The Heritage Corner, Springhill Record

Nov. 1, 2006

Nov. 1, 2006 – 1956 Mine Explosion

Fifty years ago today, November 1, 1956 started off as just another day. People went about their daily chores, children went to school and fathers, brothers and sons went to work in the No.2 and No.4 mines. Then at 5:07 P.M. there was a loud noise and if you lived around the mines it felt like a car hit the side of the house. As people rushed outside to see what was going on they could see a large cloud of black smoke and pieces of wood going through the air. It wasn’t long before the news spread that there was an explosion in the No.4 mines.

The first casualties found were on the bankhead which was demolished by the blast of the explosion. Ben McLellan, Lester Nelson, Pleaman Pyke, Joseph Crummey and David Vance were killed instantly while Lester McDonald and William Jones were critically injured and later succumbed to their injuries. Miraculously, two others working on the bankhead escaped serious injury. They were Norman Boss and Alan Skidmore.

As soon as the word spread about the explosion the Hospital was put in readiness to accept the casualties. The local Doctors – J.C. Murray, J.R. Ryan, Alan Drysdale, D.H. Fisher and R.R. Withrow and nurses and volunteers were at the ready. As it was thought that the hospital could not cope with all those to be brought in, it was decided to use the Armouries as used as an emergency hospital. As the call went out for help a total of 56 doctors and 100 nurses came to give their assistance. The Red Cross, Salvation Army, St. John Ambulance and other organizations responded to the call as well and helped in any way that was needed. By this time there was a huge crowd gathered at the mines in hopes of hearing news of a loved one still in the mines.

The miners from the No. 2 mine who were working were immediately brought to the surface and most offered their services in trying to get their friends and family members out of the No. 4 mine. Draegermen from the other mines in the province immediately headed to Springhill to join with the draegermen here.

When the draegermen entered the mine and got about 100 feet they ran into trouble, because of the afterdamp, the deadly gas which occurs after an explosion. Several of the draegermen had to be removed from the mines and two of them, Alex Spence and William Ferguson, were fatally gassed. The rescuers then tried to reach the No. 4 slope through the explosion doors which connected to the No. 2 slope. The draegermen had to get from the No. 4 main slope to the back slope by way of a connecting tunnel but due to heavy smoke they couldn’t get in more than a few feet. At that time it was necessary to seal off the area for two or three hours to insure another explosion would not occur.

Meanwhile, under ground at the 5700 level four miners, Harold Tabor, Don Hopkins, Don Campbell and Joey Holloway started out for the back slope but encountered heavy smoke so finally they , along with other miners , worked their way back to the 5700 level then up to the 5400 foot level where they turned on every air valve they could find. Some of these miners were overcome with the gas and never made it that far. The main group remained at the 5400 foot level. Conrad Embree, who had been in two other mine explosions, soon became their leader. As long as their air supply lasted they felt they would be alright until rescued. From time to time a few men would leave to see if they could find other men. The water started down the back slope and the gas became more evident so the men stayed behind the stopping until Saturday afternoon then Avard Glennie and Harold Lewis decided to make their way out of the mines and were never seen again. Later they made another check and found that the water had stopped but the gas was getting worse. The men were getting restless so a group led by Charles Burton decided to find their way out. When they reached the 4400 foot level they were surprised to find another group of 23 survivors who found shelter around an air valve. They continued to find their way out and upon reaching the draegermen Charlie Burton told of the other survivors at the 5400.

Rescuers moved a temporary hoisting engine to the 3200 level but they ran into a pocket of gas. At this point the barefaced miners were used to get to the 4400. Many of these men were overcome with the gas and they themselves had to be rescued but that didn’t stop them because as soon as they were able they were right back at the mines to help in the rescue. Some of these men were gasses as many as three times.

By Sunday afternoon the rescuers reached the 4800 level and a fresh air station was established and they continued down to the 5400 level where there were about 50 men. The first of these men reached the surface at about one o’clock Monday Morning. They found 2 more men at the 5700. At this time there were barefaced miners and every available draegermen in the mines who were working desperately to rescue the survivors because there was a fear that another explosion could occur. At about six o’clock Monday morning all the survivors had been brought to the surface. There were 88 survivors.

Gas test were taken and showed there was no possible way the other men could have survived and so the tremendous decision was made to seal off the mine was taken. The 26 bodies that were left there were recovered on January 19, 1957 . Those 26 men were – Alex Campbell, Logan Milton, Russell Morse, David Betts, Ernel Spence, George Ward, Ernest Boutilier, Dan Winters, Thomas Brown, Ralph Clarke, Gilbert Daken, Victor Henwood, Leonard McCormick, William Tower , Avard Glennie, Harold Lewis, Donald Tabor, Kenneth Beaton, Clair Stiles, Vic Millard, Frank Allen, Floyd Beaton, Kenneth Clarke, Richard Ellis, Angus Hunter and Henry McLeod. The last body to be brought to the surface was that of George Ward. Those brought to the surface earlier were Lester Fisher, Gerald Dawson, Burrell Pepperdine and Ephraim Alderson.

The No. 4 mine was never opened again.

Since this is the 50 th Anniversary of the No. 4 explosion it is a good time to pause and remember those brave men who lost their lives in the deeps of the Springhill coal mines.