Little Bits of History

Bump! Boom!

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 23, 2013
Springhill, Nova Scotia mining disaster

Springhill, Nova Scotia mining disaster

October 23, 1958: Springhill, Nova Scotia, Canada is hit by an earthquake. When an underground earthquake strikes at the location of human mining efforts, it is referred to as a “bump.” There is some speculation the mining efforts trigger the geologic event by placing variable stresses on underground stratum. While actively mining, shifting pressures can cause supporting galleries to collapse or disintegrate. The town of Springhill was dependent on the coal mining industries. They had already suffered through the 1891 fire and the 1956 explosion. The mines remained productive.

In No. 2 mine, the method of removal had been improved to forestall disaster. The underground tunnel was one of the deepest in the world. The sloping shaft went ever downward for 14,200 feet and reached 4,000 feet below the surface. The “room and pillar” technique had been changed twenty years earlier to the safer “long wall retreating” method. A small bump occurred at 7 PM – during the evening shift. These were so common, the men ignored the irritant. At 8:06 PM a large bump hit and “severely impacted” a large portion of the mine. Three distinct aftershocks alerted those on the surface to the catastrophe in the mine.

The floor of part of No. 2 mine was smashed into the ceiling, instantly killing several men. Many others were trapped in small pockets of space. Rescue teams immediately began to look for survivors. Some wounded, limping men were encountered at 13,400 feet and aided to the surface more than 2.5 miles up the sloping shaft. Toxic gas released in the bump was found at 13,800 feet. Rescue workers had to drill shafts down through the rubble to vent the rooms and bring in fresh air. By 4 AM the next morning, 75 miners had been saved.

Others remained trapped with little food or water and dwindling air supplies. The media arrived and maintained a vigil with the groundside families of those still entombed below. The rescuers continued to work. On October 29 contact was made with twelve still trapped miners. They were freed on October 30 at 2:25 AM. On November 1, one last group of survivors was found. The remains of 74 men who were killed were brought to the surface sealed in metal containers due to the advanced state of decomposition. There were 100 survivors. The men who risked their own lives in the rescue effort were awarded a Gold Medal by the Royal Canadian Humane Association for their bravery.

“Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid.” – Franklin P. Jones

“Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death.” – Omar N. Bradley

“Let bravery be thy choice, but not bravado.” – Menander

“Focus on where you want to go, not on what you fear.” – Anthony Robbins

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Mining has always been a dangerous operation whether it was for coal or other metals. Thousands have died over the centuries. The earliest mining disaster with greater than 100 deaths involved comes from the Rammelsberg Mine in Goslar, Germany where in 1376 disaster struck the mine. The largest number of deaths from a mining disaster took place in 1942. There was an explosion in the coal mine located in Benxi, China (Honkeiko Colliery mine) which took the lives of 1,549 miners. There were 1,100 at a coal mine located in Courrieres, France in 1906 who were killed by the explosion there. In this century, the greatest disaster was not an explosion, but rather a release of 100,000 tons of cyanide contaminated water from the Baia, Mare, Romania mining company, Aurul. Up to 80% of the aquatic life in affected rivers were found to have been killed. 

Also on this day: Fore – In 1930, the first miniature golf tournament was held.
Poison Gas – In 2002, the Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis began.
Schtroumpfs – In 1958, the Belgian comic strip debuted.