The past week has been an emotional one for many as yesterday, May 9, Pictou County remembered the lives of 26 miners lost in the Westray explosion on that date in 1992, and the lives left behind to mourn.
It has been 25 years — a quarter of a century — since that fateful day. It was certainly a defining moment in people’s lives, one point in history — at least in the history of Pictou County — where people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the devastating news of the mine explosion.
Many were tucked up in their beds, sound asleep, since it was 5:18 a.m. when the tragedy rocked this community that was mostly founded on the abundance of coal in the earth and the hard work of brave individuals in bringing it to the surface.
For most, it would not be until several hours after daybreak that they heard about the underground explosion.
For the loved ones of those miners trapped underground, it was immediate.
And in many cases, it is still painful — not just for the memories of lives and loves lost, but for the fact that no one was brought to justice over the explosion.
The lengthy inquiry into the tragedy, led by Supreme Court Justice Peter Richard, revealed all sorts of errors and failures as leading causes for the blast —from accumulated coal dust to poor ventilation and a myriad of other issues that were never adequately addressed. It all led up to a methane gas explosion and the loss of 26 young lives.
But 25 years ago, a loaf of bread was less than $1 and gas was hovering around the $1 per gallon mark. The wages at Westray were comparatively high and given that the economy was suffering at that time — especially in Pictou County — the attraction of coal mining was hard to ignore.
Optimism that the trapped miners would be rescued was high at first, but as each second ticked away, the optimism faded until eventually, reality set in. Newspaper headlines confirmed what the community believed: There was no hope.
Each year since the tragedy, a remembrance ceremony has been held at the Westray Memorial Park in Parkdale. This year was no different. In fact, a service was held early in the morning and again in the evening on Tuesday.
It is a tribute to those who lost their lives and a reminder of the tragedies that can occur if workplace safety is not heeded.
Occupational Health and Safety Laws that exist today as a result of Westray cannot bring back the miners. But they can, and do, protect the lives of countless others.
The men of Westray are gone but their spirits still walk the Earth. And their legacy continues with Bill C-45, commonly knows as the Westray Bill. It was forged on the backs on the miners who lost their lives in the Westray mine: John Thomas Bates, 56; Larry Arthur Bell, 25; Bennie Joseph Benoit, 42; Wayne Michael Conway, 38; Ferris Todd Dewan, 35; Adonis J. Dollimont, 36; Robert Steven Doyle, 22; Remi Joseph Drolet, 38; Roy Edward Feltmate, 33; Charles Robert Fraser, 29; Myles Daniel Gillis, 32; John Philip Halloran, 33; Randolph Brian House, 27; Trevor Martian Jahn, 36; Laurence Elwyn James, 34; Eugene W. Johnson, 33; Stephen Paul Lilley, 40; Michael Frederick MacKay, 38; Angus Joseph MacNeil, 39; Glenn David Martin, 35; Harry Alliston McCallum, 41; Eric Earl McIsaac, 38; George James Munroe, 38; Danny James Poplar, 39; Romeo Andrew Short, 35; Peter Francis Vickers, 38.
Their light shall always shine …