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Moose River Gold Mine Disaster

The following information is from the Moose River Gold Mine Museum Facebook Page:

In April of 1936 broadcast history was made in the remote village of Moose River Gold Mines, Nova Scotia. On Easter Sunday three men were entrapped in a cave-in at the gold mine. The grueling and challenging ten day rescue that ensued with the first ever 'on the spot' news coverage kept in international audience glued to the radio and changed broadcasting and journalism forever.

The Moose River Gold Mines Museum houses artifacts, photos, newspapers and memorabilia from that historic event.

Gold Mine Disaster Timeline:

DAY ONE: On this day (April 12th, 2021), 85 years ago, it was Easter Sunday. Spring was slowly starting to arrive in the village of Moose River Gold Mines. Although not inspected and without a permit, the mine had started to operate. Reports by the workers of shifting and groaning underground were ignored. Owner Herman Magill had been in Moose River since January. co-owner Dr. D.E. (Eddy) Robertson had just arrived from Toronto. After 10 pm the two men, with timekeeper, Alfred Scadding stopped in at a sing song at the home of Ethel and Warren Higgins. "Keep on singing" they said "we'll be back". They walked to the mine and went down on the skip. Around 11 pm the timbers gave way trapping the three men 141 ft below. The call went out and before midnight every available man from Caribou Mines responded with 'truckload after truckload of machinery'.

Day Two: The men started working in the wee hours. Found the Archibald shaft was blocked and mapped out a possible route through the abandoned Reynolds shaft. Miners began arriving from other parts of Nova Scotia. Pauline Robertson and Alice Magill were boarding a train in Toronto. Word was out. When the children of Moose River woke up on their first day of Easter holiday they knew it was one they would never forget as more and more people, vehicles and equipment crept in over the spring mud.

Day Three: The Minister of Mines Michael Dwyer arrived with J. P. Messervy, the inspector of mines. Messervy was put in charge. Work was halted because of more cave-ins. They believed it was a recovery mission. Smoke rose up from the shaft. The miners recognized it as dynamite boxes burning but were told it was only steam. The place was now crawling with workers, newsmen and curious spectators. The road was a quagmire. The Salvation Army walked in carrying urns for coffee. There was no security around the pit and the kids were having a field day.

Day Four: More cave-ins so work was halted again at the Meagher shaft. Pauline Robertson and Alice Magill arrived in the village with Charles Ivey, Robertson's brother in law. Scadding's wife was unable to come. They had a two month old baby girl who was not well. He also had a 15 year old daughter from a previous marriage who lived in Wisconsin. His mother was very ill, too ill to even be told what was happening. The wives were put up in the mining office/house. When asked if they were comfortable they said "Don't worry about us. We don't matter. The men working are who is important".

Day Five: There are no photos of the Moose River women from this time. They barely had a chance to look up from their stoves let alone walk outside. Violet Murphy made buckets of coffee that her children carried over to the pit. The RCMP would lace it with rum for the men taking a short rest though it also flowed freely among the newsmen and officials. Every available space in every home was taken up. "It was wall to wall people" said Ethel Miller. On the floor, on the doorstep, wherever there was a space to lie down would be taken up by cold, wet bodies. It rained almost every day. Few houses would have indoor plumbing or washing machines and some didn't have electricity. The women cooked nonstop, still serving meals at 3 a.m. They worried about their children, who they feared would be excitedly running unsupervised around the pit, and their husbands, sons and brothers working all hours in dangerous conditions. Gladys Newhook had just had a baby. Annie Prest was pregnant with her first child. "It was hellish times" she said. They did not complain or expect recognition. They knew what had to be done and went about it, unnoticed, one day at a time. If life gives you chances to measure your worth, the women of Moose River passed in spades.

Day Six: Lewis Logan told of first hearing the faint tapping on a steam pipe. The men were alive! "It gave us hope" he said. Hope is what they all needed. When Billy Bell arrived with the diamond drill team there was no plan and the men put in charge were bureaucrats not miners. He relied on the local men who knew the workings to advise him where to drill. The rescue was amped up to even more urgent measures. A call went out for 'single men with guts'. The place was swarming now, politicians arriving for photo ops, planes flying over dropping supplies or landing on Long Lake. At the miner's insistence, it was decided the best entry would be through the Reynolds shaft, the very shaft they were ordered away from on day two. They would have been through by now. Communication to the men below was made through the diamond drill pipe. Boyd Prest kept a vigil, shouting down the pipe, refusing to take a break. On the photo below it says he was the first to speak with the men. A microphone was fashioned with a fountain pen, small enough to fit down the tube. Miners threw their coats on the muddy ground so the wives, laughing and crying, could kneel and call down to their husbands. Magill's Great Dane, Moose had been keeping watch by the pithead since Sunday.

Day Seven: At 3 a.m. word traveled up the pipe that Herman Magill was dead. Sadness spread through the village. Magill was well liked and had been with them since January. He and his dog, Moose, had become familiar figures. Alice, who had gone to bed so hopeful, would have to be woken with this tragic news. There was now a new face. J. Frank Willis had arrived from the Canadian Radio Broadcast Commission. He delivered his first live broadcast at 6 p.m. the night before from the doorstep of Matt Higgins' store. He was not welcomed by the newspaper reporters. There was only one telephone line and now Willis was monopolizing it for two minutes every half hour making their stories old news. He began working and sleeping in his car to protect his equipment. Little did he realize his updates were making history. Willis' on the spot live news coverage was the first ever in the world. His broadcasts were picked up across North America and Europe keeping over one hundred million listeners glued to their radio sets and making Moose River Gold Mines internationally famous.

Day Eight: They had already brought down the shafthouse to use the timbers for the Reynolds shaft. The Draegermen and miners worked relentlessly timbering and forming a human chain passing buckets of rock from hand to hand. The men below were crying "How soon?" "We can't last!' "The water is rising." People on the surface tried to keep them from panicking, at times having to lie about the situation. A hospital unit arrived on standby. Dr. Donald Rankin from the Victoria General ER arrived with nurses, Anna Brennan and Ada (Graham( Hopkins. The women immediately began helping out, administering care and first aid to the exhausted workers, making sandwiches along side the other volunteers and, as Anna said, 'waiting on the doctor,' bringing him coffee and food.

Day Nine: In spite of several setbacks the grueling, harrowing rescue was slowly moving ahead. Now that Moose River was on the world stage the reporters were read the riot act by the Premier, Angus L. MacDonald. No colourful, sensational stories or untruths or they would be sent away. Matthew Higgins and his wife Lottie kept their General Store open around the clock. Boots, sweaters, socks and underwear were at a premium. He sold more than 11,000 cigarettes, though probably not to the miners who wouldn't have been able to afford them and most likely rolled their own. The telephone operator in Middle Musquodoboit said she took over 8100 calls, dreaming about the switchboard in her sleep. Another breaking media event, pictures were transferred from Halifax to the New York Times by means of telephone equipment, a first for Canada.

Day 10: The men were woken by a light and two 'unnamed miners' slithered through what looked like a rat hole they had made in the side wall. They held their hands and stripped off their sweaters to wrap around them. Jack Simpson and George Morrell from Stellarton and Jim Rushton and Duncan McNeil from Springhill followed. Jack Simpson offered to carry Robertson but he said he could manage on his own. The narrow passageway was lined with men pressed up against the side ready to pass him by hand. At 12:44 a.m. Robertson was helped to the stretcher waiting on the surface. He was able to walk on his own into the hospital unit to be assessed. Scadding was carried up on Jim Rushton's back. He held him tightly around the neck whispering "good boy'. At 1 a.m. Scadding came to the surface. He was airlifted to the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax. Jim Rushton and Duncan McNeil went back down for Magill's body. The exhausted workers reverently lined up and sang "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow' as Magill was carried through. All over the country church bells rang and steam whistles blasted. "They are out!

Day 11: It was eerily quiet as the last of the machinery was dragged out. Plans were being made to build a cairn over the pithead with the last buckets of rock. Work resumed at Caribou Mines. Alice and Moose accompanied Magill's coffin on the train to Toronto, back to her two small daughters. Scadding had his feet encased in special glass boots to try and stimulate circulation. Robertson was busy relating his story to be auctioned by the Red Cross to the highest bidding newspaper. Draegermen Jack Simpson and George Morrell accepted an offer to tell their story and immediately went on the road to venues in Montreal, Toronto and northern Ontario. Warner Brothers announced production of a motion picture entitled 'Draegermen Courage'. In the words of Matthew Higgins, "the road is good, at least".

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