A handful of crumbling foundations in the forest are all that remain of an ambitious attempt at community planning.
Deep in the backwoods of Cape Breton Island lay the substantial foundations of one of Canada’s first planned communities, the ambitious mining town of Broughton.
An undeveloped coal seam in the Loon Lake area attracted the attention of British mining engineer Thomas Lancaster, who partnered with businessman Col. Horace Mayhew to form the Cape Breton Coal, Iron & Railway Company as the 20th century dawned. Not content with a simple mining venture, the pair set out to carve a thriving metropolis from the forest, hiring architect William Harris to create a town fit for 10,000 to 12,000 souls.
Lancaster and Mayhew raised millions from British investors, most of which was spent laying out the streets and constructing several impressive public buildings. The jewel of Broughton’s crown was indisputably the Broughton Arms Hotel, a luxurious lakeside resort and at the time Canada’s finest hotel east of Montreal. The Arms had the very first revolving door ever installed in North America.
But difficulties with transporting the coal to port ended Lancaster’s and Mayhew’s dream for Broughton; the Cape Breton Coal, Iron & Railroad Company went bankrupt in 1907 and the pair left for England shortly thereafter.
With the First World War in full swing, the Canadian Army took over the abandoned town, establishing a training camp and headquarters for the 185th Cape Breton Highlanders. Twelve hundred soldiers were billeted in the former hotels and houses of Broughton; when hostilities ceased, the army moved out, leaving Broughton abandoned.
Today, the forest has reclaimed Broughton. The remains of the manager’s house, the general offices, and the immense concrete foundations of the Broughton Arms lay amid the woods, in mute testimony to the lofty ambitions of Lancaster and Mayhew.
Know Before You Go
From Sydney, take the Louisbourg highway to Morrison Road, then turn right onto the Broughton Road.