Description of Historic Place
The Sydney and Louisburg Railway Station is located on the corner, at the intersection of Main Street, Huntington Avenue and Highway No. 22 in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia. This Gothic Revival style station, built in 1895, operated until 1968. The station, freight shed and property are included in the provincial designation.
The Sydney and Louisburg Railway Station is valued as the station and freight shed are the last remaining artefacts of the Sydney and Louisborg (S&L) Railway, the construction of which made possible the expanded and year-round shipment of coal from the mines of the newly created Dominion Coal Company.
The construction of the Sydney and Louisburg Railway Station in 1895 was the result of the creation of the Dominion Coal Company two years earlier by Henry Whitney and a group of Montréal and Boston industrialists. Backed by substantial capital, the new company modernized the mines and developed Louisbourg as a year-round port to ship coal to American and overseas markets. This entailed the extending of a rail line from Reserve Mines, closer to Sydney, through to Louisbourg. The port was also the winter terminus for the Newfoundland ferry, a bunkering station for ships and a staging area for materials and supplies during the two world wars. All of this was possible because of the S&L line. The Sydney and Louisburg Railway Station functioned as the information and dispatching centre.
The number of passengers on the S&L, mainly employees of the mines going to and from work, reached a peak of 176,000 in 1913. The arrival of automobiles reduced this traffic until passenger trains were eliminated after World War II, although mixed trains continued to run on weekdays.
The volume of freight hauled by the S&L rose sharply during its early years. By the 1950s the S&L had 31 steam locomotives operating over 187 kilometers of track, 63 kilometers of which was main line. The railroad employed 400 men and hauled over 4,000,000 tonnes of freight annually, chiefly coal, which was more per kilometer than any other railroad in Canada.
Due to the availability of coal, the first diesel engine was not placed in service on the S&L until 1961, and the last steam locomotive was not retired until 1966. The demise of the railroad resulted soon after from the crises affecting Cape Breton's coal industry in the 1960s. The loss of industrial markets meant less coal was shipped from Cape Breton and consequently less business for the rail link to Louisbourg.
The Railway Station closed in 1968 and stood derelict for several years. The station was saved through the efforts of a number of local railroad enthusiasts, former S&L employees and the Louisbourg and District Planning and Development Commission. The station was completely renovated; artefacts were acquired through donations and exhibits were set up in the building. The Sydney and Louisburg Railway Museum, operated by the Sydney and Louisburg Railway Historical Society, opened to visitors on June 26, 1972.
The Railway Station is a wooden, Gothic Revival style structure with gables, cross gables and a skirt roof, common to many stations of its time. The freight shed located adjacent to the station is also a wooden structure.
The Sydney and Louisburg Railway Station is the last remaining artefact of the S&L Railway. All other stations on the line have been removed and the track torn up.
The Sydney and Louisburg Railway Museum also serves as the community's Visitor Information Centre, operated by the Destination Cape Breton Association.
Source: Provincial Heritage Program property file, no. 95, 1747 Summer Street, Halifax, NS.
Character-defining elements of the Sydney and Louisburg Railway Station relating to its role in Cape Breton's economy and Gothic Revival style include:
- one-and-a-half storey wood construction;
- gables, cross gables and a skirt roof;
- porch with wooden rail;
- wood clapboard siding;
- wooden windows;
- wooden freight shed;
- close proximity to Louisbourg Harbour.