Town faced challenges, tragedies early on
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.
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.