my first year. My memories include many years of visiting at my grandmother’s house with lots of music, playing in the big kitchen, great food, picking cranberries and blueberries on the hill behind the house. Saturday afternoons as I got older often my brother and I would walk down Main Street to “the show” at The Savoy. In those days westerns and cartoons would be my favorites. I saw my first grown up movie there at the age of 6 – Carmen Jones with Harry Belefonte.
Of course I heard the stories about the Savoy which was built in the 1920s by my grandfather John Connor. In the early days there were vaudeville shows, the stage was big enough for a boxing match AND the audience, how the long draping curtains on all the walls were sewn by my grandmother, my aunt Annie playing for “the flicks” the talkies and entertainers like the child Sammy Davis Jr. coming to Glace Bay.
It is wonderful to see The Savoy Theatre now. The interior is still in its original Victorian style. Changes to the exterior and renovations to the structure with a new entrance have expanded the lobby space and added an attractive entry. The Savoy is now managed by The Savoy Theatre Society. On my visit a few weeks ago, children were rehearsing for The Little Mermaid. Live shows and plays are regular events that draw people from all over. The theatre interior looks much as it did when I was a child in the 40s and 50s with its wonderful architecture and feeling of stepping back into a more elegant time.
One thing that has remained the same is the feel of the wind coming up from the harbour to Senator’s Corner.
Looking at my photos of Glace Bay now, I marvel at the blue sky. This was a coal mine and industrial area of Cape Breton until the 60s. The Sydney coal fields go out miles under the ocean. As you look on the map or drive along the coast the names conjure up the miners in the various collieries: Donkin, Dominion, Caledonia, Reserve Mines, Port Morien, Lingan, New Waterford, Sydney Mines and more. The Colliery Route and the Marconi Trail runs from Glace Bay to Louisbourg and includes the remnants of North America’s first coal mine, circa 1720 (Port Morien).
The Cape Breton Miners Museum in Glace Bay is situated on Quarry Point with a view out into the Atlantic and along the coastline. When looking at the view we can picture the miners working in the coal seams that went for miles out under the ocean – such brave hard working men. The museum has also built a re-creation of the miners’ homes and the company store. You can find company houses in all the mining towns. My paternal grandfather was a miner and lived in a company house in New Waterford.
According to interpretive signs at the museum “During the 18th century, coal was mined from exposed seams along cliffs from Port Morien to Lingan. The cargo was then transported by boat. The main use for this coal was to fuel the building and operation of Louisbourg, a French fortress established in 1713. During that time the Atlantic Ocean was a bustling highway filled with fishing vessels. As you travel around Cape Breton it is interesting to see how the communities were linked together through coal and fishing.
Unfortunately the museum was not open on my last visit – all the more reason to go back again and continue to explore Cape Breton and its rich history. I want to go down into the mine at the Miners Museum and visit the Marconi Museum, the Glace Bay Town Hall Museum and of course take in a live show at The Savoy.
This article originally appeared as “Glace Bay: A Trip Down Memory Lane” in the Cape Breton Star, Oct. 30, 2014. Pages 4, 8.