Housing, people and place, a case study of Whitney Pier

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Beaton, Elizabeth
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In any community, housing communicates a sense of place and belonging. Through an examination of a variety of sources, including local government documents, newspapers, building practices, and interviews, this thesis hopes to show the meaning of housing in a specific community, Whitney Pier. Whitney Pier is an urban community located on the east coast of Canada, on the north east side of Sydney, Cape Breton. Whitney Pier's industrial working class orientation is confirmed by its historic proximity to the Sydney Steel plant and coke ovens, and to Cape Breton's main coal piers. In the early part of the twentieth century, the coal and steel industries brought thousands of immigrants and Nova Scotian migrants to Whitney Pier, resulting in the community's reputation as the most diverse ethnic community in the Atlantic region. Reflecting a span of cultural variety and a history of self-reliance, the housing of Whitney Pier illustrates ethnicity and class status, as well as the roles of the state, community activism, and to a limited extent, religion. The early farming and sea-trading era, the industrial boom and immigration, the intervention of the state in response to a failing economy, and internally inspired social action are all explicated in Whitney Pier's housing landscape. Housing is involved in actively communicating the lived experience of individuals and groups in Whitney Pier, through the actions of community members and through the actions of community members and through their oral tradition. The recollections of shacks provided by the company and local entrepreneurs, the conscious and positive decisions to build a home and to stay in Whitney Pier, the sense of loss created by urban renewal, the frustrations and degradation of public housing, and the problems and proud achievements of co-operative; and other social housing groups are included in this study. Dependence upon industry--transferred to dependence on the state--matched against individual and group self-reliance has been the basis of on-going tension in the housing experience of Whitney Pier. The relationship between the people of Whitney Pier and their housing is creative and positive rather than merely responsive and passive. This "active engagement" between people and housing in a particular place has been, and will continue to be, essential to the sustainability of Whitney Pier as community.