1958 Springhill Mine Disaster

On Thursday, October 23, 1958 at approximately 8:06 PM[1] the No. 2 Colliery just outside the town of Springhill N. S. Was struck by an underground shift in the mine, known as a “bump.” The mine was owned and operated by Cumberland Railway and Coal Co. The bump was the result of increased tensions in the earth due to the removal of coal and the lack of replacement support.[2] Smaller bumps had occurred before in the mine, with one even shaking the mine at about 7:00 PM that day.[3] These usually resulted in a minor tremor; however this was looked upon favourably by miners as it was seen to relieve pressure and lessen the chances of a more serious bump.[4] This was clearly not the case. The effects of the bump tend to be described as the ceiling and/or floor suddenly lurching towards its opposite, often meeting and crushing what lay in between and causing showers of debris and releasing gasses.[5]When the serious bump struck at 8:06 PM of that day, the entire town of Springhill felt it, and it registered on seismic monitoring devices in Halifax, Darmouth, Quebec, and Ottawa as a small earthquake centered on Springhill.[6]

There were 174 men working in the mine at the time of the bump.[7]Of those, 75 men died,[8] and of those, only one died above ground in hospital.[9] The other 74 died almost instantly during the bump or soon after. Many were crushed or buried in the rock, while others were injured and then suffocated due to the gasses.[10] One account states “’Most of those who weren’t killed instantly by the bump died shortly afterward from gas,’ said Caleb Rushton later. ‘The gas wasn’t too bad at first and later we got some air to clear it out. But those who had been injured just didn’t have the strength to fight it off.’”[11] It is of note that because there were no fires in this incident, the gasses were different, and less present, while still a threat. Therefore, debris became the chief obstacle to rescuers, in part because there was often nowhere to move it to.[12] Many survivors were buried to some extent in rubble, or otherwise trapped.[13] Rescuers were forced often to dig survivors out. Injuries ranged from minor bruises to crushed limbs and severe contusions.[14] Rescuers worked through the night, and by the morning of Friday, October 24, 1958, 81 of the 174 miners had been brought up, and 19 of these had serious injuries.[15]

“Injured miner being taken to hospital by helicopter.” From 1958.
Photo courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives. Used by permission.

It then looked as if any remaining survivors would require significantly more time to reach, and efforts largely turned towards recovering bodies.[16] On Saturday, October 25, 1958 at 12:00 PM the general manager of Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation, the company to which Cumberland Railway and Coal Co. Was a subsidiary, Harold Gordon, stated in a press conference that there was no hope for any miners save those on the 13,000 wall, and that was faint.[17] The media disseminated this report[18], though citizens of Springhill and rescuers contested the claim, generally sticking to the miner’s code that those below should be deemed to be alive until they the discovery of bodies proved otherwise.[19] However, some did lose hope, due to media reports and miners’ descriptions of the situation in the mine, and they began digging graves for their loved ones, while a series of funerals occurred each day.[20]

Rescuers were now forced to dig new tunnels through the coal in an effort to reach the lower levels where they believed it possible that survivors could still be found.[21] Indeed, there were two groups of survivors left. The first, a group of twelve, was found on Wednesday October 29, 1958 when rescuers heard them through a pipe.[22] It took rescuers till about 2:30 AM on Thursday October 30, 1958 to reach the men, who where then brought to the surface.[23] The second group consisted of seven surviving miners, who were discovered Saturday November 1, 1958 at about 4:00 AM and rescued at about 6:30 AM.[24] At this point, most bodies had also been retrieved. The mine was closed at this point, leaving no open mines in Springhill and most of the population of the town unemployed.[25] It is worth noting that illegal mining became an issue for a short time after this in the Springhill area as former miners sought to get coal to heat their homes.[26] The Springhill Disaster Relief Fund emerged, raising two million dollars to support the families of the dead miners.[27] Others who volunteered aid to the rescue efforts and the community were the Royal Canadian Navy, the Red Cross, the Royal Canadian Legion, the Auxiliary, the St. John ambulance Accociation, The Salvation Army, the Halifax Police, the Boy Scouts, and the volunteer daegermen from surrounding communities.[28]

“Seventh and last man being removed from Springhill’s No. 2 colliery to waiting ambulance.” From 1 November 1958.
Photo courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives. Used by permission.

After the rescue of the last two groups of survivors, a few of the rescued miners were invited to be on the Ed Sullivan Show and were given a trip to New York.[29] Meanwhile, Prince Philip visited Sprighill and many of the rescued miners.[30] The Governor of Gerogia also invited the rescued miners to come to an island resort in Georgia for an all expenses paid vacation.[31] However, due to the Governor’s strong belief in Georgia’s segregation laws, there were some difficulties when he insisted that Maurice Ruddick, a black miner in the group of seven miners, be segregated. The other miners supported Roddick, declaring that they would not go if Ruddick refused the conditions under which he would be allowed to go. However, seeing that the others both wanted and needed the vacation, Ruddick agreed to go and be segregated.[32]

[1] Greene, Melissa Faye. (2003) Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 38. Confirmed by Brown, Roger David. (2002)Blood on the Coal. Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 39 and Brown, Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 88 and “Hope Fades in NS for Trapped Miners” (The Globe and Mail, October 25, 1958, p2).

[2] Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal. Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 39.

[3] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 144. Confirmed by Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal. Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 41.

[4] Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal. Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 39-41.

[5] Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal. Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 41.

[6] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 144. Confirmed by Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal.Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 41 and Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 89.

[7] Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal. Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 41. Confirmed by Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies.Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 151 and Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, “90 and 93 Buried Under Mountains of Dust Two Week Task” (The Toronto Star, October 24, 1958, p1). Note: “Rock Surge Crushes Tunnels; Two Known Dead, 69 Rescued” (The Globe and Mail, October 24, 1958, p1) states that 167 men entered the mine that shift.

[8] Greene, Melissa Faye. (2003) Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 38. Confirmed by Brown, Roger David. (2002)Blood on the Coal.Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 39 and Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 88 and Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 161.

[9] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 161.

[10] Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal. Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 443-44. Confirmed by Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies.Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 147.

[11] Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal. Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 44.

[12] Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal. Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 43-44. Confirmed by Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies.Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 155.

[13] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 151-152. Confirmed by “On Three Levels” (The Toronto Star, October 24, 1958, p1).

[14] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 151-152, 155.

[15] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 151. Confirmed by “Recover 10 Bodies After NS Distaster.” (The Globe and Mail, October 25, 1958, p1). Note: Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982 Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 89 mentions only 72 rescued at this point. Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal.Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 43 agrees with that, but says the total rescued would reach 81, as Burden does.

[16] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 154.

[17] Greene, Melissa Faye. (2003) Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 104. Confirmed by Brown, Roger David. (2002)Blood on the Coal.Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 43 and Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 93 and “Hope Fades for 83 Miners Still Trapped at Springhill” (by Langevin Cote, The Globe and Mail, October 25, 1958, p2).

[18] Seen in The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star on October 24-27, 1958.

[19] Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982.Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 93-94.

[20] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 152-153. Confirmed by Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal.Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 43 and Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 94.

[21] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 155. Confirmed by Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal.Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 43-44 and Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 94.

[22] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 155-156. Confirmed by Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal.Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 47 and Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 97.

[23] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 160.

[24] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 162. Confirmed by Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 97.

[25] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 168. Confirmed by Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 98.

[26] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 170.

[27] Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal.Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 54. Confirmed by Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies.Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 167.

[28] Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 153. Confirmed by Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 93 and Greene, Melissa Faye. (2003) Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 82.

[29] Greene, Melissa Faye. (2003) Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 229-231. Confirmed by Burden, Arnold, (1991)Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 162.

[30] Greene, Melissa Faye. (2003) Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 215-216. Confirmed by Brown, Roger David. (2002) Blood on the Coal.Revised Edition. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub, 48-49 and Brown, Brown, James (1983) Miracle Town: Springhill, Nova Scotia 1790-1982. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 97 and Burden, Arnold, (1991) Fifty Years of Emergencies.Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 161 and “Prince Visits Stricken Town” (The Globe and Mail, November 1, 1958, p2).

[31] Greene, Melissa Faye. (2003) Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 251-253. Confirmed by Burden, Arnold, (1991)Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 168.

[32] Greene, Melissa Faye. (2003) Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 251-253. Confirmed by Burden, Arnold, (1991)Fifty Years of Emergencies. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 168

All images used with permission from Nova Scotia Archives.

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Bump kills 75! Miracle: 12 rescued after week, 7 more after 9 days!


7 Responses to “1958 Springhill Mine Disaster”

  1. […] Fay Greene (2003). Although I have not heard that it has inspired any of the many songs about the 1958 Springhill disaster, I think it would if more people read it. It’s a meticulously researched book, and a gripping […]

  2. Curtis says:

    The number 2 mine wasn’t 30,000 feet deep, so Harold Gordon couldn’t have said that there was no hope for any men trapped at those levels. I think that might have been a typing error because the shaft was only about 14,200 feet deep. I guess I shouldn’t be saying “only” because it was the deepest coal mine in north america. One news reporter who was on scene at the time said, “At a press conference attended by many – by most of the people here today, he said that all hope must be given up for any of the men trapped, at the 13,800, and the 13,400 foot levels.”

  3. Heather Sparling says:

    Thank you, Curtis, for catching that error! I’ve corrected the text to read “13,000″ instead of “30,000″ (and corrected a few other typos while I was at it).

  4. Hadley Burns Jr. says:

    Hello
    This was a very well written article. My thanks to the person that wrote it.
    After the first few days and hope was starting to fade one of the draggermen was one of the first … if not THE first to bring word to the surface that after a week they had found survivors. I remember seeing his picture on the front page of a local paper. I think it was the Halifax Chronicle Herald.
    His last name was Weatherbee. By any chance do you know his first name. I’ve forgotten it. He was a cousin of my Dad and unfortunatley I my Dad passed away four and one half years ago. I can’t ask him.
    The picture I distinctly remember MAY have been associated with the second group of long term survivors (the nine day group) but I seem to remember it being associated with the seven day group.
    Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you
    Hadley Burns Jr.
    Cambridge ON

  5. Heather Sparling says:

    Thank you for writing, Hadley. I’m sorry that I don’t know the name of the draegerman to whom you refer. However, you might consult one of the histories of the 1958 Springhill mining disaster. Here are some of them (there are others):

    Greene, Melissa Fay. 2003. Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster. Orlando, FL: Harcourt.

    Brown, Roger David. 1976. Blood on the Coal: The Story of the Springhill Mining Disasters. Windsor, N.S.: Lancelot Press.

    Lerner, Leonard. 1960. Miracle at Springhill. New York: Holt.

    You could also consult the Nova Scotia Archives. In addition to documents pertaining to the disaster available onsite, they have a virtual exhibit online about mining in Nova Scotia:
    https://novascotia.ca/archives/meninmines/default.asp?Language=English.

    Good luck! I hope you find Mr. Weatherbee.

  6. Danny says:

    I was born on October 23rd, 1958, 5:12 PM just a few minutes after the first bump. I only recently found this out. Such a terrible incident was happening in the world when I came to be. I have never liked anyone celebrating my birthday, but never had a reason. This is a good reason. Very sad, my condolences to surviving family members.

  7. audrey der Nederlande says:

    I was living in Alberta and 12 years old when this happened. My teacher Mrs. Whitfield was from NS.
    I’ve never been to NS but because of my teacher I still feel like I’ve been there. What a way to unite Canada! The miners sang Have, Faith Hope and Charity. Still a good Canadian Value for our 150th.

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