On Thursday, Oct. 23, 1958, coal mine No. 2 in Springhill experienced a tremendous bump. At around 8:05 p.m. families in the wooden houses around town were huddled around their new TV sets watching I Love Lucy and laughing at the antics of the show’s star, Lucille Ball. Then, all of a sudden, it hit without warning, and for a 15-mile radius the ground shook and the mine caved in, trapping 174 miners far below the surface.
The only working mine left in Springhill, No. 2, was reputed to be the deepest coal mine in operation in North America. From the pit head to the bottom of the mine was a distance of 4,262 metres, or 2.7 miles, straight down. Having first opened in 1873, the mine was old and that meant that mining operations were carried on at great depth below ground.
Pressure had built up on the mine shafts in No. 2 as coal was removed; gas was being released underground and bumps or violent lurches were becoming increasingly common. Some 525 bumps had occurred before this one.
The power of the disturbance was incredible, and graphically illustrated in the Royal Commission report that followed the Springhill mining disaster. The bump hit with the force of 1,000 tons of coal being dropped 40 feet onto the ground. The ground shook with tremors detected at Dalhousie University’s Seismograph Station 119 kilometres awayand picked up on instruments as far away as Quebec City and Ottawa.
Coal was king
One of the veteran miners and a survivor, Maurice Ruddock of Joggins, had a premonition. “I told a fellow not long before it happened that a bad one was coming.” Then why did he continue to go down to the deeps? It was, he said, for the “comradeship,” but the truth was that there was little work to be found outside of the mines.