men of the deep
We missed the Men of the Deep in concert last night in Glace Bay but we spent most of today in the Miners Museum, learning about life underground. The coal seams in this area run out under the Atlantic and no, we didn’t tour any of those; but we did follow our guide, Eric Spencer, into a series of coal tunnels to learn something of what life was like for a miner during the 1920s in Cape Breton. The tour took an hour — before that we watched a film on the labour history of these mines. It was a fascinating documentary made the NFB during the 1960s, with footage of people who’d lived through the tough years of low wages and unsafe working conditions. When working men were in service to the company and the company was not particularly concerned for their welfare. We learned of children working for 50 cents a day, of strikes and brutality. My grandfather was a miner, though not in Cape Breton, so crouching in half as we made our way through the tunnels — some of them just 42 inches high –had me thinking of him. And all the men who went underground daily to put bread on the table. Of the ones who didn’t come up again because of collapses or explosions. We learned how canaries were used and saw the cages they lived in. It was cold down there, and damp. And dark. After an hour, my back ached. But those guys worked long shifts — it took 45 minutes just to travel down to the deep dark where the seams were. There were rats. But also lots of camraderie, jokes, games of bish as the carts descended.
The mines are all closed (since 2000) though there’s still lots of coal. And one day, these men hope, the mines will open again.