Coal Mine Disaster: An International Perspective – by John Kinnear (Crowsnest Pass – July 20, 2016)

A special committee in Sparwood is now hard at work planning the commemoration of the last major mine disaster to occur in the Crowsnest Pass/Elk Valley area. Like Hillcrest, this will be a major effort next spring to permanently acknowledge the loss of those fifteen men at Balmer North on April 3, 1967 and also every coal miner ever lost in the Michel/Natal area.

As far as disasters go the 1914 Hillcrest Disaster stands as the date in Canadian history when the worst loss of life in a coal mine occurred. But Canada is not alone in this regard; when it comes to tragic mining losses our numbers pale in comparison when one looks worldwide. This comparison was a painful one to research but will help the reader put our losses into an international perspective.

On April 26, 1942 the world’s worst underground mine disaster happened in Japanese-occupied Manchuria when 1,549 Chinese miners died at the Benxihu Colliery. It was later revealed that the Japanese occupiers, who were using Chinese prisoners to operate the mine, sealed it off after an explosion to shut down fires which effectively caused the deaths of most of the workers.

The worst European mine disaster and the second worst in the world happened in France at the Compagnie des mines de Courrières (Courrieres Mine) about 140 miles north of Paris. On March 10, 1906 the deadly combination of coal dust and methane combined once again to claim the lives of 1,099 men. Six hundred managed to escape and 13 men were eventually rescued some twenty days later.

The world’s sixth worst mining accident happened in Senghenydd Colliery in Glamorgan, Wales when 439 succumbed, mostly to carbon monoxide, on October 14, 1913. This tragedy occurred just eight months before Hillcrest and stands as the deadliest in the history of mining in the United Kingdom.

Incredibly, just six months after Hillcrest, the Mitsubishi Hojyo Coal Mine in Japan blew up, sending the elevator cage fifty feet into the air and claiming an unfathomable 687 men. It ranks as the third worst in the world.

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