Noted for its culture and scenic beauty, Cape Breton of Novia Scotia, Canada, has long been a destination for tourists (just check what National Geographic has to say). Off the northeast edge of North America, Cape Breton may look isolated and desolate, but it has seen centuries of history. John Cabot reportedly visited the island in 1497, a visit which is commemorated in the naming of Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail (which is over a hundred miles long). Since then, Cape Breton has seen Portuguese fishermen (sixteenth century), French colonizing (seventeenth century), and in the last few centuries, coal mining and steel-manufacturing.
Recent history, however, is a sad story. The century-old “company houses” of Cape Breton have fallen into disrepair. In fact, they made the Heritage Canada Foundation’s 2010 list of the 10 most-endangered historic places in Canada. But help is on the way.
Adventures in Preservation is one of several important groups working together to save the houses. AiP is partnering with Cape Breton University, Nova Scotia Community College, the HomeMatch program, and community members in a project called Historic Housing for the Near Homeless. Connections formed with schools and students have proved invaluable as collaboration continues; students who worked on previous AiP projects have stepped into leadership roles in this new one. (See the Cairo, Illinois, project, “Creating Affordable Housing From Shotguns”.)
The house the AiP team will be working on is located in the Kolonia section of Whitney Pier, a multicultural community established in the early 1900s around the former Sydney steel plant. There homes were constructed from the dismantled Breton Hotel, which housed the workers who built the steel plant in 1899-1902. Preservation of the company houses is a nod to an important piece of Cape Breton’s history. This project will also provide affordable, durable, adaptive re-use homes for local families at risk of homelessness.
Take this exciting opportunity to join in the efforts! Learn more and join the project at our “upcoming adventures” page!
— Susie Trexler