Nova Scotia

Coal mine simulator at Glace Bay museum transports visitors on emotional journey

The Miners Museum in Glace Bay is open for the season and has a new attraction aimed at immersing visitors in the history of mining.

'It kind of brings a lump to your throat,' says museum guide and former miner

Eric Spencer spent 30 years in mining. He says the new simulator makes him miss the camaraderie of his old career. (George Mortimer/CBC)

A Cape Breton museum devoted to the region's rich history of coal mining is using modern technology to take visitors back in time.

No, it's not a time machine. The Miners Museum in Glace Bay has launched a mine simulator that transports visitors to the No. 24 colliery, albeit virtually.

Visitors sit in a mine cart surrounded by screens while Angus, the virtual guide, leads the way and explains Cape Breton's vast mining history as well as how the work was done.

"I think a lot of local people who've been here before or have not been here before might want to come and try this. Anybody who's got mining in their family, and that's just about all of us, really needs to experience this simulator," said Mary Pat Mombourquette, executive director of the museum.

The museum is also home to a real mine that visitors can explore with a guide, but the simulator offers accessibility for people with mobility issues who can't go down in the mine.

Virtual guide Angus talks about the history of coal mining in Cape Breton. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Eric Spencer, a museum guide who spent 30 years working as a miner in the area, said hearing the narrator talk about mining brings back memories of his former career.

"The narrator starts talking about the relationship and what he misses about working in the mine, and here's the thing: he doesn't miss the coal mining industry, but he misses the miners, the camaraderie," he said.

"It kind of brings a lump to your throat."

Spencer said it's been fun to watch visitors trying out the simulator, especially when they start to hear some of the sounds, including a couple of explosions. 

"You see them jump out of their seats — catches them by surprise — but then you get a big puff of smoke coming out the front of the screen from the explosion. It's realistic," he said.

Mombourquette said $1.7 million was spent on the project and it's hoped the new attraction will bring in more visitors.

Mary Pat Mombourquette, executive director of the museum, hopes the new attraction leads to more visitors after a poor season during the pandemic. (George Mortimer/CBC)

The pandemic has not been kind to the museum's admission numbers. Mombourquette said visitation was down 95 per cent last season and she's worried about this season, too.

The museum doesn't have any money for marketing, she said, so it's relying on word of mouth.

"My hope here is that … everybody that comes through here is blown away and they're going out and talking about it," she said.

With files from George Mortimer

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