NEW GLASGOW, N.S. — High school students placed white roses on the Westray mine disaster memorial Wednesday during a ceremony that urged future generations to never forget the importance of worker safety.
Twenty-six flowers were laid on the dark granite stone, one for each of the miners whose names are etched into the memorial of the May 9, 1992 disaster.
Under leaden skies that delivered a steady downpour, Rev. Glen Matheson gave an account of the history of mining disasters, saying the explosion in Plymouth, N.S., at the Westray mine had been among the worst in Canadian history.
He read from the public inquiry into the disaster, which found that it was the result of “incompetence, mismanagement, bureaucratic bungling, deceit, ruthlessness, coverups, apathy, expediency and cynical indifference.”
The Presbyterian minister — who said prayers for the dead in the days following the methane and coal dust explosion — prayed Wednesday that political leaders will remember and learn.
“May there be lessons learned from this place. I pray this in the name of all things holy,” he said.
As names of the dead miners were read, their relatives came forward and put down bouquets. A few reached out and touched the names on the stone.
The Men of the Deeps, a miners choral group, sang songs about coal mining accompanied by the young people who had placed the roses.
At a vigil earlier in the day, some family members recalled what the loss of the men had meant to their lives in the years since the disaster.
Allen Martin became emotional as he thought of the treasured moments from his own life that his brother Glenn missed.
“My daughter growing up, the fishing trip, our grandchild,” he said.
“We didn’t just lose him. We lost memories, we lost events and those things can never be replaced.”
Both the evening ceremony and the morning vigil were held above the section of the mine where it’s believed the bodies of 11 men remain buried. Searchers had to leave them entombed in the mine because the rock had become too unstable.
The mine blew up at 5:18 a.m. as a gush of methane gas escaped from the Foord coal seam and erupted into flames.
As a fireball raced through the tunnels, it stirred up coal dust that exploded in a massive blast, shaking homes a kilometre away.
In April 1993, the RCMP charged the mine’s owner, Toronto-based Curragh Resources Inc., and two of its former managers with manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death. But the case eventually fell apart when the Crown concluded convictions were unlikely.
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