Banking on Coal: Perspectives on a Cape Breton Community Within an International Context


118 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 0-920336-88-4
DDC 305.9'622'0971691




Reviewed by Richard G. Kuhn

Richard G. Kuhn is an associate professor of geography at the University
of Guelph.


The trials and tribulations of coal mining in Cape Breton are known to
many Canadians. The cyclical nature of resource demands, the dangers
inherent in the work, and the struggle of coal miners and their families
to cope in changing environment are themes that characterize this
industry. In Banking on Coal, the author has attempted to capture the
spirit and challenges of coal mining as they unfolded in the town of
Inverness, Cape Breton. His stated intentions are twofold: to document
the story of Inverness and the rise and fall of the coal-mining
industry, and to place the events that occurred in Inverness in an
international context. The latter theme, unfortunately, is weak and
undeveloped. The book’s strengths lie in the exposition of the
characters and personalities of Inverness as it went through the cycle
of resource development and decline that began in the late 19th century
and continued until the closing of the mine in 1953.

This book will have limited appeal. Although it is well researched,
Campbell presents details that will interest mainly those who already
know the Inverness region well (for example, a chapter on the Imperial
Hotel describes, in detail, the exterior and interior room by room). The
flow of the narrative becomes challenging. Attempts to situate the study
within a larger context of coal mining in England, the United States,
and Australia are too cursory and do not present enough substance to
make comparisons and draw firm conclusions. Single-industry communities
in Canada have been subject to boom-and-bust cycles that characterize
many of them and their attempts to diversify; it is a harsh reality that
they must face. This book tells the story of one such community.


Campbell, Douglas F., “Banking on Coal: Perspectives on a Cape Breton Community Within an International Context,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 20, 2024,