1936 Moose River Mine Disaster

In April, 1936, a Canadian broadcaster named J. Frank Willis mesmerized the entire Canadian radio audience with his account of what happened when three men were caught by a cave-in and trapped in a gold mine in Moose River, Nova Scotia. The men were only 45 metres below the surface but it took six days before the rescuers made contact with them and eight days before rescuers brought two to safety. The third had died.

“Putting the new timber for supports through the new shaft sunk to help the men trapped below.” From 1936.
Photo courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives. Used by permission.

The story was voted by the Canadian Press as the top radio news story of the first half of the 20th century, winning over such dramatic stories as the coverage by Canadian radio war correspondent Matthew Halton of the Canadian landings on Juno Beach on D Day or his firsthand account of the Liberation of Paris.

Willis’s 99 broadcasts from Moose River were picked up and repeated out of London by the BBC and carried on US radio stations. He told how the rescuers worked relentlessly every “every hour, every minute risking their lives to save the lives of two Toronto men,” and he was scathing when he knocked down news reports that the rescue shaft was in danger of caving in on the rescuers. “Don’t believe that for one minute,” he told his listeners. “It is absolutely untrue.”

“Commencing the new shaft through which the rescued men were taken.” From1936.
Photo courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives. Used by permission.

The three trapped men were in the mine on an inspection tour as they were considering selling the mine. One of the three was the timekeeper. The other two were from Toronto. The timekeeper, Alfred Scadding was one of the survivors. The other survivor was Dr. David E. Robertson chief of staff at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children. The man who died was Herman Russell Magill, a 30 year old lawyer from Toronto. After the cave-in the men started up but there were more problems and eventually the cable broke. They were trapped. They were also beset by rising water so time was running out when the rescuers got to them.

“Sketch of the slopes showing the entry to the Reynolds shaft, the method of penetrating the Magill shaft, where the shaft was blocked, and where the men were found. This sketch was drawn by W.A. West of the NS Department of Mines. From 1936.”
Photo courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives. Used by permission.

All images have been used with permission from Nova Scotia Archives.


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