Mining industry in the Eastern Townships

Since the late 19th Century, mining was an important industry for the Eastern Townships. The height of copper production in the area was during the American Civil War. About 1500 men worked the mines in order to meet the demand of the United States.

Although there were settlements already in existence in the area, they were spread out over a large amount of farm land and sparsely populated, thus the cupper industry brought prosperity. After the war, the copper industry continued to boom and bring wealth into the region, as well as increased settlement.

The Capelton Mines, on George Capel’s farm near North Hatley, was established in 1863, due to the demand for copper coming from the United States during the Civil War. A number of other copper and sulphur mines were set up during this period within the North Hatley-Sherbrooke area, such as the Albert Mines, the Eustis Mines, the Hartford Mines and the Wheal Betsy Mines.

Roads and highways were constructed between these towns, as well as a railway, to offer quick and efficient transportation.

There were frictions between farmers and miners. Farmers complained that the fumes from the mines were making livestock sick and crops die. Indeed there was stench of the gases that filtered through the area due to the mining industry.

Injuries in the mines were frequent due to black powder explosions as well as other accidents.

Another negative aspect to the copper and sulphur mining industry in the Eastern Townships was that the workers themselves, (French Canadians, English Canadians, and immigrants from Northern and Eastern Europe), were notorious for causing fights in Sherbrooke where they would go to drink.

However, despite all this, there were a number of positive features contained within these mines as well. For example, workers were paid extremely well for the risk; double the average wage of other industry employees. Their work day was also cut down to eight hours instead of the customary ten, which allowed the men sufficient rest each day in order to remain alert in the mines.

Originally land for farmers, the mining towns of the Eastern Townships had taken it over and established their own local services to provide for their needs, as well as music lessons, schools and churches. This community building worked to the advantage of the copper and sulphur companies, as the towns were run as smoothly and as strictly as the mines themselves, with only the occasional rowdy Saturday night.

The copper and sulphur mines of the Eastern Townships continued to contribute to the development of the region up until their closure in 1907 for Capelton Mine and Albert Mine, and in 1939 for Eustis Mine. The impact of these mines on the area is still seen today however, in the landscape and structure of the towns themselves, as well as historical sites constructed to incorporate the most recent industry in the townships, tourism.

Written by Inna Pak

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