Skip navigation links (access key: Z)Library and Archives Canada - Bibliothèque et Archives Canada Canada
Home > Browse Selected Topics > SOS! Canadian Disasters Français

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.

Banner: SOS! Canadian Disasters
IntroductionDisaster Media ReportsSearchHelpWaterEarthAirFireIce
Headline reading 50 BODIES FOUND; 24 MISSING


Two Working Areas

Haggard Workers Hit Last Of Mine With Little Hope

Canadian Press Staff Writer

SPRINGHILL N.S. (CP)-Haggard miners dug into the last unexplored depths of shattered No. 2 colliery today with little hope of finding anything but the bodies of their buried comrades.

The count of known dead stood at 50. Twenty-four others were presumed dead. Mine press spokesman Lawrence Doucette said rescue workers have “sighted quite a number” of bodies but gave no figures.

Rescue workers concentrated on two working areas at the 13,000-foot and 13,400 foot levels. They are satisfied they have found all the dead in other parts of the mine.

One hundred of the men caught in the deeps by the wild underground upheaval Oct. 23 reached the surface safely, 19 of them in two miracle rescues after they had been trapped for days in tiny pockets of safety 2½ miles down the sloping shaft of the continent’s deepest coal mine.

Pray For More

The 7,000 residents of Springhill prayed Sunday for a third miracle while all Nova Scotia joined them in province-wide mourning proclaimed by Premier Stanfield.

Twelve men were found alive Wednesday and brought to the surface the next day in a dramatic climax to 6a days in hard digging in the black, hazardous passageways.

The town was electrified for the second time early Saturday with the discovery of seven more men alive. They were brought out after being entombed 8a days, five without food or water.

There was nothing Sunday to indicate more men were alive.

Harold Gordon, chief of coal operations for the Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation which operates the mine through the subsidiary Cumberland Railway and Coal Company, said Saturday there’s “no life.”

Then he left, exhausted, for a rest at his home in Sydney after crawling for days with the rescue workers through the narrow workings.

Mine manager George Calder Sunday night echoed the gloomy pronouncement. He said all “bodies” will be brought to the surface before the week is out.

The grief-stricken town went to church Sunday to pray for strength to face the future.

“Surely we have come to believe we have faith,” said Rev. Desmond McConnell of Wesley United Church.

“Life is a struggle…we must fight on,” Rev. Thomas Buchanan told his parishioners at the Roman Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist.

Tales of courage abounded above the below ground. Mr. Calder said the bravery of the trapped men was a big factor in their rescue. Some felt death was inevitable even as they prayed, sang and joked to keep themselves alive.

Couldn’t Have Lasted

“I thought we were going to die,” said Douglas Jewkes, one of the seven to come out Saturday morning on stretchers, their eyes shielded again the sudden pithead glare after days of darkness. “I couldn’t have lasted another 12 hours.”

Not far from where Jewkes was found, Bryon Martin lay alone in a hole little bigger than a coffin.

“Thank God I’m alive,” he whispered through swollen lips.

He and the rest ate bark from pitprops and sucked coal for nourishment after running out of food and water four days before help came. Martin was in the worst condition of the seven found Saturday but was gaining strength in hospital.

The other men saved were in good shape except for Wilfred Hunter who was flown by navy helicopter to Halifax for treatment of an injury to his paralyzed left leg.

100 Feet To Go

The seven were found on the same 13,000-foot level where 12 miners were found alive Wednesday. Rescuers continued their round-the-clock search through the rock-chocked tunnels. They had less than 100 feet of the mine to explore.

For the survivors’ families the rejoicing was reflected in emotional outbursts.

Mrs. Currie Smith said: “I just leaned over my refrigerator and cried until I couldn’t stop.”

Herbert Pepperdine’s bed-ridden mother sobbed: “This is the best medicine I’ve ever had.”

Mrs. Gorley Kempt, whose husband was the first of the miracle miners to reach the surface, said: “You don’t always get a second chance.”

And Margaret Michniak, another wife, was emphatic: “I don’t want him to go back.”

All But Forgotten

For the entombed miners the days and nights of terror in the death-filled pits were all but forgotten. Maurice Ruddick, the singing miner, joked when he first saw his rescuers.

“Give me a drink and I’ll sing you a song.”

Ruddick, whose unflagging spirit helped sustain his comrades through their ordeal, started to write a song about it Sunday.

Pepperdine said Sunday he thought several times that rescuers had given up their search.

“We were getting pretty disgusted when suddenly they came through and we just hollered and cheered.”

He said he and Frank Hunter tried several times to break through the rock with an axe and saw. But each time the debris stopped them.

“We could hear men digging around us” Pepperdine said.

“But sometimes it was as long as eight hours when we couldn’t hear them…I thought at times that they’d given us up.”

Third Accident

Hunter, whose twin brother was saved from the pit Thursday, survived his third mine accident. He was trapped four days in a 1956 explosion in the town’s No. 4 colliery. In 1952 his back was broken in a fall of coal.

Tragedy is no stranger to this stout one-industry town in the Cobequid Hills of northwestern Nova Scotia. In 1891 a mine disaster took 125 lives. Dosco figures show that disasters since then have swelled the total to 243.

The company defines a disaster as an accident in which more than five men were killed. Unofficial checks indicate at least 100 more have died over the same period in mishaps not counted as disasters.

Two years ago last Saturday an explosion in adjoining No. 4 pit killed 39. On Dec. 26 last year the town’s business district was ravaged by a $1,500,000 fire.

Through it all Mayor Ralph Gilroy has remained firm.

“There’ll always be a Springhill,’ he says.

Stiff obstacles face the town. Sir Roy Dobson, chairman of A.V. Roe Canada Limited, which controls the mine through Dosco, wants to close No. 2.

Hopes For Aid

The mayor said “if a decision is finally made to close the mine I would fervently hope that our governments in both Ottawa and Halifax would produce an imaginative program which would give us an alternate industry.”

The miners don’t want to return to the pits.

Jewkes says he’d rather “sweep the streets for 25 cents a day” than return to coal mining. Their wives are even more unanimous in saying the mines should be closed.

Meanwhile, offers of aid poured in and a disaster relief fund reached the $500,000 mark. Governor Marvin Griffin of Georgia offered free vacations in the state to survivors and their families. The city of Calgary offered to adopt a mining family and aid in its rehabilitation.

Ruddick, perky as ever in his hospital bed, thought Governor Giffin’s offer was fine but cracked:

“I wonder if this fellow realizes I have 12 kids.”