Town faced chal­lenges, tragedies early on

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - NEWS -

So, what were the big, in­ter­est­ing or odd sto­ries from town in 1928? How should I know, you an­swer back? Well read on and find out – lots hap­pen­ing and some of it was re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant!

Oddly enough, the elec­tion for the 1928 mayor and council did not take place as there was no need – there was only one nom­i­na­tion for Mayor ( E. L. Long­more, mill su­per­in­ten­dent at the Hollinger and then Man­ager of the mine in the 1940s), and only four nom­i­na­tions for the six coun­cil­lor po­si­tions.

The men were sworn in at the first council meet­ing in Jan­uary, and the first order of busi­ness was to seek out two more men to round out the council ( no thought that a woman might do just as well – just an ob­ser­va­tion).

The clerk de­cided that nom­i­na­tions for the two po­si­tions could be made at Town Hall on Jan­uary 19th, be­tween noon and 1 p. m. Two men were fi­nally nom­i­nated ( by sit­ting coun­cilors, no less), and, see­ing “very lit­tle in­ter­est shown by the elec­torate”, the two were ac­cepted, pro­vid­ing they could prove they qual­i­fied by Jan­uary 26th – they did not.

Council meetings con­tin­ued on, with the Mayor pre­sid­ing and two of the coun­cil­lors at­tend­ing ( the other two had to work). A new nom­i­na­tion meet­ing was called for Fe­bru­ary 9th from noon to 1 p. m.; should an elec­tion be nec­es­sary for the two council seats, it would be held on Fe­bru­ary 21st.

The clerk waited and re­ceived four nom­i­na­tions, two of which were declared “qual­i­fied”. The other two had un­til 9pm the next day to prove wor­thi­ness ( or what­ever “qual­i­fied” meant at the time) – they did not, so, fi­nally, R. Richard­son and C. P. Ram­sey joined the “group of four” and fi­nally made up the num­bers for the town council. I think there may have been a very good rea­son why the other two men did not try to prove qual­i­fi­ca­tion – read on…

The new council barely had time to get their feet wet as the town faced one of its great­est tragedies since the 1911 Por­cu­pine Fire.

On Fri­day, Fe­bru­ary 10th, an un­der­ground fire at the Hollinger Mine, lo­cated in an un­used stope at the 550 foot level, claimed the lives of 39 min­ers who were trapped un­der­ground. The death toll was stag­ger­ing but could have been worse be­cause no one had an­tic­i­pated this type of prob­lem. Many of the min­ers work­ing that fate­ful morn­ing were un­sure how to re­act; the men thought the yells and calls were noth­ing more than a re­ally bad joke. Things got real quickly when a con­sid­er­able amount of black smoke and toxic fumes started to quickly over­take the tun­nels. Men scram­bled to make their way back up to the sur­face. There were 921 min­ers un­der­ground at the time of the fire; 51 men re­mained trapped in the work­ings.

All ac­tiv­ity in the town vir­tu­ally came to a stand­still as wor­ried fam­i­lies and res­i­dents rushed to the mine hop­ing to find their loved ones above ground. By mid­day, it was quickly re­al­ized that no fur­ther res­cue at­tempts could be made be­cause the en­tire mine was over­come by car­bon monox­ide gas. Since gases are rarely found in gold mines, and the damp­ness al­ways mit­i­gated the threat of fire, res­cue equip­ment was not kept on hand. A spe­cial train was dis­patched from Toronto with some ba­sic equip­ment to aid with the search and res­cue op­er­a­tion. With that, twelve men were found alive and brought to sur­face. Those 12 lucky men were G. Zoleb, D. Krakana, A. Tesolin, J. Krusac, D. Ku­ra­nen, Fred Jack­son, I. Lizzie, M. Lozack, O. Keat, C. Leven, N. Pethick and C. H. Tra­vanna. Fred Jack­son told this story to the Por­cu­pine Ad­vance: “We were in be­tween the 550 and 600’ levels and were be­yond the fire stope. In order to get to the shaft we would have to pass the fire and crawl through the smoke and gas to get out. So I called the men back and broke the air­line to get fresh air for us. One of the men col­lapsed and I gave ar­ti­fi­cial res­pi­ra­tion and pulled him around, but he later suc­cumbed. We drank wa­ter and saved our tea and on Satur­day Zolob and I made an at­tempt to get to the main shaft. Zolob would not let me go far, repeatedly say­ing “you go back – I will go!” He must have crawled on his hands and knees the whole length of the shaft, but he won out and saved our lives by giv­ing our lo­ca­tion. There were five of us alive and one dead. We were in a dry place and did not suf­fer much from the cold.”

Since no such event had ever oc­curred in a Cana­dian mine, there were few per­son­nel trained to deal with such an emer­gency. Calls were placed to Washington D. C. and to coal mines in Penn­syl­va­nia and soon a train of mine res­cue per­son­nel and equip­ment was sent from Pitts­burgh. It ar­rived in Tim­mins a record 21 hours later. Un­for­tu­nately, by that time, 39 min­ers had lost their lives. By Mon­day morn­ing, all but one body had been re­cov­ered. The town was in shock. Sad sto­ries filled the pages of the Ad­vance; Mr. O. Nadeau left a widow and eleven chil­dren, while an­other left a griev­ing fam­ily of nine.

Fu­ner­als were listed in the Por­cu­pine Ad­vance news­pa­per on Fe­bru­ary 16th; the Croa­t­ian Hall in Schu­macher helped or­ga­nize the fu­ner­als for their na­tion­als while a huge pro­ces­sion and fu­neral for eight Finns and one Ukrainian was held at the Red Finn Hall on Fourth Av­enue ( Al­go­nquin Boule­vard).

Pho­to­graphs of the scene were sold by unions and labour or­ga­ni­za­tions across Canada to sup­port work­ers’ causes.

The so­cial life of the town ground to a halt as fam­i­lies were over­come with grief. Ac­tiv­i­ties such as the sil­ver tea in hon­our of the new hospi­tal, the Cor­nish So­cial Club Dance, the ladies bas­ket­ball dance and the band con­cert were all can­celled. Noah Tim­mins, Pres­i­dent of the Hollinger Con­sol­i­dated Gold Mines im­me­di­ately came up from Mon­treal upon hear­ing the news; Mr. Brigham, gen­eral man­ager of the mine was in Mon­treal at the time of the dis­as­ter and ac­com­pa­nied Mr. Tim­mins back to the camp.

Two sep­a­rate in­quiries would be car­ried out: one by the Hollinger Mine and one by Royal Com­mis­sion. The con­clu­sions were sim­i­lar; the Hollinger was charged with gross neg­li­gence. As a re­sult of their find­ings, a Mine Res­cue Sta­tion was set up in Tim­mins and other res­cue sta­tions would be set up across the prov­ince of On­tario. Flasks of ethyl mer­cap­tan were in­stalled in the com­pressed air lines lead­ing to the com­pres­sors. The “stink gas” was re­leased when­ever there was a threat to the min­ers un­der­ground; it be­came a sig­nal to evac­u­ate the mine.

It is good to re­mem­ber that events that hap­pened here have had an im­pact na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally; I think this is a re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant story we need to re­mem­ber.

Photo sup­plied by Tim­mins Mu­seum

A mon­u­ment mark­ing the fi­nal rest­ing place of nine of the men who per­ished at the Hollinger Mine on Feb. 10th, 1928, can be seen at the Tim­mins Me­mo­rial Ceme­tery.

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