Letter to the Editor: ‘Getting Out the Coal’

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Editor’s Note: The following letter was received in response to Part One and Part Two of Susan Dodd’s “A Short History of Blame” series.

There is no doubt mining was a dangerous occupation, particularly where gas was close to the operating surfaces and loose stone led to cave-ins. A good case can be made for miners being unrecognized for the contributions they made to the province’s economy from the 1800s through the Second World War.

Miners at Dominion #6 Colliery, Cape Breton, 1920. (Source: Beaton Institute https://beatoninstitute.com/dominion-13)

Miners at Dominion #6 Colliery, Cape Breton, 1920. (Source: Beaton Institute)

But, in essence, I think Ms. Dodd diminishes her own argument by claiming that the men were unfairly treated as irresponsible, immature and imprudent by an uncaring management, and then going on to cite as examples one falling down a mine shaft and others entering an area with gas where they were told not to go and where they went with an open flame. That was certainly imprudent and it is difficult  to see how management can be blamed for that.

Further, she seems to criticize “book learning,” then speaks about men not handling powder properly (or going into an area where it is known methane exists).

And while certainly the government wanted and needed the royalties, those royalties were based on coal sales, as were the incomes of mining families. Accidents slowed or halted production lessening the family incomes. Since they were paid daily and not on salary, that lost income would probably not be made up.

In the early days of mining in Nova Scotia, most of the miners were Highland Scots from rural areas who would never feel subjugated by management. They considered themselves partners in “getting the coal out” and would be infuriated by the idea that they were victims. They did form unions and initiated strikes (eight months in 1882 in Lingan, for example) for better working conditions and for the check-off system that provided some stability for wives and children, but it would be later that the strict management/labor divide evolved and then within specific groups in specific areas.

Carole MacDonald
Halifax

 

 

 

 

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