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Lost Underground 1890-2004: Stellarton Miners Memorial

The Pictou coalfield covers an area approximately 120 square kilometers, and consists of several coal seams.  The Miners Memorial in Stellarton, Pictou County records the names of 198 lives lost in eight separate tragedies, including 6 lost on October 12, 1880; 43 on November 12, 1880; 2 on December 20, 1914; 88 on January 23, 1918; 4 on June 30, 1924; 7 on April 16, 1935; 3 no date; 19 on January 14, 1952; and 26 in Westray Mine on May 9, 1992. 

A contemporary account of a mining disaster at nearby Drummond Colliery in Westville on May 17, 1873, published in the Presbyterian Witness, a weekly newspaper read across the Maritimes, provides a glimpse into the horrific circumstances.

Terrible Disaster
Halifax, May 1873

The Drummond Colliery, Westville, Pictou County, was the scene of a frightful calamity on Tuesday last. The men had been on a strike for some days, and went to work again this week. It is supposed that an unusual amount of foul air had accumulated in the mine. On Tuesday fire broke out in the mine in consequence of a blast. All efforts to extinguish the fire proved vain. The alarm was given (says one account), and Mr. Dunn (manager), with others went down the slope and endeavored to extinguish the fire. About 12:15 the pit exploded, and nearly all the men and boys underground perished. After about an hour spent in endeavoring to rescue some who were near the mouth of the shaft, burned and suffocated, the cries of some were heard at an air pit, some two or three hundred yards from the main shaft. Four men volunteered to go down and endeavor to save life; they brought to the surface three, two of whom have since died, and the other is not expected to recover. When the brave men who were thus endeavoring to save their comrades were in the pit, there was a tremendous explosion, which seemed to be all through the Works. Three of the four will never be seen. The other man was blown out of the pit high into the air, and came down a charred and blackened mass. The explosion blew out of the slopes, air-pit and the old Campbell pit an immense amount of timber, stones, coal, etc. The scene was terrific.

The debris was thrown to a height of five or six hundred feet, while thick volumes of sulphurous smoke filled the sky. The timbers and stones falling on the buildings went crashing through the roofs as if they were mere paper. All through the night there were explosions. At intervals these were preceded by rumbling noises resembling thunder. The weary watchers, who remained around the pit's mouth and the air shafts and labored incessantly to subdue the flames, were obliged to seek shelter in the adjoining woods, as the stones, debris, etc. emitted from the pit's mouth at each explosion were being scattered around in all directions, and threatened instant destruction or injury to everyone within reach. About two o'clock on Wednesday these explosions were followed by one which, for terrific violence and destruction force dwarfed all the rest.

Stones, wood, and burning embers, were driven high into the air; the smoke, flame and horrible noises accompanying the explosion, giving the beholder a vivid idea of volcanic eruption. Those who witnessed it described it as resembling, more than anything else, the mouth of a crater.

The earth for miles around was shaken with the violence of the explosion. The people living at Westville and Stellarton were very much frightened, as they knew not how far the disaster would extend, or how soon another such explosion would occur. Since two o'clock this am the fire has continued to burn; flames are issuing from all the air shafts, although not so intense as they were last evening. Labourers are now energetically at work, filling up the shafts with clay; by this means they have so far succeeded in subduing the flames, that hopes are entertained that the worst danger is over unless another explosion takes place. One of the air shafts is now drawing the air, and this fact renders the situation very precarious.

The scenes in and around the village are saddening. Westville, and the village at Drummond Colliery are in mourning. The shops are closed. No work is being done. Men and women wander around in groups, their saddened countenances betokening the great grief that has fallen upon them. No pen can correctly picture the harrowing scenes of Tuesday, when the terrible truth was conveyed to the mourning wives, sisters and friends of those who were so suddenly hurled into eternity. People rushed frantically towards the scene of the disaster. The utmost excitement prevailed, and for hours it was impossible to ascertain who were or who were not in the mine. The women, many of whom had husbands, brothers and sons working in the Colliery, made the air dismal with their crying. About forty-five of the men lost were married men, all of whom leave families to mourn their sad fate. It was the first day in the mine for some of the unfortunate men.