I grew up listening to Peter, Paul and Mary’s rendition of “Springhill Mining Disaster” but I always thought it was something that happened in the past, not in my lifetime (demonstrates how carefully I listened to the lyrics!). When I found out there was yet another mining museum in Nova Scotia focused on the Springhill mine and the “bump” that was the disaster, I had to go. One of the most riveting things in the museum was short CBC documentary on the anniversary of the disaster. There were interviews with two of the 7 survivors who spent 7 days trapped in the dark without food and with very little water.
The disaster was a “bump” which is a common occurrence in mines. When material is removed from the mine, it creates stresses in the geology. Periodically there is movement that relieves those stresses. In the case of the 1958 Springhill bump, the floor and ceiling came together, crushing many of the miners instantly.
The other highlight was the tour of the mine. It was a different company and shaft as the original mine was closed after the disaster. The new mine was opened in 1963 and closed again in 1973 when coal prices dropped and the mine, which had small seams which were difficult and expensive to mine, was no longer economically viable.
The shaft that we go down is very different from the shaft the miners went down. The ceiling has been raised to between 5.5 and 6.5 feet, the floor has been covered with asphalt shingles so feet don’t slip and the lower part of the mine is filled with water which keeps the air more humid and much cooler. I can’t imagine what life would have been like. The only power tools they had was a coal saw that they used to undercut with and dynamite to blast the coal away from the undercut. And they never were able to stand up straight.