Springhill was changed for­ever fol­low­ing the 1958 mine dis­as­ter

Truro Daily News - - PASTIMES - BY DAR­RELL COLE

One minute, Valarie Alder­son was at her grand­mother’s kitchen ta­ble. The next, her life and the lives of many oth­ers changed for­ever.

“I was stand­ing at the kitchen ta­ble, fin­ish­ing my home­work, and I felt the ground shake,” Alder­son re­called.

Her grand­mother came out from the liv­ing room and stood in the door­way.

“My mother looked at my grand­mother and said ‘it’s the mine’ and started to cry.”

It was 8:06 p.m. on Thurs­day, Oct. 23, 1958. Far be­low the sur­face, 174 men – in­clud­ing Alder­son’s fa­ther, Ray­mond Ta­bor – were work­ing on the Num­ber 2 col­liery of the Springhill mines when the earth shifted. The floor of the tun­nels at the bot­tom of the mine slammed into the ceil­ing in what be­came known as the Bump.

Sev­enty-three men, in­clud­ing Ta­bor’s 38-year-old dad, were crushed. The rest were trapped in com­plete dark­ness more than a kilo­me­tre un­der Springhill.

Con­fu­sion fol­lowed in the wake of what would be the sec­ond ma­jor mine dis­as­ter in two years and the third dat­ing back to 1891 when an ex­plo­sion killed 125 men and boys.

“My grand­mother had three boys in the mine, in­clud­ing my fa­ther. There were lots of tele­phone calls and peo­ple com­ing and go­ing,” she said. “The next morn­ing, my mother came in and said my fa­ther had been trapped. It was very chaotic.”

While they soon re­ceived word her un­cles had got­ten out, there was still no news on her fa­ther. She and her sis­ter, Su­san, were sent to an older cou­ple to give her mother some space to deal with what was go­ing on.

“Su­san didn’t want to stay and came back home and I would be get­ting bits and pieces from hear­ing them talk,” she said. “My older brother and older sis­ter would go to the mine and wait for news.”

Alder­son didn’t go to school in the days fol­low­ing the dis­as­ter. The peo­ple she stayed with got the news­pa­per ev­ery day; she saw the list of miss­ing min­ers.

“I was by my­self in the liv­ing room read­ing the news­pa­per and I read all the names of the miss­ing and my fa­ther’s name wasn’t there. My heart leapt and I thought ‘Oh my God, isn’t that great’ and then I was kicked in the stom­ach when I read the words ‘to be con­tin­ued’,” she said. “I turned the page and there it was, his name. That will be for­ever etched in my mem­ory. I built up so much hope and then there it was.”

Sad and chal­leng­ing times

It was two weeks af­ter the dis­as­ter her older brother pulled her aside with the news.

“My brother was twelve. He wanted to see me out­side; he wanted to tell me that they found Dad,” she said. “He didn’t want my un­cle to do it, he felt he had to do it, as my brother.”

Alder­son had held out hope, since men had been found alive af­ter six and eight days.

The Bump left a last­ing im­pact on Springhill, at that time a com­mu­nity of about 7,000 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the Springhill Her­itage Group. Some­one on ev­ery street had a rel­a­tive or friend work­ing in the mines and many lost peo­ple they knew, she said.

“Back in those days, they brought the bod­ies home and there was a lot of that hap­pen­ing,” she said. “I re­mem­ber my fa­ther’s cas­ket be­ing there and so many peo­ple com­ing to the house. I re­mem­ber there be­ing so many fu­ner­als.”

It was only two years ear­lier that an ex­plo­sion in the Num­ber 2 mine killed 39 men.

She vividly re­mem­bers that day as well.

“I re­mem­ber see­ing the mush­room cloud that came out of the pit­head,” she said. “These were sad and chal­leng­ing times for Springhill.”

Sur­vivors’ guilt

Alder­son said the re­sponse fol­low­ing the bump was amaz­ing. For years, a cou­ple in Camp­bell­ton, N.B., sent her mother a cheque ev­ery Christ­mas un­til they passed away and her mother would knit things to send back.

The dis­as­ter – and the sub­se­quent clo­sure of the mine – left a last­ing im­pres­sion on Springhill. Many of her friends left the com­mu­nity as their par­ents went look­ing for jobs else­where.

“There was a lot of sur­vivors’ guilt,” Alder­son said. “There was one per­son I knew very well who felt it be­cause his fa­ther lived, and his friends’ fa­thers died. It’s some­thing a lot never got over.”

Alder­son doesn’t want mem­o­ries of those who lost their lives in the mines to be for­got­ten. While they de­serve to be hon­oured, re­mem­bered and mourned, she says Springhill has shown amaz­ing re­silience in the years since – even since it lost sta­tus as a town sev­eral years ago when it merged with the sur­round­ing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Cum­ber­land.

“The Bump was a sad event and a tragic event, and when you sit and think about it, it can some­times over­whelm you,” Alder­son said. “But time and time again, this com­mu­nity has proven it can rise again.”


Valarie ( Ta­bor) Alder­son looks over her col­lec­tion of photos taken at the time of the bump in Springhill on Oct. 23, 1958, an event that took the lives of 75 min­ers, in­clud­ing her fa­ther, Ray.

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