A Short Writen History
The History of Marble Mountain
An Oral History
The story of Marble Mountain is best told by the people who lived here for many years. The following is a spoken history of the village by the late Alistair MacPhail as told to Malcolm MacKinnon in 1993 when Alistair was 78 years old.
The story of “Marble Mountain” began in 1868 when Nicholas James Brown and family sailed from Prince Edward Island and arrived at North Mountain (the north shore of the West Bay of Bras d’Or Lake). At that time, virtually every farm had its own limestone quarry. The extracted limestone was burned in small kilns, thereby, producing slake lime that was used to neutralize the acidity of the soil found in the area. Several modest limestone shipping operations were also in existence from which limestone in its raw form was shipped to neighbouring Cape Breton centres and Prince Edward Island.
Apparently, quite by accident, Brown happened upon a substantial marble outcropping on the hillside near present day Marble Mountain. Recognizing its potential, he hastily began acquiring the mineral rights to properties in the area and soon established both a limestone and a marble quarrying operation. In order to promote his operations, Brown created the name, Marble Mountain, and was responsible for establishing the post office that officially proclaimed Marble Mountain’s existence on May 1st,1871.
Severely hamstrung by the lack of capital to adequately promote and expand his operation, the Cape Breton Marble Company experienced only minimal success and ceased operation with the death of Brown in 1880. In 1885, the property and holdings of Brown were acquired by a group of Halifax investors who eventually established the Bras d’Or Lime Company and the Bras d’Or Marble Company. Both companies were under the supervision of one of the investors, Dugald MacLachlan. With the injection of capital and renewed interest provided by these investors, Brown’s quarry operations were reactivated, markedly expanded and the Bras d’Or Lime Company, in particular, enjoyed considerable commercial success.
MacLachlan, in partnership with Henry Sanders, also established the MacLachlan and Sanders general store. Today, the formidable four and half storey building, though closed, continues to stand defiantly as a testament to the glory years of Marble Mountain.
In 1900, the Dominion Iron and Steel Company of Sydney, Cape Breton purchased the Bras d’Or Marble Company and some neighbouring properties and by 1902 had begun extracting limestone on a massive scale. (Limestone is used as a purifying agent in the steel making process.)
With the arrival of the Dominion Iron and Steel Company, Marble Mountain became the “Fort McMurray” of its day with men and families being drawn from “all over” by the allure of jobs and dreams of prosperity. At the peak of their production, over 700 workers were employed by the Dominion Iron and Steel Company and the Bras d’Or Lime Company. Marble Mountain experienced unprecedented growth and life was good. The village of Marble Mountain boasted many stately homes, a half dozen stores, a three-room schoolhouse, two churches, an Odd Fellows Hall, a hotel and even a branch of the Royal Bank of Canada.
But alas, the village’s good fortune and prosperity came crashing down when a combination of financial, social and environmental factors proved to be insurmountable. In 1921, the Steel Company’s decision to abandon its Marble Mountain quarry operation and to acquire the needed limestone elsewhere sounded the death knell for Marble Mountain as an industrial centre.