Illustrative Examples of Units of Practice

Unionization of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia Coal Miners


This is an integrated unit for grades 6-9 focusing on the development of the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) in Cape Breton, the predecessor to the Provincial Workman's Association (PWA). It will cover the subject areas of history, geography, labour law and economics as students investigate the impact of the miners’ struggle to improve salary, working conditions, benefits and an improved quality of life for their families.

Subject:                            Social Studies

Learning Levels:             Grades 7-9

Author(s):                         Hector Campbell


Why did Cape Breton, Nova Scotia coal miners unionize in the early 1900's?

Miners lived in a Company owned town where the company owned the mines, the housing and the Company Store. They were paid meager wages, received few benefits and paid almost 90% of their wages back to the company for lodging and food. Students will examine these issues.


Students will develop an understanding of the role of unions and management in Labour History in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia coal mines.


This activity has a suggested time frame of 6-8 lessons over a three-week period. It involves students in the exploration, acquisition, interpretation and application of information for learning both in and out of school.

Students will be assigned to one group of 5-6 students corresponding to the 5 topics listed in “Tasks” below. The group will research the topic and identify focused questions that will be part of their presentation to the whole class. They will do a Library research and/or an Internet Web search using available internet ready computers.


This concept will be explored through a series of lessons that focus on a variety of topics:

1. 5 W's of UMW-(Who, What, When, Where and Why)

2. Wages and benefits

3. Economic hardships

4. Working conditions

5. Strikes and political action



Teacher will provide an opening activity in the form of a mini lecture on the history of coal mining and labour conditions in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Discussion groups to set the stage for the unit should be organized. Students in each discussion group will experience:

Each small group will select one of the following approaches to make their presentation:




They will create a final presentation to the class that can take the form of a written essay, a multimedia presentation, a role play/simulation as well as their own log/journal and interview activities.