The Dominion Coal Company (1893) made Glace Bay a boomtown, and the municipality emerged from the smaller 19th-century colliery settlements. Immigrant workers came from Britain and Europe, but most of the population was drawn from rural Cape Breton, the Maritimes and Newfoundland.
The Dominion Coal Company (1893) made Glace Bay a boomtown, and the municipality emerged from the smaller 19th-century colliery settlements. Immigrant workers came from Britain and Europe, but most of the population was drawn from rural Cape Breton, the Maritimes and Newfoundland. Many small communities in the area were combined with Glace Bay and incorporated as a town in 1901.
To exploit the rich bituminous coal seams underlying the district and dipping under the ocean floor, Dominion Coal operated 11 collieries within the town, including some of the largest and most productive coal mines in North America. Although the coal company dominated the local economy, by the 1920s Glace Bay was a union stronghold: the coal miners had a powerful influence on community life, and "company town" gave way to "labour town."
The declining economic importance of coal led to Dominion Coal's withdrawal in 1967; the publicly owned Cape Breton Development Corporation (DEVCO) closed the town's one remaining colliery in the 1980s; and Devco itself was dismantled and all its assets sold off, at the turn of the 21st century. Some residents find employment in the one remaining large working colliery in the Sydney coalfield.
Fishing has also been a prominent industry in the town and surrounding area since the early 1900s. Depletion of fish stocks in the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, has led to a downturn in the industry.
Despite high unemployment and out-migration, and costly disappointments such as the heavy water plant constructed in the 1970s, Glace Bay stands fast, proud of past achievements and hopeful of a change in its fortunes. The Miners' Museum is a tribute to the people of Glace Bay and the surrounding coal towns. The Marconi National Historic Site commemorates Guglielmo Marconi's radio transmitting station of 1902.