Community Papers

T.W. Paterson column: Historian Helen Tilley recalls South Wellington’s lost miners, part 1

<p>Entrance to South Wellington Mine. John Arbuthnot on the right and Luther Wishart on the left. Circa 1908. (Courtesy of Ladysmith & District Historical Society)</p> -

Entrance to South Wellington Mine. John Arbuthnot on the right and Luther Wishart on the left. Circa 1908. (Courtesy of Ladysmith & District Historical Society)

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Part 1

Thomas Watson was working his first shift in the mine that day and his was the first body recovered.

For years now I've been trying to give a 'face' to some of the men, some of them boys, who died in our Island coal mines during that industry's 90-year-long heyday.

But I've not been working alone. Others, such as the members of the Friends of the Morden Mine have also sought to honour the miners of old, of whom about 1,000 died on the job or of work related injuries. The decade-long efforts of the FOMM resulted in the erection of a beautiful memorial in Morden Provincial Park last year; but that's a story for another day.

Today's Chronicle is about the 19 men who were drowned when the abandoned Southfield workings (again, this must be a story for another day) flooded their workplace in South Wellington's PCC Mine. Simply put, the miners were working from plans that incorrectly showed a safe buffer between their workings and those of the adjacent, water-filled Southfield. During the morning shift of Feb. 9, 1915, a charge detonated in the PCC broke through to the Southfield and the waters rushed in. The miners didn't stand a chance.

But I'm not flying solo today; we have as a guest columnist South Wellington's indefatigable historian Helen Tilley. Helen, whom I've introduced to you before, is probably the first researcher to take the trouble to devote considerable time and effort into learning about the PCC's lost miners — not just as casualties and statistics from a century ago but as real life human beings who died while working underground, in this case as the result of a totally preventable blunder.

For all of Helen's efforts what we know about these men, all of them immigrants, many of them young and recent arrivals to the South Wellington area, still adds up to very little. The obituary notices of the time were often sparse as were some of the Department of Mines reports and the death certificates. News accounts of the various disasters invariably dwelled on the circumstances of the event rather than biographical details of the men who'd lost their lives.

So I'm pleased to turn you over to Helen. My only editing is for length:

William Anderson was single, 22 years old and born in Scotland. He'd come to Canada five years previously and worked in the South Wellington Mine for all that time. William's sister Margaret was married to Robert Miller who also died in the flood. William was in a place of safety and returned to the mine to save his brother-in-law and in trying to do that he lost his own life. William was respnsible for saving Casey Jones and John Murdock before returning to the flood to try to save Robert Miller. William's body was recovered on May 11, 1915.

Joseph Cadr was a married man with three children. He was 46, born in Hungary. He came to Canada four years previously and had lived in South Wellington for two years. His body was recovered on May 11, 1915.

Peter Fearon was 25, married with one son and was born in Westmorland, Eng. He had been in Canada only one month and at the mine for the same time. He was the brother of Joseph Fearon who was also drowned in the mine flood. [Both] were related to [mine manager] Joseph Foy. Peter's body was recovered on May 15, 1915.

Joseph Fearon was single, age 28. He'd also come to Canada one month previously and had worked at the mine for one month. As noted, his brother Peter Fearon also drowned in the mine flood. Joseph's body was recovered on May 15, 1915.

D.V. Finn – A single man, age 23, born in Transylvania, he'd been in Canada for three years and worked at the mine for one year. Previously he worked in Cumberland. He had a father in Austria. His body was recovered May 3, 1915.

Joseph Foy was survived by his wife, Margaret and eight children. He was 45 and had been born in Cumberland, Eng. in 1870. He'd come to Canada four years previousy and had lived and worked for two years in South Wellington. He was the mine manager from 1913 on and previous to that had been a coal miner.

As manager, he was in a position of safety above ground but when he learned what had happened he rushed below, passing miners who'd made it to safety along the way. Thomas Watson, an escaping miner, joined Foy in trying to help their fellow miners. Joseph's body was recovered on April 30, 1915.

William Gilson was 45, born in Scotland, with a wife, Margaret, and son, John. His body was recovered on May 3, 1915 and he was buried in Ladysmith with a Catholic service.

James Hronis was single, 21, and had been born in Greece. He'd been in Canada two years and had lived in the Nanaimo area for seven months. His body was recovered May 6, 1915.

(To be continued)

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