Skip to content

Local miners remembered during National Day of Mourning

This year marked the 25th anniversary the Westray coal mine disaster in Nova Scotia, where 26 coal miners were killed in a methane gas explosion

Members of the Timmins and District Labour Council and their supporters gathered at the Porcupine Miners Memorial at 11 a.m. on Friday for the annual observation of a moment of silence for all those who died on the job in Timmins and across Canada.

This year marked the 25th anniversary the Westray coal mine disaster in Nova Scotia, where 26 coal miners were killed in a methane gas explosion.

Ken Steinbrunner, the president of OPSEU Local 642, Timmins Mayor Steve Black and Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins - James Bay, carried a banner; and were accompanied by about 100 people some carrying their union flag.

They walked about 400 metres from the McIntyre Community Centre to the Porcupine Miners Memorial.

In Timmins and district, the last mining death occurred in 2015, with the death Alexie Dallaire-Vincent, a 22-year old miner at St. Andrews Goldfield’ Holt mine (Now Kirkland Lake Gold) in Matheson on May 25, 2015.

Prior to that, Trevor King was killed in an accident at Lake Shore Gold (Now Tahoe Resources) in 2012.

Since 2007 Timmins and district have experience seven mining deaths, the highest in Ontario.

Michel Bisaillon from OPSEU Local 616 recounted a story about a friend of his, who as a ten-year-old boy growing up in a mining town, was riding his bike, when he heard the mines siren blast signaling an accident.

“He rode his bike to the mine only to discover it was his father who had died on the job,” Bisaillon said.

“It’s a tragedy that his young man’s father died, but the suffering extends to the worker’s family and it continues throughout the family member’s life, “Bisaillon added.

After brief opening remarks from Steinbrunner, a moments silence was observed at 11 a.m.

“We are here today to remember the tragedy this morning that occurred 25 years ago in the Westray mine in Nova Scotia, were 26 miners lost their lives,” he said. “Every year hundreds of people across Canada are killed on the job and thousands more injured.”

“Many workplace deaths are not properly investigated,” added Steinbrunner. “Only a handfull result in criminal charges.”

“Today, in memory of those who lost their lives 25 years ago, we call on the federal government to enforce the Westray Laws,” Steinbrunner said. “We are calling on the federal government to direct crown prosecutors to enforce the Westray Laws to investigate, and prosecute those responsible for deaths in mining according to the Westray provisions of the criminal code.”

In 2004, after years of pressuring the federal government, a piece of legislation was finally passed 12 years after, called the Westray Laws.

Charlie Angus, who is running for the leadership of the federal New Democratic Party, expressed his concerns about mine safety and the many deaths that continue to occur.

“The observation of this National Day of Mourning is very important throughout Canada, but is even more so for Northern workers,” said Charlie Angus.

Angus’ grandfather, for whom he was named after, died while working at the Hollinger Mine in Timmins.

Angus’ maternal grandfather was injured at the McIntyre Mine.

“It’s the families and the subsequent generations that also pay the price for failing to enforce mining safety laws,” he said.

Angus re-enforced his message tinged with his own families experience with mining tragedy singing his song “The War Down Below”.

The War Down Below by Charlie Angus and the Grievous Angels

Mayor Black said workplace safety should be everyone’s number one priority.

“It is so important to recognize the National Day of Mourning, but we also need to keep this at the forefront of our minds daily,” said Black. “Health and safety in the workplace should be everyone’s number one priority.”

MPP Gilles Bisson was represented by members of his staff as he was participating at the Kapuskasing Day of Mourning.

The Westray coal mine opened in Plymouth, Nova Scotia on Sept. 11, 1991 to great hoopla with promises of 300 new jobs - despite grave warnings by health and safety reps and a Nova Scotia member of the legislative assembly (MLA) that the mine was not safe enough to open.

Eight months later May 9, 1992, at 5:18 a.m., a sudden surge of methane gas from a coal seam exploded into flames killing 26 miners in a blast felt a kilometre away.

"The Westray story is a complex mosaic of actions, omissions, mistakes, incompetence, apathy, cynicism, stupidity and neglect," noted Mr. Justice Peter Richard in his report on the explosion and fire at the coal mine.

Westray Mining Disaster, May 1992

Frank Giorno

About the Author: Frank Giorno

Frank Giorno worked as a city hall reporter for the Brandon Sun; freelanced for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. He is the past editor of and the newsletter of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers.
Read more

Reader Feedback