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Looking back at Moose River, 50 years later

The Story

For 56 hours in 1936, countless North Americans were riveted by the dramatic radio reports being broadcast by J. Frank Willis every half-hour from the site of the Moose River mine disaster in Nova Scotia. Fifty years later, CBC Radio's Peter Gzowski looks back at the disaster and its groundbreaking media coverage. In addition to airing snippets of Willis's original reports, Gzowski also interviews Alex Campbell, an RCMP constable who was present at the disaster and rescue, which he describes as having been "a race against time."

Medium: Radio
Program: Morningside
Broadcast Date: Sept. 23, 1986
Guest(s): Alex Campbell, J. Frank Willis
Host: Peter Gzowski
Duration: 21:13
Photo: Library and Archives Canada / PA-136861

Did You know?

• The surviving miners were able to survive in the mine for nearly 11 days because the rescuers had drilled a pipeline down to them in order to supply them with food, drink and a telephone for comunication.


• When Willis broadcast his Moose River reports in April 1936, he was working for the CRBC (Canadian Radio Broadcasting Corporation), which was the precursor to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The CRBC was replaced by the CBC several months after the Moose River disaster, on Nov. 2, 1936. So 1986 not only marked the 50th anniversary of the Moose River mine disaster, it was also the 50th anniversary of CBC Radio itself.


• Willis's broadcasts were carried on 58 Canadian stations and about 650 stations in the United States. The BBC picked up the broadcasts for Great Britain and Europe.


• According to a Time magazine article published early in May of 1936, even the British monarchy expressed joy at the news of the rescue: "Proud, as was every Briton, of the endurance of the victims and the pluck of the rescuers, King Edward VIII cabled Lord Tweedsmuir, his Governor General in Ottawa: 'I am thrilled with admiration. ... I should be glad to have further news of [survivors] Dr. Robertson and Mr. Scadding.'"


• Moose River was the first mining disaster to capture international media attention. According to the Canadian Communications Foundation's website, "One of the two rescued men... said later the rescue would probably not have been made but for the presence of the news media because officials had given the trapped men up for dead."




The 1936 Moose River Mine Disaster more