Nova Scotia

Park honouring those who died in Cape Breton's coal mines opens Tuesday

Phase 1 of a park in Glace Bay, N.S., dedicated to the memory of those who have died in the Cape Breton coal mines will open Tuesday. Phase 1 features an archway, park benches and a small memorial, with other components opening next year.

Phase 1 of memorial park will feature archway, park benches, small memorial

Joanne Sheppard was instrumental in the development of the park. She stands in front of a picture of her father, Fabien Young, who is featured at the Cape Breton Miners Museum. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Construction has begun on a park in Glace Bay, N.S., dedicated to the memory of those who have died in the Cape Breton coal mines, and the first phase of the project will open Tuesday.

It overlooks the ocean in a peaceful spot behind the Cape Breton Miners Museum.

The $100,000 project will feature, among other things, a statue, park benches and a monument bearing the names of those who died or were injured in an explosion at No. 26 Colliery in Glace Bay in 1979.

Twelve died and four were injured following the explosion that day.

Funding is coming from community donations.

Sheldon Gouthro was acting shift manager the night of the explosion, and was the first to discover the men who had died.

"First came across four men who were burnt. They were screaming, 'Get us out of here! Get us out of here!' Then we went in under the wall face and that's where we encountered the first crew that were dead," said Gouthro, who is now a guide at the museum.

Retired miner Sheldon Gouthro was in No. 26 Colliery when there was an explosion in 1979. He's now a guide at the Cape Breton Miners Museum. (George Mortimer/CBC)

"And as I worked my way up the wall face, we came across the other guys that were lying there dead," he said.

"I just couldn't believe it. I thought it was just a bad, bad dream. I knew every one of them personally. It was just devastating," he said.

Joanne Sheppard was 17 when her father Fabien Young died in the blast.

She led the charge to have the park built.

Sheppard, one of eight children, remembers getting the phone call telling her about the explosion.

"We were woken up at 7 o'clock in the morning with news that there had been an explosion, so we waited hours until before we had news confirming that we had lost our dad," she said.

Construction has begun on the memorial park behind the Cape Breton Miners Museum in Glace Bay. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Sheppard said the park is important to the entire community.

"I just always wanted a peaceful, calming, serene place to go so that we could pay honour to the miners who lost their life that day and to miners in mining communities who lost their lives over the years," she said.

Mary Pat Mombourquette is executive director of the museum.

"People here in this community still remember where they were, what they were doing," she said. "Everybody here knew somebody, was related to somebody, lost somebody. It affected everybody in this community."

She said the park will open in stages, with the statue and monument being built next year. When it opens on Tuesday, it will feature an archway, park benches and a small monument dedicated to another miner, Ron MacDonald, who died in No. 26 Colliery in 1984.

The park is behind the Cape Breton Miners Museum in Glace Bay, N.S. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Mombourquette said the statue is going to be breathtaking.

"The part facing the museum is going to depict 12 men in an underground mine and behind them there will be a hole in the statue and that will be like the top of the mine with a light shining through.

"And then as you walk around, you will see a woman at a kitchen table with a baby on her lap and two plates. The plate across from her is empty and the circle coming through is her kitchen door. It's going to be very emotional," she said.

Mombourquette said the No. 26 monument will be very special.

"Around the statue are going to be 13 stones with miners' helmets on top of them and on those stones will be a little plaque for each man who lost their lives, and on the 13th stone there will be the four men who survived."

Davis Day

The park will open on June 11, Davis Day, which honours miner Bill Davis and those who died in the mining industry.

This year's service and ceremonies will take place at the miners museum.

Students from Glace Bay High School will read out the names of those who died in the No. 26 explosion to open Phase 1 of the park.

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