Disaster Songs!

Many web designers have started down the path toward “website that looks like an old newspaper”. But, finding it too cheesy, too tricky, or simply a poor match of form and function, have had to turn back. With disastersongs.ca, making a website that looked like an old newspaper made perfect sense. (And based on user feedback, others agree. Phew!)

Three academic researchers, including Dr. Heather Sparling from CBU, have mined the Canadian disaster song tradition and come up with almost 300 pieces. They’ve begun publishing their results, starting with songs about Mining Disasters, with Ocean Disasters, Airline Disasters, Lumbering Disasters, and Railway Disasters to follow.

The last underground mines in Eastern Canada closed in the 1990s, bringing an end to a way of life that had been a part of the region for over two centuries. Nova Scotia’s coal deposits in particular were among the deepest underground in the world, some extending far under the ocean, making them among the most dangerous to mine. Flooding, asphyxiation, spontaneous combustion, falling rocks, and “bumps” (underground earthquake-like events that resulted from the removal of coal and the lack of replacement support) killed 2500 miners over the years, maiming and seriously injuring so many more. This in addition to those who died from chronic illness including lung infection.

While major disasters were transformational and dramatic, the commonplace occurrence of injury or death in the normal conduct of mining was equally palpable for miners and their families…

The communities that grew around the mines were unlike most communities. The manner of exploiting coal required lots of community support in order to reproduce the daily labour of the thousands of men and boys underground. The dangers associated with the industry produced a close knit and interdependent community.

But dealing with death and injury on a regular basis also produced a wide variety of coping mechanisms; something necessary if men were to keep going into the pits in spite of accidents. Songs were a part of a coping-process, just as were various other forms of commemoration and memorialization of workers who lost their lives. Annual commemorative occasions, museums, commemorative plaques, statues to fallen miners, etc. abound throughout the region as a way of signifying the breadth and depth of the sacrifices made.