The worst mining disaster in British Columbia history happened in Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, on May 3, 1887. Explosions in the Esplanade coal mine killed 150 men. As word spread around the world, donations of nearly $2.5 million in today’s money arrived from all over. Hillcrest, Alta., lost 189 of the 235 men who had been working in its mines when an underground explosion trapped them on June 19, 1914. Springhill, N.S. has suffered not one but three disasters in its mines. Coal dust exploded underground on Feb. 21, 1891, killing 125 and injuring many more. On Nov. 1, 1956, cars broke off from a mine train and hit a power line. The sparks caused an enormous explosion that trapped miners below. Brave workers went down, some without breathing equipment. They rescued 88 men, but 39 died underground. And on Oct. 23, 1958, Springhill experienced the worst “bump” — a sort of underground earthquake that causes shock waves — in North American mining history. Again the rescue workers headed underground, saving 100 of the 174 trapped miners. The 1958 disaster was widely covered on live television, which was very new at the time, attracting worldwide attention. Once again, Nova Scotia was the site of a tragedy on May 9, 1992, when a gas explosion at the Westray Mine near Plymouth killed 26 miners. Conditions were so dangerous that the rescuers had to give up before they were finished, in order to save their own lives.
Two miners rescued from the Springhill, N.S., mine disaster in 1958