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Moose River Mine Disaster April 12, 1936

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

On Sunday, April 12, 1936, two owners of the Moose River Mine in Halifax, Nova Scotia - the chief of staff at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, 52-year-old Dr. David E. Robertson, and 30-year-old Toronto lawyer, Herman Russell Magill - along with Alfred Scadding, the 42-year-old mine timekeeper, enter the mine on an inspection tour.

At 11pm, the three men were on their way to the surface in a mine cart, when the mine collapsed. The cable of the cart snapped and they would have plummeted down the shaft but falling rocks pinned the cart and it only fell a few inches. The men were spared being crushed from the remaining falling rock from a huge timber that fell across the mine shaft above them. They are trapped in a mine cart together, surrounded by falling rock both below and above them, 43 metres underground.

Rescue efforts begin within minutes by Moose River miners as the noise is heard throughout Moose River. Within days, several hundred miners from throughout Nova Scotia -- from Westville, Caribou Mines, Montague Mines, Springhill, Goldenville, Waverly and Stellarton -- and even as far away as Ontario arrive to help even though no one knows whether there are any survivors.

It takes six days for Billy Bell, a diamond drill operator with the Nova Scotia government, to break into an open space at the 43-metre level with his drill. He shouts down the pipe hoping for an answer to indicate the men are alive but does not get one. Officials decide to abandon rescue operations but Bell refuses to give up hope. When a steam whistle arrives eleven hours later, on Sunday, April 19, it sends a piercing whistle down the pipe and Bell hears what he was hoping for - a faint tapping from down below. The men are alive! This pipe line supplies them with food, drink and a telephone for communication.

The relief of finding the men alive is cut short the next morning when Herman Magill dies of pneumonia and due to fatigue, weather conditions and continuous rockfalls, it is determined the only hope of rescuing the remaining two men is to repoen the adjacent Reynolds Shaft. This was deemed earlier in the rescue efforts to be too dangerous as it was extremely unstable. Experienced miners from Westville and Stellarton are brought in for this part of the rescue.

At this time, radio is considered an entertainment medium only and newspapers were the primary source for news. This is why officials of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, a precursor to the CBC, at first will not allow their only reporter east of Montreal to go to the scene. It is not until Monday April 20 when he finally receives permission. 28-year-old J. Frank Willis, the CRBC's Regional Director for the Maritimes, makes his first broadcast at 6 p.m. that day. For 56 hours straight he goes live on air across North American for two minutes every half-hour. It is estimated 100 million people are listening. This goes down in history as North America's very first live 24-hour news event. He made his last broadcast of this event on 2am, Thursday, April 23.

On Wednesday, April 22, at 11:40pm a Stellarton draeger crew broke into the area where the men were waiting. An hour later, now Thursday, April 23, after 242 hours underground, Dr. Robertson was rescued from the mine. Scadding was pulled from the mine a few minutes later and finally Herman Magill's body was recovered. The two surviving men were airlifted to a Halifax hospital for treatment. Suffering from trench foot, Scadding ended up having to have all of his toes amputated.

You can see silent film footage of Robertson and Scadding being rescued from the mine here.

You can see a sketch of the mine shaft of where the men were trapped and the pipe that was used to communicate with them and provide them with food and water, as well as the entry to the Reynolds Shaft in this diagram.


CBC Archives - Moose River Mine Disaster

Pictou County miners helped Moose River rescue

Rescue at Moose River, Nova Scotia

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