50 years ago today, 15 men died in a B.C. coal mine explosion

A statue commemorating the lives lost in the coal mines of southeastern B.C. was unveiled in Sparwood Monday and local children laid flowers to commemorate the dead.

Deadly Sparwood-area mine explosion remembered by people who were there and by city

Children leave flowers at the feet of a statue dedicated to the 15 victims who died in the Balmer North mine explosion in southeast B.C. on April 3, 1967. (District of Sparwood/Facebook)

Monday marks the 50th anniversary of the Balmer North mine explosion in southeastern B.C.

The industrial accident ripped through an Elk Valley coal mine near present-day Sparwood and killed 15 men on April 3, 1967.

Some of the men were friends of Ewan Gordon, who, on Monday, reflected on the disaster and what life was like for coal miners back then.

"You were kinda listening to the earth talkin' to you, hoping it wasn't gonna fall on your head," he said. "You felt a lot closer to your maker when you were listening to the ground crack around you.

"We lived together. We ate together … when you congregate on the bus to and from work and whatnot, we'd tell [newer miners] stories. Whether they were impressed or not, I don't know, but it's kind of a forgotten era."

At Sparwood, the anniversary was recognized with a public ceremony.

A statue commemorating the lives lost on that and other days in the coal mines of southeastern B.C. was unveiled, and local children laid flowers at its feet to commemorate the dead.

Doctors worked on injured for 3 days 

Another person who remembers well the explosion and its aftermath is Dr. John Wheeldon. He was one of five doctors who spent three straight days treating injured victims.

"As [local hospital staff] started bringing the miners in, we realized we had a very serious problem on our hands," he told Radio West guest host Josh Page. "I'd never in my life seen anything like this."

Wheeldon says the men brought in had coal dust embedded all over their bodies from the explosion, including in their eyes and their mouths.

He says his previous experiences as a lone doctor in logging camps was helpful, because the doctors in Sparwood that day had to perform every type of necessary procedure on their own.

Wheeldon says he doesn't exactly feel pride in his work after the disaster but was glad he was able to help that day.

Many of the surviving miners he treated and their families would become his patients over the years.

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With files from CBC Radio One's Radio West