The Mining Industry in Nova Scotia and Its Perils
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 14 May 1936, p. 1-15
Dwyer, The Honourable Michael, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The recent tragedy at Moose River. Some history of coal mining and the accidents and catastrophes that are involved in the industry. The heroism of the men and women in the coal mining industry. A detailed description of the mining accident at Moose River, and the rescue. Paying tribute to the miners' courage. Some words on the relationship between Ontario and Nova Scotia. Trade relations between Nova Scotia and Upper Canada. Nova Scotia's contribution to Confederation, and agreements made at that time regarding trade with Central Canada. Looking at Canada as a nation rather than a group of provinces. Consequences if the Nova Scotia coal mines close. How Nova Scotian coal is keeping the coal price down. Coal and steel to be considered a national issue or a national product, and why. Nova Scotia desiring nothing that they are not prepared to give to the rest of Canada. Goods from Ontario protected. The need for a reciprocal relation with Nova Scotia.
Date of Original
14 May 1936
Language of Item
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Full Text
Thursday, 14th May, 1936

THE PRESIDENT: Once of the most dramatic events in history, without doubt the most dramatic event in mining history, was being enacted just one month ago today in Nova Scotia. The tense, yes, almost hysterical interest which call the public, within reach of the news of that drama, showed, has left its profound effect on the memory of this generation. It did more than this, r think. It has, for instance, added the word "draegerman" to our common vocabulary. It has shown an example of that spirit of courage in desperate circumstances, which has been equally only on the battle-field, if even there.

What is more important, greater than all that, it has, I think, consolidated the feeling of affection between this Province and the Province of Nova Scotia and has shown us the true spirit of brotherhood and unity which is always existing and which is ready to give help in time of need. (Applause.) It has brought us closer to Nova Scotia. It has made a contribution toward that spirit of unity which we seek in Canada itself and in the British Empire.

The Honourable Michael Dwyer was one of the chief actors in this drama. He took a heroic part in that rescue of Dr. Robertson and Mr. Scadding from the depths of the Moose River Mine.

Mr. Dwyer is Minister of Mines of Nova Scotia. He is also Minister of Public Works and Minister of Labour, He is well qualified to speak on all phases of the mining industry in Nova Scotia and elsewhere and what he has to say to us should be of interest to all of us in Ontario.

Mr. Dwyer's rugged physique and his very youthful appearance belie his 59 years of age. I think you will all agree with me, but I would perhaps account for this by the fact that Mr. Dwyer was born in the Emerald Isle, in Tipperary, where there is eternal youth.

(Applause.) HONOURABLE MICHAEL DWYER: (Mr. Dwyer was greeted with prolonged applause as he arose to speak.) After glistening to the very eulogistic remarks of your Chairman a moment ago, I am reminded very much of the story of a coloured lady who had been lately bereaved of her husband. The husband hadn't been of very much use to the community, to the lady or to his family during his life. However, the clergyman called in to deal with the case thought something should be said of, a consoling nature, and he eventually waxed very eloquent aver the virtues and beautiful character of the lately deceased "a splendid citizen, a wonderful father, a great help to the community, well thought of by every one." After listening to, the oration for a few minutes, the old widow sitting in, the corner staid to her daughter, "Mandy, would you mind going up .and having another look in the coffin and see if that is really your pa?"

I am not quite sure just exactly what I should talk about this afternoon. Something was said by your President of the Moose River rescue and the mining industry, generally. Perhaps the proper thing to do would be to divide the subject into several parts-like our friend the old Scotch minister who was having some difficulty in translating his native Gaelic into the English when he took as his text one day: "And the devil! goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." "Now," he said, "Brothers and sisters, I sharp divide my subject into three parts. First, "Who the devil he was;" second, "Where the devil was he going;" and, third, "What the devil was he roaring about?"

Much has been said over the radio and in the newspapers in connection with the tragic event which occurred at Moose River recently. There were, perhaps, a considerable number of conditions and circumstances in connection with that accident that apparently have never been duplicated in the history of mining. Messages were received from practically all over the world in connection with that catastrophe. It was referred to in many ways and from many quarters, yet in, no single message was it claimed that a similar accident had occurred within the knowledge of the sender. There has been in the mining industry in Nova Scotia and, unfortunately, in every other country where coal has been produced, many very serious catastrophes--catastrophes of all kinds and magnitudes since coal was first discovered. It is rather difficult to determine just exactly what particular phase of the situation, was the cause of such wide spread intense interest. Perhaps it was because of the sustained effort necessary to effect the rescue; perhaps it was the fact that forty men were gambling or risking their lives in the hope of saving three. Who knows?

The first record of coal being produced in the old Country was in the year 1214, during the reign of Richard, the Lion-Hearted. It may be that our Roman, friends who occupied Britain previous to, this date, knew something .about coal, but if so, no record has been left of the use of coal up to 1214. In that year the monks of the Abbey of Preston found a black stone 'in the cliff by the sea shore which they discovered could be used for welding iron, just the same as the old charcoal that had been the popular fuel up to that date.

All down through the centuries from that date, accidents and catastrophes have 'followed the coal mining industry. The black thread of disaster runs gall the way through the story. Yet, side by side with the black thread, through the warp and woof of the history of coal mining, runs another bright thread indicating the heroism of the men and women engaged in that industry. Men and women have showed heroism of the highest order in connection with coal mining, not only of Nova Scotia, but of Britain and in fact all over the world. Women have wept and prayed on many occasions, in years gone by, that those who had gone out that morning in health and strength would be returned to them at night. Other women have sat dry-eyed under the shadow of a bankhead, waiting for the rescuers who had gone down in the depths, praying that they might return themselves anal bring back to safety the friends that were entombed below.

That has been the history of heroism all the way through the ages and perhaps it is not unnatural and not unusual and not unexpected that the same traditions were applied to the Moose River tragedy. In this particular case, three strangers came to Nova Scotia, and met with an accident in the mine. The condition surrounding the accident was different in every way from anything else that had ever occurred in Nova Scotia, and we have had many serious ones. One accident cost 125 lives, another 88, another 66, another 77 and 44. We have had fire, floods and explosions in our mines, but in all cases an opening was left whereby the rescuers could enter the mine. That opening might be filled with flaming gas and in that case it was a matter of simply closing the mine, sealing it-over and waiting until the fire was subdued for lack of oxygen. If it were any ordinary explosion it might have destroyed a great part of the workings; it might have wrecked and pulled down some of the pillars and the mine might be filled with gas. It would be a matter of having especially trained men, with special equipment, known as draegermen, take up the work of rescue. The equipment consists of an air helmet, gas tight, connected to a series of oxygen tanks, carried on the men's backs, and which permits them to enter a place safely which otherwise would result in instant death because of black damp. In other words, they can enter any chamber filled with gas or smoke. All, coal mines are provided with two openings, and there has never been an accident where both openings were so closed that the men could not enter from the surface when the proper time came around.

In the Moose River accident every possible opening to that mine was closed. A portion of the surface directly in front of the hoisting engine house, extending over an area of 150 feet by 75 feet, subsided over 15 feet instantly. The bottom seam under the one being worked collapsed and everything from that seam to the surface sank or subsided. The seam is lying at an angle of over 60 degrees and naturally when subsidence took place a great deal of debris, of broken rock, rushed down the slope like an avalanche.

The three men who were on the way up had just reached the hoist on the 150 foot level when the crash came and they just managed to escape because they happened to be behind a small pillar that existed at that particular point. The debris and broken rock reached practically to that point and built up on the 150 foot level right to the surface, completely blocking every opening.

The problem facing the rescuers was to find some means of entering the mine quickly. The 150 foot level was 150 feet down the slope but 105 feet vertically, and there was apparently no means of getting there except by digging through the wrecked slope, sinking a shaft through solid measures a hundred feet deep, cleaning up some of the broken debris in the depression, or possibly by entering the mine through one of two old operations, one known as the Meagher shaft and one as the Reynolds shaft.

As the matter was urgent, and as men and equipment were available in numbers and quantity, it was decided to start rescue crews at all points. One crew of men was placed in the Reynolds shaft, one crew in the Meagher shaft and one crew set to work setting up a diamond drill with the idea of reaching the men quickly and supplying them with food and a connection with the outside world, should the rescue operations be delayed. It was quite apparent to all from the very beginning that the men could hardly be taken out under two weeks. A steam shovel was brought into the district with the idea of digging a hole in front of the depressed area, through the broken ground, in the hope of finding an opening in the original slope further down. All methods were carried on simultaneously and continued until the men were finally rescued.

The method that showed the least chance of success was the Reynold shaft. It was known by all that the Reynold shaft was definitely in broken ground alongside of the depressed area and no engineer in his right mind would undertake to try to go through that rock, broken one hundred feet to the surface, if any other means of entering was available. However, a crew was placed there and did what they could for the first few days, but with most discouraging results. In the beginning it was hoped an entrance might be made quickly through the Meagher shaft as it appeared to be on fairly solid ground. It was filled with the debris of years as that particular part of the mine had been closed down some thirty years ago. This shaft was about fifteen feet deep and from the bottom it connected with the main slope, running off at 60 degrees from that point. The shaft was cleaned out and promptly collapsed. It was cleaned out again and timbered heavily to the bottom and an attempt made to proceed down through the slope. The men worked five days in that particular slope and made no progress whatever. They went less than five or six feet. Every set of timber put up immediately any jacking was done or wedges driven to tighten the timber, simply pushed the floor away and it was realized then that that particular shaft was also over the broken ground and therefore that entrance was practically impossible.

The question has been raised as to why the diamond drill was not sent there immediately. The diamond drill left New Glasgow the moment the men working in the Meagher shaft found that they were not on solid ground and it reached there the following Wednesday night, after traveling 70 miles of country roads covered with spring mud, axle deep, and was drilling Thursday morning.

In the meantime, a second subsidence or settlement had taken place during the week. The subsidence, originally fifteen feet, dropped a further seven feet and, when the second subsidence took place, a miracle, I think, that saved the men's lives, occurred. The broken rock fell over toward the subsidence and a fissure was opened up, just a fissure in the rock a little wider than ordinarily and the men who had attempted to go through the Reynold workings abandoned that task and attempted to go through this crack or fissure in the rock which was above the workings, and work their way in the general direction of the Magill slope by working down the grade a lithe and over toward the right hand side. The tunnel eventually made through this crack at its widest place, was about four feet and three to three and a half feet deep. When huge boulders were met the men climbed over and down on the other side, they went around the side, over and under, wherever the crack seemed easiest. No powder could be used on account of the nature of the work, fortunately the rock was rather of a soft and splintery nature and with small picks and shovels the men eventually won their way until they reached the Magill shaft, about half way down. They found they were up in the roof above the workings and they sands down five or six feet until they found the pavement, in the old Magill shaft and followed the rails to the bottom, sometimes under the rails in the pavement. The rock was too difficult to go through, and could not be held up, no heavy timber could be placed in the mine at that particular place, and so a small tunnel was driven under the rails down to the point where the entombed mere were waiting.

Eventually, they reached the men about midnight on Wednesday night and one can easily imagine the joy that was expressed by add when the two men were brought out alive and in fairly good condition.

The last twelve hours were of course rather exciting for the men below. The mine was still creeping. The roof was settling, cracking, timbers were splitting, rocks were dropping and there was every indication to anyone experienced in mining that a definite further crushing was taking place, that it was taking place not within a day or two but that it would probably only be a matter of hours. Whether the settlement would be six inches or two feet, no one of course could tell, or whether it would extend all over the small opening of the tunnel or in any one particular point no one, naturally, could say.

One difficulty at the time and one of the things that had to be decided, was whether we were justified in risking the lives of 35 or 40 men in a desperate attempt to save three.

That problem, has faced human beings in many parts of the world and possibly without doubt, the answer has always been the same, regardless of the common sense that might be applied to it. Critics stood on the bank-head and openly said "This is murder. There is no justification for permitting men to attempt to enter the mine. You may lose thirty-two." But there is only one answer in such an emergency-there is nothing to do but take the risk (Applause) and the risk was taken.

Our difficulty was not to get men to go in the mine. Our difficulty was to keep them out. (Applause.) On coming to the surface at one particular time I saw what appeared to be a serious row going on between the man in charge of the surface and several working men. Four men were standing around the Manager and shaking their fists in his face and using language that was not suitable for Sunday afternoon. I thought to myself, probably some of these fellows' nerves have reached the breaking point, everyone had been working under a very high strain and some one, possibly, snapped. I called the Manager to one side and said, "What 'is wrong with the boys, Mac? Somebody getting a little nervous? What is the trouble?" He said, "These men are going after me and accusing me of rank discrimination. They say I am permitting other men to remain down in the mine longer than them. They say other men have been in the mine seven hours, working on a six hour shift and that they have been waiting all afternoon for an opportunity to go down. It is their turn and they demand their right to be allowed to go down in the mine." (Applause.)

And that, Gentlemen, was on the last afternoon, when it was quite apparent to all that there was more than serious danger that some of the men who went down as rescuers would possibly not come back but might be left there to keep company with the men they were attempting to rescue.

That was the condition and I am glad of this opportunity to pay tribute to the minters' courage, and when I speak of the miners I speak also of men that came from Ontario, who worked side by side with the Nova Scotian miners and did everything humanly possible and everything white men could do to rescue their fellows underground. When it became known that a serious accident had taken place in Nova Scotia we were besieged and flooded with telegrams from all the larger mining companies in Ontario. Your own Premier Hepburn, I think, must have remained by the telephone almost continually. He was in constant touch with us at Moose River, asking 'tray in and day out, hour in and hour out, if there was anything that could be done, offering all the resources of Ontario towards assistance. He must have sent half a dozen; planes with portions of equipment that he thought would be useful. Many mining companies and individuals in Ontario showed the greatest sympathy with the little province by the sea. And the sympathy we received from Ontario went a long way toward encouraging our own men in keeping up the work that eventually resulted in the successful saving of two of the men, and we in Nova Scotia appreciate that sympathy very much.

Your President said something about closer relationship existing now between Nova Scotia land Ontario. I think that is quite so. We in Nova Scotia, perhaps in years gone by, felt that Ontario was so much larger that it paid very little attention to what was going on in Nova Scotia, but this accident, if it did nothing else, has gone a long way toward welding the two provinces together and I am quite sure in the future their relationship will be much closer, much more friendly arid much more beneficial to all than it has been in the past. (Applause.)

Nova Scotia has, been brought to the attention of Ontario and the rest of Canada. A large fund has been collected in Ontario for the benefit of those who assisted in the rescue, which is appreciated very much, not only 'for the magnitude of the sum itself, but largely and principally for the spirit behind that fund, the spirit that caused that fund to be raised, spontaneously and so quickly, amounting to over $80,000.00.

Our people, however, did not enter the mine, as you know, for the purpose of gain. They did, mot enquire who the men were, they did not enquire why there were there. ' All they knew was that three men were buried and would have to be brought to the surface quickly. There was no question of reward, no question with regard to anything else that might possibly follow a rescue of that nature.

But for many years Nova Scotia has felt that perhaps the trade relations between Nova Scotia and Upper Canada have not been what they should have been. Many of us 'feel a little keenly on this point, and we go back to the days before Confederation. Seven or eight years were spent, I think, by the so-called Fathers of Confederation, in, working out a policy that seemed to be suitable to the whole of Canada. There were difficulties, however, in the way. They foresaw great difficulty in bringing Nova Scotia into Confederation, and there were men ins Nova Scotia who felt there might be some difficulty in Nova Scotia getting what might be considered its fair share out of any such arrangement. Nova Scotia had to give up a great deal. It had to give up practically its entire income and it had to give up almost its entire market. Nova Scotia being a maritime province naturally dealt with the seven seas amid with the New England coast amid at that time had a splendid market available, particularly for Nova Scotia coal. That market was lost after Confederation. We feel that some consideration should be given to Nova Scotia, that Nova Scotia made a handsome contribution to the Confederation pact. We feel Nova Scotia never got a proper return for its contribution in, those days. Some of the Fathers of Nova Scotia, when asked to come into the Pact, as we all know, said, "We will lose our trade," and they were told, "We will find a market for all your products in Central Canada." That is written into the Confederation Pact. Nova Scotia said, "What use is a market in Upper Canada when we have no means of getting there? Geographically, we are out of the picture. We cannot manufacture in Nova Scotia and move goods 1500 miles," and again they were told as an inducement to come into the Pact, "We shall build you. a railway." Nova Scotia replied, "We cannot pay the 'freight," and the answer, and it is also written into the Pact, "Wherever the goods cannot bear the freight the difference should be and will be charged to the national treasury."

That agreement, Gentlemen, has not been carried out in full. For some considerable time Nova Scotia enjoyed special freight rates to Upper Canada but gradually, as amalgamation of railways took place, those agreements were forgotten and Nova Scotia, for the last 25 or 30 years has been paying freight on the same basis as other parts of Canada and no particular attention has been paid to the agreement under which Nova Scotia came into Confederation, and whereby special freight rates should be granted to Nova Scotia to enable Nova Scotia to deliver its goods in Canadian manufacturing centers.

That particularly applies to our coal and to some extent to our steel. Some consideration was given to the question by the Duncan Commission when a 20 per cent reduction was given but notwithstanding this reduction, up to the present time we find in many cases it is almost impossible to manufacture or produce goods in Nova Scotia and deliver them in what should be our proper and natural market.

We must deal with Canada as a nation. We cannot talk provincially any more. If we are going to, have a nation and build Canada to what it should be, if we are going to build Canada and make it the country the Lord intended it to be, we must work one with the other. (Applause.) There must be a spirit of give and take. It is not exactly the amount that may be paid for a ton of coal, a ton of steel or a thousand feet of lumber delivered. It is what will that thousand feet of lumber or that ton of coal mean to Nova Scotia, what will it mean to Canada?

I should like to take this opportunity to draw attention to the fact that if the Nova Scotian coal mines were closed, and that has been suggested by people who cannot understand why they should pay ten or fifteen or fifty cents a ton more for coed, from Nova Scotia than for coal that comes across the border, I should like you to visualize, Gentlemen, what might happen if the Nova Scotian mines are ever closed. Do you think for a moment you would pay the same price for your coal that you are paying now? Do you think our friends across the way would not take advantage of that opportunity and see that the price was raised until' they had to compete with some other country? Gentlemen, the price Nova Scotian coal is being sold for, whether it is higher than American coal or not, is the price that is keeping you coal down to the price you are now paying for it and that fact, I think, should be given due consideration.

Another thing must not be forgotten and that is that coal and steel must be considered a national issue or a national product. That feature, I think, Gentlemen, was brought out very forcibly during the early years of the late war. At that time the great cry was for steel and the Imperial authorities asked whether Canada could supply steel or not and the answer was: If shells are glade in any part of the world we in Canada cant make the same product if you tell us what you want. The peace time factories of Canada were turned over in 24 hours to the manufacture of shells. We made shells in Nova Scotia in factories in which neither the General Manager nor the water boy had ever previously seen a shell manufactured. Nova Scotia steel and Nova Scotia limestone and Nova Scotia coal, and Nova Scotia men, went a long *ay toward preventing many of us from having to work for a German boss today. Those things should be considered.

Gentlemen, I speak to you today from a national standpoint. We want nothing for Nova Scotia that we are not prepared to give to the rest of Canada. We want Nova Scotia to be treated, however, as a part of Canada. We, in Nova Scotia, contribute our share to every public work that has been built in Canada. We contribute our share, dollar for dollar, for your canals and your harbour works arid the billions of dollars spent in Upper Canada. We have some 5000 yards of canal in Nova Scotia. That is sill, but we have paid dollar for dollar for works outside our Province. We are not complaining about that but we do ask, when we have manufactured goods in Nova Scotia, for pan opportunity to sell them in Canada, we want to be part of Canada, and we are asking your consideration when -our salesman come through Ontario, as they will with a campaign of selling coal, that you give them every attention and not deal with the question on a strictly local commercial basis, but deal with it rather on a national basis.

We pay a large amount for all the goods that we import from Ontario, all your goods that are so highly protected, and you have a great deal of manufactured goods in Ontario carrying very, very high protection. We pay our share of all that cheerfully and your customers in Nova Scotia are not complaining. We therefore feel that we are justified in asking you to give consideration to us when we offer some of our products for sale in Ontario.

The miners in Nova Scotia who rescued three of your citizens, two of them alive, from the depths of the Moose River Mine, have worked less than 50 per cent of the time for the last year, and last year was the best year they have had in five. We require two more million tons of coal and that two million tons must be sold in Ontario, if we sell it at all. We need two million tons of coal to give our men 70 per cent of the working days during the year. Without 70 percent, nothing but destitution can follow those who work in the mines of Nova Scotia. Your two large railways are importing half of their requirements from across the border. Many of your own manufacturers here are importing their coal while our miners are going hungry. Our miners did not ask where your citizens came from, who they were, or why they were entombed, but they risked their lives to bring them to the surface. All they are asking is that when salesmen come to Ontario to sell coal, you will give them consideration and that every effort will be made by those who have control of the purchase of coal in Ontario, to see that Nova Scotia is given a fair share of your requirements. We do not ask for all, we do not ask a hundred per cent even, but we do ask for a portion of the eight million tons of coal you are consuming in Ontario. We ask for a reasonable share of that for Nova Scotia mines, and two million tons, divided between your two large railways, the C.N.R. and C.P.R., and one or two of your largest manufacturing concerns, should solve the problem of Nova Scotia mines.

A great deal of assistance has been given by the Federal Government in the shape of subventions and freight rates and there was a larger tonnage of coal shipped into Ontario last year than ever before in history. We are asking you simply. to continue the good work and do what you can for the men who, if you will permit me once again to say so, risked their lives for your own citizens.

(Prolonged applause.) THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Dwyer, on behalf of the Empire 'Club and our guests, I wish to express briefly our appreciation of your coming here today and giving us a lesson, practical lesson in the promoting of unity in Canada.

The Empire Club stands for a united Canada in a united Empire. It is most opportune that you should give such a practical suggestions to this Club which has such a motto.

I want also to thank you on behalf of the Club for the most graphic description you gave of the recent dramatic events when two Toronto citizens were rescued from that mine. Notwithstanding our day and night radio service, our many extras from the newspapers, we have had not had to compare with the details you have given us.

I want also to say, Sir, that with your customary, shall say your national modesty, you have refrained from giving very much of the great part we know you played in that rescue. (Applause.) I am sure the members of the Empire Club will agree with me, when I confirm with you the telegram of congratulations to which you so graciously replied when we sent a telegram on behalf of the Empire Club, congratulating you, personally, on your great service on behalf of our citizens. Thank you.


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The Mining Industry in Nova Scotia and Its Perils

The recent tragedy at Moose River. Some history of coal mining and the accidents and catastrophes that are involved in the industry. The heroism of the men and women in the coal mining industry. A detailed description of the mining accident at Moose River, and the rescue. Paying tribute to the miners' courage. Some words on the relationship between Ontario and Nova Scotia. Trade relations between Nova Scotia and Upper Canada. Nova Scotia's contribution to Confederation, and agreements made at that time regarding trade with Central Canada. Looking at Canada as a nation rather than a group of provinces. Consequences if the Nova Scotia coal mines close. How Nova Scotian coal is keeping the coal price down. Coal and steel to be considered a national issue or a national product, and why. Nova Scotia desiring nothing that they are not prepared to give to the rest of Canada. Goods from Ontario protected. The need for a reciprocal relation with Nova Scotia.