Pictou’s Black Coal



Explosion they called it, it should not have happened,
This mine was as safe as any could be.
Gas sensors for methane and sprinkling with stone dust
Showed the owners’ concern for the miners’ safety.
But the old men knew better, they’d worked on the Big Seam,
And there were twenty-six more to add to the toll.
For all those smart fellas who said Westray was failsafe
Don’t go down underground to go on the coal.


Fathers and brothers, sons, husbands and lovers,
They go down underground to go on the coal.
Fathers and brothers, sons, husbands and lovers,
Are the price that we pay for Pictou’s black coal.

What use a gas sensor if it’s not calibrated,
Not hooked to the Scoop, or its readings ignored?
When the dust from the Miner lies thick in the deeps,
What use the stone dust still bagged up and stored?
What use the inspector if he turns a blind eye
To the open bare wires, to fuel spilled on the coal?
What use regulation if it’s all for a buck,
And there’s scarcely a thought for the men on the coal?

And each time it happens the families stand praying,
While the draegermen toil in that black hell below.
The Allan, the Foord, the McGregor, the Westray,
All the pits have killed more than fell to the foe.
By fire and explosion, by rockfall and mishap,
Six hundred and more is Pictou’s grim toll.
For a hundred and fifty years we’ve depended
On the men who are willing to go on the coal.

Why work underground some ask in amazement.
There’s more safety in jobs on the surface, we’re told.
But the mills and the factories and the jobs that they gave us
Have vanished like the smoke from their smokestacks so cold.
Move away and you’ll lose the strength of your family
And you’ll pay with your pride if you go on the dole.
Now these two are certain but the next is a chance,
That you’ll pay with your blood if you go on the coal.

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