Miners’ legacy honoured at memorial service in Stellarton

Published on June 11, 2014

STELLARTON – Joan MacLeod’s family ties bring her out to Foord Street every June 11. 

The Stellarton resident pays tribute during the William Davis Miners Memorial Day Service to her grandfather, father and uncles who went to work in coalmines so they could provide for their families.

“I remember it being very frightening,” she said. “You were aware where your father was working and the falls and you were worried about that.”

MacLeod said her father made a career out of working in Pictou County coal mines that included Thorburn, Allan Shaft and the MacGregor Mine.

She was one of many people who gathered at the Stellarton memorial site Wednesday to pay tribute to the men who died in coal mine disasters as the town observed the 89th annual province-wide Miners Memorial Day.

“Over 200 men lost lives in coal mines in Stellarton, including 26 Westray miners, said Stellarton town councillor Judith MacLellan.

“Only those names of men lost in disasters with multiple victims are on this monument. It does not include accidents claiming one victim. More than 600 miners died in mining tragedies in Pictou County and about 2,500 in all of Nova Scotia.”

Rev. Aidan Kingsbury, guest speaker for the service, said he would like to see a bigger service in 2015 since it will be the 90th anniversary of when William Davis was shot and killed during a protest by coalminers in New Waterford.

Coalminers were protesting unsafe work conditions and unreasonable commands and control by the mining company.

“I would like to say we should issue a challenge to ourselves to take on the idea that, a year from now, Davis Day needs to be a very special event in the town and province,” he said.

Kingsbury said coalminers not only worked in dangerous situations to support their families, they were also huge supporters of community.

He said they fought overseas in world wars and helped to create many recreational facilities in the town including the Albion ball field.

“As a member of clergy, we are proud of contribution by coal miners to the churches. Coalminers all through the years did a mine cheque-off system from their pay,” he said. “They signed documents that allowed mining companies to take money from paycheques to support the churches. That financial contribution allowed each of churches in Stellarton to be built and maintained.”

In particular, Kingsbury said, miners were told in 1851 not to go underground, but instead to build the frame of what is now Christ Anglican Church.

In 1948, he said, the community was in need of a hall, so miners and other members of the community took it upon themselves to dig under Christ Anglican Church by hand and construct the parish hall.

Kingsbury added that coal miners also risked their own lives to help others in need by serving as Draegermen.

“We are need to remember them mostly for their determination and courage,” he said.