CBC Digital Archives

Moose River memories, 20 years later

It happened fast. Three men were suddenly trapped 43 metres underground when Nova Scotia's Moose River gold mine collapsed on Apr. 12, 1936. Fellow miners flocked to help, and reporters from across Canada gathered to cover the dramatic rescue effort. For one of them it was a career-changing event. For 56 hours straight, J. Frank Willis of the CRBC (precursor to the CBC) stayed awake to give radio reports every half-hour until two survivors were rescued on Apr. 23. Willis's groundbreaking round-the-clock coverage changed perceptions of the purpose of radio, and influenced the path CBC Radio would take in its formative years.

"You served me with the finest cup of coffee I ever drank in my life," says journalist J. Frank Willis to a smiling Salvation Army couple. They served an exhausted Willis that coffee 20 years earlier at the site of the 1936 Moose River mine disaster in Nova Scotia. In this 1956 episode of CBC-TV's Tabloid, Willis recalls the challenges he faced reporting on the disaster for radio, updating the story every half-hour for 56 hours straight. Newspaperman Gregory Clark, rescuer George Murrell, and the last remaining survivor who had been trapped in the mine, Alfred Scadding, also share their stories.
• The roof of the Moose River gold mine collapsed on Apr. 12, 1936, trapping three men below: Herman Magill, Dr. David Robertson and Alfred Scadding. On the seventh day, Magill died. Robertson and Scadding were rescued after nearly 11 days underground, on Apr. 23. Two weeks later, Time magazine reported that Robertson had "recovered rapidly," while Scadding had developed "a bad case of trench foot."
  • Robertson passed away in 1944 at the age of 60. In his obituary in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, the stress of the disaster is cited as a possible contributing factor in his death: "From the effects of this harrowing experience, he made an amazing recovery, but there is no doubt that it took its toll and ultimately contributed to his death."

• Scadding lived for 31 more years after getting rescued from the mine. He passed away in 1967 in Toronto at the age of 75 after "a long illness," according to the Globe and Mail. His obituary in the Globe said he had "in recent years operated the stamp counter in Simpson's department store, and then worked in a Yonge Street stamp and coin shop."

• In a 1968 CBC Radio interview, Willis candidly describes the sheer exhaustion he was feeling due to staying awake for more than 56 hours: "You did without (sleep). And you got your second wind, and then you got your third wind, and then you found yourself in a semi-comatic state. You were alert enough in certain ways, you could still do the old biz, you know, picking up any news that was going -- but in the mean time, you were not physically all that well."

• Gregory (Greg) Clark, the newspaperman interviewed in this Tabloid special, was a well-known journalist and humorist who worked for the Toronto Star from 1911 until 1947. In 1967, he became one of the first officers of the Order of Canada "for the humour which he has brought to his profession as a newspaper writer and radio commentator." After the First World War, he befriended and mentored the not-yet-famous young writer Ernest Hemingway while both were working at the Star. Hemingway reportedly called Clark the best writer on the paper. Clark died in 1977 at the age of 84.

Medium: Television
Program: Tabloid
Broadcast Date: April 13, 1956
Guest(s): Gregory Clark, Colonel Monday, Mrs. Monday, George Murrell, Alfred Scadding
Host: J. Frank Willis, Dick MacDougall
Interviewer: Elaine Grand
Duration: 26:09

Last updated: November 5, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Banding Together: Singing Out for Disaster Re...

Floods, famine, fire and drought -- when disaster strikes at home and around the world, Canadi...

Deadly Skies: Canada's Most Destructive Torna...

A tornado is the stuff of nightmares. Amid heavy rain and hail, huge thunderclouds roll in and...

The Ocean Ranger Disaster

Valentine's Day, 1982: a terrible storm rages off the coast of Newfoundland. On the Grand Bank...

1963: Trans-Canada Air Lines crash kills 118

Just four minutes after liftoff, flight 831 crashes outside Montreal.

1998: Swissair 111 crashes off Nova Scotia

More than 200 people perish after Swissair flight 111 crashes into the water near Peggy's Cove...

1986: Sri Lankan migrants rescued off Newfoun...

Fishing boats come to the aid of more than 150 people adrift in two crowded lifeboats in the A...