Former miner recalls Westray trauma

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NEW GLASGOW — This is an especially trying time for Vernon Theriault.

“When it comes this time of year, it’s harder — it brings back a lot of memories,” he said. “It’s part of history you’re involved with. You deal with it, but it doesn’t get easier.”

Theriault was employed at the Westray coal mine when 26 of his colleagues died in an explosion on May 9, 1992.

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He was scheduled to work the day shift when the underground blast occurred on a Saturday morning, the day before Mother’s Day, and was among those who took part in the rescue operations until they ceased.

“I was down every day until they called it off,” he said.

He said he went home one time for a break from the operations but returned before long.

“With the adrenalin, I just couldn’t stay away,” he said. “I did whatever I had to do. I just wanted to be there.”

Theriault received treatment for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and said he takes care what he views and how he occupies his time.

“I had some bad nights sleeping, trying to get over it,” he said. “This time of year it hits me more. There are things I can’t watch on TV, and there are things I try to do to keep busy, like keeping things organized for the Nova (hockey) League.”

Theriault also recalled the protracted and by times frustrating efforts to achieve passage of what became known as the Westray Bill in 2004. The federal legislation is called Bill C-45 and was designed to amend the Criminal Code with regard to steps to ensure worker and public safety and factors to apply in court sentencing.

“It was important,” he said. “I didn’t care which party was in power. I just wanted that bill to go through for those 26 men. I’m glad I was a part of it. It was such an awesome feeling that all that work finally paid off. You still have those injuries, but 25 years later it’s a lot safer.”

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Steve Goodwin
Steve Goodwin was born in Amherst, N.S. and has been a journalist for more than 40 years. He has been a resident of Pictou County for nearly 40 years.