2014. Mary Best, at age 82, uses a hammer to chop cabbage for sauerkraut made with ingredients from the backyard garden that she still maintains. Mary Best lives on Tupper Street in Whitney Pier, in a home built by her and her late husband Byron Best — a steel worker turned turned military man from Barbados. She fiercely recounts the story of digging the foundation of her home by hand and shovel, while pregnant with her first of nine children.
Mary's parents were first-generation Ukrainian immigrants who came to Cape Breton for a chance at a better life. She says her father started work on the steel plant in 1947, was seriously injured by a falling brick during construction sometime in 1948, and later died in 1950.
She grew up in a house that her parents built on neighbouring Frederick Street — the scene of a mass government relocation/home buyout program in the late 1990s for Frederick Street residents. The move came under mounting pressure over health concerns associated with contamination on the bordering Sydney steel plant's coke ovens site. Eventually, every house on the street was torn down, including Mary's childhood home. Around that time, Mary says she and others on Tupper Street were also offered a buyout. Feeling threatened that she would be forced to move, Mary said: “I told them, I want a million dollars! For the million nails that me and my husband put into this house. It's worth a million to me!”
She's still in the house today. © Steve Wadden