Nova Scotia

Cape Bretoners remember fallen miners, despite pandemic

Even though the pandemic shut down the annual church service and wreath ceremony, Cape Bretoners found a way to remember fallen coal miners on Friday for Nova Scotia's William Davis Miners' Memorial Day.

Gathering not allowed, so people quietly laid wreaths or just reflected on William Davis Miners' Memorial Day

NDP MLA Kendra Coombes, retired union rep Bob Burchell and CBRM Coun. Darren O'Quinn laid wreaths at the Miner's Memorial in New Waterford on Davis Day. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

For the second year in a row, the pandemic has forced the cancellation of William Davis Miners' Memorial Day ceremonies honouring those who have died in Nova Scotia coal mines.

Because of restrictions on gatherings, people in Cape Breton Regional Municipality had to find another way to safely honour the day's namesake, who was shot and killed on June 11, 1925, during a strike by miners in New Waterford.

People gathered on the anniversary of William Davis's death by the hundreds before the pandemic.

This year, a handful of people visited the Miner's Memorial in his hometown. Some quietly laid a wreath and some just dropped by to reflect for a short while.

"You notice a few come in and say a little prayer and people are heading to the graveyard today, too, and a lot of people will be here to show respects throughout the day," said Darren O'Quinn, who represents the New Waterford district on CBRM council.

Even though the pandemic shut down the annual church service and wreath ceremony, O'Quinn said the formal commemoration with the public will continue when restrictions ease.

A lump of coal was laid on the Miner's Memorial in New Waterford on Friday for William Davis Miners' Memorial Day, which honours those who have died in Nova Scotia coal mines. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"There's so many coal mining families in Cape Breton, it'll never be forgotten, what he [did] and the sacrifice he made," the councillor said.

"I don't think there's any danger of Davis Day going away."

Kendra Coombes, the NDP MLA for Cape Breton Centre, was there to remember those who fought the mining company for a living wage and decent working conditions 96 years ago.

"They went up to the New Waterford power and water plant to restore power and water to the town because they were starving," she said.

"They were on the brink of starvation and we can never forget the sacrifices that William Davis and the Davis family and all those miners and the community members that marched up there, we can never forget what they were trying to do for our town."

Not forgotten

Bob Burchell, a retired union representative with the United Mine Workers of America, said he was glad to see the day has not been forgotten by some people. But it is not the same as years ago when businesses would close for the day.

"I just wish the retail community would follow suit and show their respect because if it wasn't for the coal miners, they wouldn't be here," he said.

Burchell said he is laying plans for the return of a ceremony next year.

"There's people that have been in and out of the monument all day showing their support, so I think people are still showing their commitment to Davis Day and hopefully next year it'll be bigger and better than ever."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 17 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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