From the heart

Springhill remembers 1958 mine disaster

Published on October 24, 2008

Leah Killen, daughter of singing miner Maurice Ruddick, performs a song written by her father after being rescued during yesterday's plaque unveiling ceremony in Springhill in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1958 Springhill Bump. Ruddick was one of the final men rescued from the mines, nine days after the Bump. Raissa Tetanish - Amherst Daily News
SPRINGHILL - Fifty years ago and 13,000 feet underground, Harold Brine wondered if he would ever see his young family again.

Brine was one of 12 miners trapped in a small pocket inside the No. 2 coalmine in Springhill, after the devastating Oct. 23, 1958, upheaval known as the 'bump' trapped or killed 167 working men.

As the days rolled on, food ran out and their lamps died and Brine's thoughts turned to his family above.

Would he be remembered?

Leah Killen, daughter of singing miner Maurice Ruddick, performs a song written by her father after being rescued during yesterday's plaque unveiling ceremony in Springhill in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1958 Springhill Bump. Ruddick was one of the final men rescued from the mines, nine days after the Bump. Raissa Tetanish - Amherst Daily News
SPRINGHILL - Fifty years ago and 13,000 feet underground, Harold Brine wondered if he would ever see his young family again.

Brine was one of 12 miners trapped in a small pocket inside the No. 2 coalmine in Springhill, after the devastating Oct. 23, 1958, upheaval known as the 'bump' trapped or killed 167 working men.

As the days rolled on, food ran out and their lamps died and Brine's thoughts turned to his family above.

Would he be remembered?

"I don't remember anything about the bump. I was two and-a-half [years old] then," Bonnie Cole, Brine's daughter, said Thursday, as town residents unveiled a plaque commemorating the event next to the marker designating the area surrounding the former pit head a national historic site.

"Dad always said he thought down there if his daughter would remember him.

"I wouldn't have."

Today, as the world cast its eyes to Springhill to remember the miracle tale of Brine and 11 other miners rescued after a harrowing six days underground, or the story of six more found alive after eight days, they pay tribute to the 75 men who lost their lives in a mine disaster that marked the end of large-scale coal mining in Springhill.

It was also an act of remembering the brave men who went back underground following the event to rescue the living, and the volunteers who tended to the injured, the bereaved and needy.

"What those guys did was wonderful," Brine said in front of where the No. 2 colliery once stood. "We were trapped in a little hole and they didn't give up."

Families, survivors, miners and friends stood against a biting cold wind Thursday, to witness the tragic anniversary and remember the tales of loss and courage.

Bill Kempt, whose father Gorley was trapped shoulder-to-shoulder with Brine in the No. 2, experienced feelings of loss many Springhill families bore at that time. It was a miracle when his father was found alive - the first in fact to be pulled out of the dark pit, but the joy was overshadowed with mixed emotions he feels many deal with today.

"I realized I was standing with a lot of people who were finding out their [fathers] were dead," Kempt said. "Dad was very grateful to survive and be saved but there was guilt to his own good fortune."

A total of 75 men were killed in the disaster.

Springhill exhibited an act of heroism that day, Kempt said, but many of the men and volunteers who sprung into action have played down their roles and Kempt hopes that on this anniversary they will allow themselves to be held in high regard, not only for saving his father, but for the courage to make sure no one was left behind.

"It's the miners code: You would do it for me," Kempt said. "None of them treated themselves like heroes but they are heroes."

"I think Springhill should be recognized as the most courageous of communities," Independent MP Bill Casey said.

Springhill, which has experienced both fires and mine disasters, has been through a lot, but its people and volunteers have helped the town pull through, Casey said.

The 1958 disaster, the MP said, was an event witnessed by the world and its determination impressed upon everyone.

"I was only 13 but I can remember right where I was when the news came over the radio," Casey told those gathered on the hilltop next to the old lamp cabin.

The commemorative event was filled with song, just like the miners called upon to keep their spirits up when things seemed bleak.

Leah Ruddick sang the 'Springhill Mine Disaster Song,' penned by her father, Maurice, who was among the last to be found alive, and a Remembering '58 choir was lead by Lynn Sarty. Cape Breton native Brian Vardigis capped the commemoration with the original work, "These are Green Hills Now."

Larissa Crowe, granddaughter of the late Caleb Rushton, a trapped miner who was saved with Kempt and Brine, and Rushton's widow, Patricia, unveiled the commemorative plaque.

A special candlelight vigil was to be held at the Dr. Carson and Marion Murray Community Centre later in the evening.