While lumbering in the Moose River region, John Pulsifer noticed and reported pieces of shiny quartz in 1866. But prospectors did not file claims until a decade later when the area was surveyed and became the Moose River Gold District. By the early 1900s, gold mining declined at Moose River as elsewhere in Nova Scotia. Mines were abandoned, resulting in many shafts filling up with water. With the renewed interest in gold mining during the 1930s, the Moose River mine was sold to a group that wanted to get the mine into production again. After pumping out water in some of the shafts, mining resumed in 1935. By early 1936 F.D. Henderson had been hired as mine manager and David Robertson and Herman Magill bought into the company, becoming major shareholders.

On Easter Sunday, April 12, 1936, Robertson, Magill and their employee, Alfred Scadding, decided to inspect the mine. They became trapped underground at the 141 foot level after a massive cave-in. Before then, few people had ever heard of Moose River, let alone the Moose River Gold mine. After the mine collapse and subsequent dramatic rescue, the name became known by millions the world over through the news media. Although on the spot broadcasting of the event changed radio forever, the disaster did not significantly alter adherence to mine safety regulations. More serious mining disasters with great loss of life were yet to happen in Nova Scotia: Springhill (1956 and 1958) and Westray (1992), for example.

Ironically, the three men trapped in the Moose River Gold mine were not miners.  Dr. David E. Robertson was an eminent Toronto surgeon, Herman Magill, a young Toronto barrister, and Alfred Scadding, a timekeeper. After frantically searching for an escape route, the three men realized that there was no way out. They were trapped underground with water rising from below and shaft timbers ominously shifting overhead.
Miners from all over the province and from Ontario converged to help with the difficult rescue attempt. It rained and a raw cold wind blew most of the time. The ground at the mine site and dirt road into Moose River turned into a muddy morass. Newspaper reporters flooded in, literally fighting to get their stories out over the one telephone which was a party line serving the entire community. On Monday, April 20th, J. Frank Willis of the CRBC (precursor to the CBC) arrived and began broadcasting, providing the first ever live 24 hour radio coverage of a breaking news story in Canada. He never slept and barely ate for the next 56 hours, broadcasting two or three minutes every half hour. Over 100 million people in North America and Europe stayed glued to their radios, anxious to hear every detail of the rescue as it unfolded.

Voted the top radio news item from the first half of the 20th century by the Canadian Press, the Moose River mine disaster encompasses three linked stories.  One revolves around lingering questions concerning the three who were trapped.  Why did they go down into the mine late Easter Sunday evening when they had been forewarned that parts of the mine were unsafe?  A second concerns the birth of live on the spot radio broadcasting; and the third is a compelling narrative about the heroic rescue which succeeded despite all odds.
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Dian Day, Susan Sellers, Rita Wilson
Moose River, Nova Scotia, CANADA
© 2013, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

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