Nova Scotia

Historic Nova Scotia cable station falls to wrecking ball

Despite community efforts to save the Hazel Hill cable station in Guysborough County, it was torn down this week. In its heyday, it relayed news of the sinking of the Titanic and the stock market crash of 1929.

Hazel Hill Commercial Cable station in Guysborough County built in 1884, abandoned in 1962

Guysborough County says the historic cable station building was unsafe and had to be demolished. (Municipality of of the County of Guysborough)

Despite 10 years of community efforts to save the building, a historic transatlantic cable station near Canso, N.S., was torn down Tuesday. 

The Hazel Hill Commercial Cable station was built in 1884 at a time when subsea cable was the exciting new way to communicate quickly. It served as a relay station for telegraph messages between Europe and North America. 

Some key messages passed through Hazel Hill, including news of the sinking of the Titanic and the stock market crash of 1929.

The station closed in 1962 and in 2006 a community group bought the property with the goal of restoring the building. 

A community group purchased the Hazel Hill cable building in 2006 but was unable to save it. (Roger Cyr)

Guysborough County Warden Vernon Pitts said the group successfully raised money but could not find an anchor tenant to help with ongoing operational costs. A few months ago it returned ownership to the municipality. 

Pitts said the county had no choice but to demolish the building. "We had an engineer look at the building and he wouldn't go inside," he said. "It just wasn't safe"  

He said the floors had collapsed and the roof was beyond repair.

Cable stations were also located in Canso itself and in Tor Bay, about 50 kilometres away, according to Bill Burns, an expert in the history of Atlantic cable and submarine telegraphy.

"The cable stations themselves are always at the end of nowhere," he said, "because you want the shortest ocean distance, so you pick the land points which are the closest together across the ocean."

By the late 1800s the Hazel Hill cable station included several homes for staff. (Submitted by Bill Burns)

Burns said the Hazel Hill station was extensive. "There's at least eight or nine buildings there because, of course, there would be no accommodations so they built accommodations for the staff." 

The station employed locals but also saw an influx of skilled, well-paid workers, said Burns.

"I would say, generally, the cable stations were quite important to the local community," he said.

He said while the technical staff were trained in England and brought over, local people would provide all the support services.

"Your cooks, your cleaners, your maintenance people, they would generally be local."

Local people would eventually be trained for the more technical positions.

Pitts said the Hazel Hill site still has an important story to tell. 

"There is a beautiful granite foundation that was saved," he said. "Hopefully, some day we can put up interpretive panels to tell that story."