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Feb. 19, 1948: Anniversary of 1891 Springhill Explosion

['<p>Heritage Corner with Pat Crowe</p>']
['<p>Heritage Corner with Pat Crowe</p>']

Heritage Corner with Pat Crowe

Feb. 19, 1948 – Springhill Record

The White Miner looks down today on the fifty–seventh anniversary of one of the greatest coal mine explosions in the world, when 125 men and boys lost their lives in a matter of minutes. We pause today to remember.

It was twenty minutes to one, we are told, when the blast went off and a tongue of flames shot through the levels, but it was the dreadful after-damp that sealed the fate of many.

Danny Robinson, a youngster, emerged the hero of the day, but aged men who escaped can recount numberless deeds of heroism when self was forgotten and men risked their lives for their fellow man. In no industry is this more pronounced that in coal mining where men daily risk their life and limb to bring relief to injured comrades.

Among those who escaped that day was John Campbell, now 76 years of age, who survived several explosions in different mines throughout the province. John was born in Caledonia, Cape Breton, and was but 10 years old when his parents moved here. His own father was one of those who failed to come home that eventful day. Before coming to Springhill he had worked with his father in the Vale Colliery in Pictou County. When they moved here John secured a job in No. 2 Mine as a trapper at the 1300. In those days coal was hauled away from the face by horses. For fifty-four years he worked in the mine, mostly with the horses. Recently John told us something of his experience on the day of the explosion. He was about 700 feet in the 1300 foot level when No. 1 Mine exploded at twenty minutes to one. He felt the force of the blast, felt the air change as it does under such circumstances. The flames passed up the slope past where he was and behind the flames came the dreaded after-damp. He had reached the bottom before the after-damp knocked him out. When he came to he heard men up the slope calling for matches to light their lamps. The chain runner, Corey Taylor, advised the men to wait. Later the old style torch lights began to appear here and there. There were no safety lights in those days.

“I crawled up the slope to the 800”, said John “and then got a ride to the surface.” With him were Corey Taylor, John Turner and Ed Gregory. Others in the group had failed to make it. Mr. J.R. Cowans, owner of the Mines, was standing on the Bankhead when we got there.” Said John, “and we brought him first news of the explosion. I then ran to the East Slope where my father was working, and met Danny Robinson on the way, the skin had been burned off his hands.” (Later Danny was hailed as a hero of the disaster for saving the life of some comrades.) John told of trying to ease his Mother’s mind, but too soon they learned of his father’s death.

Saw Several Explosions

Speaking about explosions, John told of being out of the Vale Colliery only about an hour before that mine exploded. He said he saw the Ford Pit Explosion at Stellerton in 1880 when the flames roared 40 feet in the air from the mouth of the shaft. Houses around the Ford Pit started to sink into the earth, and in some places streets disappeared too. The mine was flooded for nine years before it was pumped out and he told of a son unborn at the time of the explosion attending the funeral of his father when he was forty-six years of age.

Conditions Different Today

Conditions in the mines are different today, continued Mr. Campbell. The rules and regulations must be carried out. He doubted if there were any rules in those early days when the men went into the mines carrying their pipes, tobacco and matches. They had an hour for dinner and sometimes took a bottle with them. They would even light a gas feeder coming out of the coal or rock and make toast and hot tea. After dinner they would light their pipe and puff away. You can’t do those things concluded Mr. Campbell.

Moose Looks Over Springhill

Feb. 12, 1948 – Sunday evening Springhill had a visit from a big moose. Reports reach us of his appearance in several sections of the town. On Junction Road he was in Mrs. McSavaney’s yard as she returned Sunday evening about 10:30. Mrs. McSavaney hesitated to enter her yard until the big animal moved into neighbor Cottenden’s yard. She then discovered it was a moose. She failed to convince her husband with the story and he decided he should not go out again without an escort.

But the moose later appeared on the Flat near the mine and was seen by several persons. It appears he wandered toward Miller Corner and disappeared.

Moose Knows Road Regulations

Feb. 19, 1948 – While taking passengers to Westchester recently, Art Spence, driver of Spence’s Taxi, had quite a thrill. On Leaving Collingwood Corner, on a hill just around the corner, he saw a large cow moose running towards his car followed by four big lumber trucks and a passenger car. The snowbanks were high on both sides of the road and the moose kept to the right of the road until it passed the taxi.

Art wondered if it might be the one that visited Springhill last week.

Pat Crowe is a member of the Springhill Heritage Group. To learn more or read past article of the Heritage Corner, visit www.springhillheritage.ca.

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