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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg
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Sydney & Louisburg Railway Historical Society
Sydney & Louisburg Railway Historical Society 
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Railway Station/Museum located in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, Canada. The station and associated freight shed, date from 1895. The exhibits include railroad artifacts dealing with S&L, models, photographs and paper records, rolling stock, model railroad, souvenirs and official history.

There is a membership of 250 persons, a newsletter, and an annual reunion the second Sunday in September.

Affiliated with the Nova Scotia Museum. A member of the Canadian Museums Association and the Federation of Nova Scotian Heritage.

Annual visitation 20,000 persons.


The first coal mine on the island was opened by the French at Cow Bay (Port Morien) in 1720, and a little more than a century later some of the first railroad track in North America was laid to facilitate the removal of coal to local shipping wharves. The mining industry developed rapidly, if a bit erratically, during the 19th century. In a thirty-six year period near the close of the century, 30 new mines were opened, including those in North Sydney and Glace Bay, with simultaneous construction of numerous small railroads connecting the collieries with the shipping ports.

The Nova Scotia government recognized the need for an outlet in Louisbourg which would link the various railroads around Sydney with Louisbourg's harbour and permit the shipment of coal at any time during the year. The first attempt in 1873 was a poorly-built narrow gauge line which failed to meet the needs of the coal companies. Few trains ever made the run to Louisbourg over the road, and in 1883 a forest fire destroyed a major portion of the roadbed.

In 1891 H. M. Whitney came to Cape Breton to establish the steel industry. The resulting Dominion Coal Company, later the Dominion Coal and Steel Company, consolidated ownership of both the numerous local coal mines and the railroads which served them. Construction was begun on a railroad to connect the collieries with Louisbourg, and upon its completion in 1895 the Sydney & Louisburg Railway was one of the most modern lines in Canada.

The volume of freight hauled by the S&L rose sharply during its early years. By the 1950's the S&L had 31 steam locomotives operating over 116 miles of track, 39 miles of which was main line. The railroad employed 400 men - hauled 4,000,000 tons of freight annually - chiefly coal, and more per mile than any other railroad in Canada. 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 coming of automobiles reduced this traffic until passenger trains were eliminated after World War II, although mixed trains continued to run daily, except weekends.

The S&L was a neighbourly and unpretentious railroad, and it operated on a personal basis that meant a lot to the people it served. The railroad ran picnic excursions and "blueberry specials" that would stop anywhere to let passengers off, and pick them up in the evening. It took little for a hunter or vacationer to flag a train and get on, and the crews always took a lively interest in the latest news along the line. Many times, often in foul weather and blizzards, the S & L sent out a locomotive and car to take a doctor somewhere, or bring someone into hospital. There may have been more pranks and practical jokes played by S & L men than on any other line in the country, but they were tough and competent railroaders - in the early days, before air brakes, they spent many runs climbing over the icy tops of coal hoppers to brake the trains - and they moved an enormous amount of coal.

During both World Wars the ports of Sydney and Louisbourg were staging areas for Atlantic convoys and the S & L was a vital link in the supply of fuel and steel manufacture. Until the advent of regular air service to Newfoundland both ports were a terminus for rail and passenger traffic between Newfoundland and the rest of Canada.

Due to the availability of coal for fuel, 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 soon after resulted from the crises affecting Cape Breton's coal industry in the 1960's. The loss of industrial markets meant less coal shipped from Cape Breton and less for the rail link to Louisbourg.

"There is a land of pure delight
Where hand-fired steam still reigns,
Where mighty Mikes roar day and night,
And Moguls haul mixed trains."

In 1960 this poem introduced an article in Railroad Magazine, urging railfans to visit the Sydney & Louisburg Railway, the last all-steam Class 1 railroad in North America, before the romance of steam gave way to the efficiency of diesel power.

Today the S & L Railway Historical Society, beginning with a handful of retired S & L employees in the early 1970's boasts over 250 members. This non profit society is dedicated to the preservation of the only remaining S & L Railway station, freight shed, rolling stock and thousands of artefacts relating to the S & L Railway and local history.

The Roundhouse, useing in winter to house the two passenger cars ( 1881 and 1914), is used in the summer for concerts, dances and craft shows and for displaying unique memorial quilts


June and September to mid October 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. July and August 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.

The S&L Railway Museum also serves as the community's Tourist Information Centre, operated by Tourism Cape Breton.

"S.S. Louisburg", one of several paintings by the late Samuel A. Clarke, the ship's engineer, is on display in the museum's Marine Room.

The Locomotive Room displays handtools, locomotive lamps and gauges along with many railway photos.

The S & L Railway 1914 1st class coach


The 18th-century French spelling of the community was Louisbourg. This changed in the 19th century to Louisburg and the Town was incorporated in 1901 with that spelling. Increased awareness of the historical significance of the community led to the Post Office reverting to the French spelling in the early 1950s and the Town Council following suit at about the same time. Unfortunately, the Town Hall fire of 1982, and the resulting destruction of the Minute Book for that period, means that the record of Council's decision is lost. The name was changed officially by an act of the Nova Scotia legislature on 6 April 1966.

Prior to 1713, Louisbourg was called the English port or English Harbour. The earliest reference to this name is the log of the Hopewell, Charles Leigh, Master, which visited Cape Breton and sailed into this harbour on 7 July 1597.

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