1917 New Waterford Mine Disaster

On July 25, 1917 at approximately 7:20 AM, an explosion occurred in the No. 12 Colliery in New Waterford, NS. The explosion occurred between the fifth and eighth levels, about 2000 feet into the mine. At the time of the explosion there were 270 men in the mine. The first dead bodies were located at about 2:00 PM that day. Fifteen hours after the disaster 62 bodies had been removed from the mine, and over 100 men had been reported injured. 90 men were still unaccounted for after the initial rescue efforts. 25 of these were rescued, leaving the final count of the dead at 65. The dead ranged from ages 14 to 65.

“Front page of The Halifax Herald, 26 July 1917, the day after 62 men were lost in the Dominion No. 12 disaster.”
Photo courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives. Used by permission.

The rescue work was handled primarily by firemen, the Miner’s union, and the company and volunteer miners. As all mines in the New Waterford district were closed, miners from those mines aided in the rescue work. The rescue work was difficult and risky due to the gasses within the mine, despite efforts to vent them. At least three men died after re-entering the mine in an attempt to save others. Despite these risks many miners showed their courage, entering the mine several times in order to assist in the rescue efforts.

The explosion had been quite violent, leaving many bodies severely damaged, including several which were decapitated. This would have made identifying the bodies challenging. The first funerals for the some of dead miners were held on Friday, July 27, 1917.

It is also of note that the media attention given to this disaster seems to be quite limited, despite its relatively high death count for such a disaster at the time. This seems to be due, in part, to the coverage of World War I. I hope local papers will have more information.

Government of Nova Scotia, “The No.12 Colliery Explosion, 1917” on the Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management website. Accessed on June 9, 2010.
James H. Marsh, ed. The Canadian Encyclopaedia, “New Waterford,” Accessed June 9, 2010.
Unknown. 1917. “Mine Explosion, Sixty Two Dead.” The Globe and Mail, July 26.
Unknown. 1917. “No Fire in the Mine.” The Globe and Mail, July 26.
Unknown. 1917. “About Seventy Lives are Lost.” The Globe and Mail, July 27.
Image used with permission from Nova Scotia Archives.


Explosion kills 65, injures 100

20 responses to “1917 New Waterford Mine Disaster”

  1. Sandra MacMillan says:

    I believe my great grandfather died in this explosion. Do you have his name on file. Matthew Cherrie, father of Grace Cherrie, my grandma.

  2. Heather Sparling says:

    Thank you, Sandra, for writing. I’m afraid that I don’t have details about the disaster’s victims at my fingertips. However, if you’re looking for more information, I recommend Rennie MacKenzie’s book, *Blast! Cape Breton Coal Mine Disasters,* published by Breton Books (http://capebretonbooks.ca). If you live in Nova Scotia, you could also visit the archives at the Beaton Institute (Cape Breton University) or the Nova Scotia Archives in Halifax.

  3. Kristy MacDonnell says:

    Sandra… Matthew Cherrie was also my great granfather. His son Robert adopted my mother. Robert, from what I understand, came up out of the mine to have his pony taken care of when the disaster happened. We’ve never met but it would be interesting to touch base with you.

    • Heather Sparling says:

      Wow! I can provide your email addresses to each other if you’d like. That way you don’t have to post them in a public forum. Get in touch with me: heather_sparling AT cbu DOT ca.

  4. Willis R Whalen says:

    My great garandfather was also killed in this explosion. John Whalen. I understand there are a lot of his (and therefore my) relatives in Newfoundland. If any of his relatives are checking this site out, I’d love to hear from you.

    • Sharon Peach says:

      Hi Willis, John Robert Whalen of Bradley’s Cove was also my great-grandfather. I believe you are the son of Willis Browning Whalen (or maybe that Willis was your grandfather?), who was the oldest son. I am the grand-daughter of Ronald Freeman Whalen, the second son. And yes, there are a great many of us here in the Conception Bay area. All of Ronald’s children are still alive and living in the area. Hedley’s son lives here, not sure where Nina is. Both the girls moved away (Annie Maud and Blanche), and Doug’s living children are in the area, but 3 of them have passed away.

      John Robert and Cecelia’s graves are located in the cemetery on the south side of Western Bay, as is the grave of John Robert’s brother Ezra who married Cecelia after John died. His own wife had died in January of 1917. The youngest sister of Willis, Ronald, et al was actually Ezra’s daughter by Cecelia. Her name was Jessie Pearl.

      I hope this helps you to put the time line together. I have some more family history materials, including a photo of John Robert’s children which was taken in about 1958.

      Best Wishes,


  5. Heather Sparling says:

    I wasn’t expecting this site to become a means of connecting family members. But what a neat outcome! I hope you find some of your relatives, Willis. I’d be happy to put any Whalen relatives in touch with you. Thanks for writing!

  6. Lisa Estall says:

    In the beginning of Halifax Herald article you have posted, my great uncle Philip Nicholson is named as one of the young men that ran into the mine to rescue others, only to succumb to the gas himself.

  7. Heather Sparling says:

    The gases were so dangerous because they were colourless and odourless. Many bare-faced rescue workers died as a result of them, as did many miners. The development of trained draegermen (with oxygen tanks and gas masks) was so important as a result. How sad that your great uncle died trying to help others.

  8. Lisa Estall says:

    Just curious, is the copy on file at the archives the same quality? I’ve been trying to read the article and can’t. It looks like my great uncle Philip Nicholson is mentioned further in the article.

  9. Heather Sparling says:

    I copied (with permission) the newspaper image from the Nova Scotia Archives’ website. They have a virtual exhibit on the history of mining in Nova Scotia (https://novascotia.ca/archives/meninmines/default.asp?Language=English). The exhibit includes a collection of images, including the newspaper image above (https://novascotia.ca/archives/meninmines/archives.asp?ID=716). If you access it on the Archives’ site, then you can zoom in quite close and you should be able to read it.

  10. Jaime Nolan says:

    Names and Ages of the 65 Men (and boys) inscribed on the Miners’ Memorial in New Waterford NS:
    Gaeton Angelo, 24
    Joseph L. Butts, 37
    George W. Butts, 18
    George Butts, 26
    Richard Butts, 37
    Frank Bauciech, 52
    Isaac Boone, 38
    Peter Colman, 43
    Lawrence Cameron, 18
    Thomas Crominey, 46
    Matthew Cheery, 44
    John Curry, 45
    Michael Curry, 26
    Archibald Cameron, 38
    Charles Curry, 50
    Henry Comhair, 19
    Boa Constantine, 22
    George Delaney, 26
    Thomas Durham, 42
    George Demokes, 24
    Charles Ferguson, 22
    Timothy Fahey, 40
    Joseph Fedorvitch, 27
    George Fraser, 19
    Arthur Gadd, 15
    William Gadd, 31
    James Gillis, 18
    Eugene Killoway, 46
    Arthur Killoway, 41
    Paul Kleizer, 23
    Thomas Milley, 21
    Nelson Milley, 17
    Joseph Martin, 28
    George W Matthews, 29
    Richard Miller, 19
    Thomas McDonald, 18
    Frank McLean, 19
    Paul McIntyre, 21
    Vincent McPherson, 17
    John H. McKenzie, 21**
    Andrew McLellan, 43
    John D. McKay, 45
    Lauchlin McNeil, 33
    Rod McEachren, 20
    John McLeod, 21
    Thomas Murphy, 21
    Philip Nicholson, 18**
    John Newman, 17
    Michael O’Leary, 37
    George E. Parsons, 28
    William T. Parsons, 28
    William J. Peach, 27
    Reuben Penny, 27
    Carl Pietchieck, 17**
    Silas Reynolds, 50
    James H. Rose, 37
    William Snow, 65
    Weisel Schimo, 23
    Mask Skarum, 23
    St Clair, 17
    John H. Steele, 16
    Herman Tiechman, 45
    John R. Whalen, 36
    Wyercbich Wadystan, 30
    Joseph Walsh, 18

    **Lost in Rescue Work

  11. Jaime Nolan says:

    A digital image for the death registry of most of those who died in this mine disaster may be found on the database on this site associated with Noa Archives:


  12. Heather Sparling says:

    Thank you, Jaime, for this information and for providing a link to this helpful resource.

  13. Bernard comhaire says:

    Henry comhaire age 19 was the younger brother of my grandfather,jean comhaire who had left in 1914 to join the Belgian army!

  14. Arwen Whalen-Sullivan says:

    Hi Sharon!

    I know it has been a while since your post. I hope you see this and it finds you and yours doing well during this crazy time!

    I am Willis Whalens (the one who you replied to) daughter so the great great granddaughter of John R. Whalen.

    Thank you for providing more information about him and the family, It is amazing to learn about it (although this event was beyond tragic).

    I’ll let my father know you replied to his comment and hopefully we will hear back from you if you get this!

  15. Stella Porter says:

    Matthew Cherrie was my great grandfather also…his daughter stella porter was my grandmother..i still live on his property in scotchtown..

  16. Todd Nicholson says:

    Just wanted to ask if photos of Philip Nicholson exist.

    • Heather Sparling says:

      I’m afraid that I don’t know. You might want to contact the Nova Scotia Archives and/or the Beaton Institute. Both archives have holdings relating to the mining history of Cape Breton. Good luck!

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