The development of a neighbourhood in Sydney, N.S., has been named a national historic event by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

“It was the most distinctively multi-ethnic district in the Maritimes in the 20th century, containing more than 15 different ethnic and religious groups,” read the board’s report.

Sarah Dunn, on behalf of the Whitney Pier Historical Society of Nova Scotia, nominated the community of Whitney Pier a few years ago.

She said her group worked closely with Parks Canada on a designation application four years ago.

Dunn says she was astounded to get a letter this week from the federal environment minister confirming the designation. She said the historic event designation encompasses the entire development of the community during the post-war period.

Cape Breton University professor Tom Urbaniak is working with community groups in Whitney Pier to help promote its diverse cultural identity.

"I think this is a second wind for the Pier. This can be an excellent platform for all of the good regeneration work that's already happening and that will be happening," he said.

Cape Breton's melting pot

Whitney Pier has been the melting pot of Cape Breton since the early 1900s, when immigrants from around the world moved to the area to work at the now defunct Sydney Steel plant or the many coal mines.

The opening of the steel mill by the Dominion Steel Company in 1901 attracted workers from Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, Italy, the Caribbean and Newfoundland, as well as many black Nova Scotians.

“Although a community characterized by ethnic, racial, and religious differences, a deep-seated Whitney Pier identity was born out of the community’s geographic isolation, the co-operation necessary for survival and the working class bonds that were solidified through day-to-day work in steel production,” read the board’s report.

“The many religious, social and cultural institutions still present in Whitney Pier illustrate the enduring world that working people built for themselves, in spite of economic hardship, in the shadow of the steel mill.”

The board gets more than 200 requests every year for historical designation, of which 50 to 70 will generate research papers from the Historical Services Branch or the Archaeological Services Branch of the National Historic Sites Directorate of Parks Canada, says the Historic Site and Monuments Board of Canada website.

National historic sites in Nova Scotia include Annapolis Royal, the Hydrostone area of Halifax and Old Town Lunenburg, which has also been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.