Canadian Geographic
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Fueling Canada


Early growth of the coal industry in Nova Scotia was built on exports to the east coast of the United States. Despite the hopes and promises of Confederation, the absence of any colonial or national industrial strategy contributed to subsequent underdevelopment. In the latter part of the 19th century the developing industrial heartland of central Canada became dependent upon cheap supplies of American coal easily accessible from the Appalachian region of the United States. Canada’s eastern and western coalfields were relegated to supplying mostly regional needs.

Among the maritime coalfields Sydney’s reserves were the largest and most intensively mined. Although initially focused on the harbour, by the end of the century Glace Bay and a number of other satellite communities dominated production. From 1827 to 1857, under the British firm The General Mining Association, coal capacity was expanded and markets opened in New England. During the 10-year period following the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854, output increased fivefold. However, Confederation forced reorientation towards central Canada and local demand proved more important in the long run.

In western Canada coal deposits in Alberta and in the interior of British Columbia were consumed largely within the region, fuelling an expanding railway network and urban growth. During the second half of the century the coalfields of Vancouver Island found a substantial export market on the American west coast.

Within Canadian cities coal distribution systems centred on coal-yards located on the waterfront or along rail lines. From here horse-drawn wagons delivered orders placed with merchants.

To explore mining in Canada, click here.


This series contains three graphs and an interactive map containing information on coal production. The map illustrates the value of coal production in Eastern Canada in 1871 and 1891. The first graph shows total coal produced for export and domestic consumption by province between 1870 and 1900, as well as amount imported. The second is a bar graph depicting the value of coal and coke markets by Canada, the US and others in 1891, 1912 and 1928. The third is a line graph indicating total value of various minerals produced between 1926 and 1940. Users can navigate the graphs using the controls above or buttons below the image space, and can explore portions of each by clicking to zoom in and out, and dragging to pan around.


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Oil and Gas

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Quiz :

Where was Ontario's dominant source of hydro-electric power located in the early 20th century?

Thunder Bay
Sault Ste Marie
Niagara Falls