‘Their light will al­ways shine’

Friends and fam­ily gather for cer­e­mony to mark Westray Mine dis­as­ter

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY MICHAEL MAC­DON­ALD

Twenty-five years af­ter she lost her hus­band to one of Nova Sco­tia’s worst coal mining dis­as­ters, Dar­lene Dol­limont-Sven­son still finds it dif­fi­cult talk­ing about the life they once shared.

“He was a fab­u­lous man, but I don’t know what to say about that be­cause it’s 25 years later and you have all these mem­o­ries, and one doesn’t re­ally know if the mem­o­ries are glo­ri­fied fan­tasies or re­al­ity,’’ she said, draw­ing a deep breath and paus­ing.

Thirty-six-year-old Ado­nis Dol­limont and 25 other min­ers were in the fi­nal hours of a four­day shift at the Westray Mine in Ply­mouth, N.S., when a coal seam spit a jet of meth­ane gas that some­how ig­nited.

Fu­elled by volatile coal dust, a mas­sive fire­ball raced through the tun­nels at 5:18 a.m. The explosion killed ev­ery man in the mine and tore off the metal roof at the pit en­trance. In the pre-dawn sky on a rainy Satur­day morn­ing, the blast erupted in a roar­ing blue­grey flash that shook houses more than a kilo­me­tre away.

On Tues­day, Dol­limont-Sven­son was among 200 peo­ple who marched through an in­dus­trial park in New Glas­gow to the Westray Min­ers Me­mo­rial Park, which is not far from the sprawl­ing tun­nels where 11 min­ers are still buried.

Led by a po­lice car with flash­ing lights, the silent marchers car­ried bilin­gual ban­ners with a mes­sage spelled out in black and white: “No more Westrays.’’ Be­side that stark mes­sage, a de­mand: “Stop the killing, en­force the law.’’

The early morn­ing cer­e­mony at the park fea­tured prayers of re­mem­brance and the read­ing aloud of each miner’s name and age.

“We gather to hold mem­o­ries close to our hearts,’’ said Rev. Jim Web­ber-Cook, stand­ing be­fore a black gran­ite mon­u­ment that in­cludes the names of the dead, each in­scribed on rays of light em­a­nat­ing from a miner’s lamp.

“We gather to ful­fil those words that are en­shrined here: ‘That their light will al­ways shine.’’’

Dol­limont-Sven­son trav­elled from Ketchikan, Alaska, to at­tend the cer­e­mony, which was part of a day­long se­ries of com­mem­o­ra­tive events.

“There have been a huge amount of peo­ple who have worked to make sure this doesn’t hap­pen again,’’ she said af­ter­wards as the sun emerged, the grass still glis­ten­ing with dew.

“I’m here to hon­our them for sup­port­ing us ... For the wid­ows, with­out all of these peo­ple our hus­bands would be for­got­ten. It is a mo­ment of strength.’’

She re­called how the mine was a source of great prom­ise when it opened in 1991, of­fer­ing well-pay­ing jobs in an eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed area that saw its last coal mine close in the 1970s.

“This was a dream for all of these young men,’’ she said.

“They had new homes, new cars, friends and a 25- or 30-year life to re­tire­ment ... And those men needed to go to work. And if they spoke up about what was go­ing on (at the mine) there were pro­fan­i­ties from the man­age­ment ... and they were sent pack­ing.’’

Most of the Westray min­ers knew the tun­nels were un­safe, she said, re­call­ing how a group of them sat in her liv­ing room to dis­cuss the dan­gers — four days be­fore the explosion would kill many of them.

“They dis­cussed the dan­ger of the coal dust,’’ she said, not­ing man­agers had been re­peat­edly warned to take steps to deal with this well-known haz­ard.

“They dis­cussed how they had to tuck their pant legs into their boots and duct tape them shut to keep them­selves clean. They all knew, should any­thing hap­pen, it wasn’t go­ing to be good. It wasn’t for lack of safety ma­te­rial, it was a lack of man­age­ment will to al­low the time to do the nec­es­sary safety work.’’

In 1997, a Nova Sco­tia Supreme Court jus­tice con­cluded the dis­as­ter was the re­sult of “in­com­pe­tence, mis­man­age­ment,

bu­reau­cratic bungling, de­ceit, ruth­less­ness ... and cyn­i­cal in­dif­fer­ence.’’

The public in­quiry found Westray man­age­ment and its owner, Clif­ford Frame, were ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for con­di­tions at the mine.

In 1993, the RCMP charged Toronto-based Cur­ragh Re­sources Inc. and two of its for­mer man­agers with man­slaugh­ter and crim­i­nal neg­li­gence caus­ing death. But the case even­tu­ally fell apart when the Crown con­cluded con­vic­tions

were un­likely.

To this day, union of­fi­cials and rel­a­tives of the dead min­ers say jus­tice was not served.

“I think of the 26 work­ers who lost their lives for no rea­son other than greed, in­com­pe­tence, ap­a­thy and ne­glect,’’ union leader Stephen Hunt told the cer­e­mony. “There was no jus­tice in those cases. But the fam­i­lies were de­ter­mined to fight for jus­tice.’’

He said that de­ter­mi­na­tion has led to big changes in laws and reg­u­la­tions aimed at re­duc­ing

work­place deaths, in­juries and ill­nesses.

Hunt, a Cana­dian direc­tor with the United Steel­work­ers of Amer­ica, said Nova Sco­tia, British Columbia and Al­berta have all in­tro­duced new rules aimed at en­sur­ing safer work­places.

“We see charges across the coun­try now,’’ he said. “Not enough CEOs go to jail yet, and we don’t want a whole bunch of them in jail — just one or two would be good. That would send a mes­sage to com­pa­nies that it’s not OK to take lives or in­jure peo­ple for the cost of do­ing busi­ness.’’

CP PHOTO

Friends and fam­ily march to a ser­vice to hon­our the 26 coal min­ers who per­ished in the Westray Mine dis­as­ter at the Westray Min­ers Me­mo­rial Park in New Glas­gow on Tues­day. The coal mine ex­ploded twenty five years ago to the day on May 9, 1992.

Dol­limoun­tSven­son

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A worker reads the ex­plana­tory plaques as he at­tends a ser­vice to hon­our the 26 coal min­ers who per­ished in the Westray Mine dis­as­ter at the Westray Min­ers Me­mo­rial Park in New Glas­gow on Tues­day. The coal mine ex­ploded 25 years ago to the day on May 9, 1992.

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Friends and fam­ily at­tend a ser­vice to hon­our the 26 coal min­ers who per­ished in the Westray Mine dis­as­ter at the Westray Min­ers Me­mo­rial Park in New Glas­gow on Tues­day.

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A hand touches the mon­u­ment that hon­ours the 26 coal min­ers who per­ished in the Westray Mine dis­as­ter at the Westray Min­ers Me­mo­rial Park in New Glas­gow, N.S. on Tues­day.

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