In the 1950s, three of the worst mining disasters in Canadian history devastated the town of Springhill, Nova Scotia.

Despite the much hardship, the people of Springhill have shown a will to survive that is tougher than coal.

1891 explosion

Springhill’s first mining disaster, the 1891 explosion, occurred at approximately 12:30 pm on Saturday, February 21, 1891, in the Number 1 and Number 2 collieries. A subsequent inquiry determined that sufficient gas detectors in working order had been present in the two collieries. The ignition source of the explosion went undetermined behind the truth that investigators pinpointed its general location. The fire killed 125 miners and injuring dozens more. Some of the victims were 10 to 13 years old.

1956 explosion

On Nov. 1, 1956, a terrible explosion in the No. 4 colliery of the Cumberland mines rocked the town of Springhill. The town responds with a crew of rescuers called “draegermen.”  The blast killed 39 and 88 injured.

“Draegermen” named for the oxygen packs they wore. a German company called Dräger invented the packs that supplied breathing apparatus to mining and other industries in the 1930s.

1958 explosion

On Oct. 23, 1958, Springhill is revisited by tragedy. A massive “bump,” similar to a small earthquake, shatters the No. 2 colliery of the Cumberland mines. There are 178 miners trapped 3,900 meters underground.

A “bump” is a geological phenomenon that occurs in mines. It resulted from the removal of rocks and coal causes too much stress to the roof rock. The built-up pressure causes a collapse, which miners have described as the simultaneous meeting of the floor with the ceiling.

Bumps are common in mining operations.  The Springhill bump was one of the worst recorded.

The Ballad of the Springhill

In the town of spring hill, nova scotia,
Down in the heart of the cumberland mine,
There’s blood on the coal and miners lie
In the roads that never saw sun or sky
Roads that never saw sun or sky.

A 24-year-old Peggy Seeger wrote this song in a French cafe while watching a live television broadcast of the mining disaster. She recalled to Mojo in 2015: “In those days I’d sing protest songs without knowing much about them. I just thought they needed to singing.”

The song was popularized by the folk revival group Peter, Paul & Mary and the Irish folk singer Luke Kelly, who was a founding member of The Dubliners.

Peggy Seeger performed the song in Springhill in 2008 on the 50th anniversary of the disaster.

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