COVID-19 forces cancellation of coal mining celebration, memorial to miners

COVID-19 forces cancellation of coal mining celebration, memorial to miners

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of a celebration of coal and a memorial to Cape Breton miners.

The Port Morien Development Association had planned to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Nova Scotia community’s coal mine this summer, which was the first commercial coal mine in North America and was used to supply fuel during construction of the Fortress of Louisbourg.

Ron Peach, the development association’s president, said the celebration will just have to wait.

“Well, I’d say we’d have to have next year for the 301st anniversary of the coal mine instead of the 300,” he said. “It’s only a year. What’s a year at 300?”

Peach said the community sees the pandemic as merely an interruption, and the celebration will go ahead, but not now.

The United Mine Workers of America had also planned to hold its annual William Davis Miners’ Memorial Day event in Port Morien in conjunction with the community’s celebration.

June 11 is the day set aside to honour miners who died on the job in Nova Scotia. It is named after William Davis, a miner from New Waterford, N.S., who was shot and killed by police in 1925 during a strike by coal miners.

Bobby Burchell retired as a union representative with the United Mine Workers of America a couple of years ago, but continues to host the annual Davis Day event in Cape Breton.

Burchell said the memorial has been marked for 44 years and this is the first time it’s had to be cancelled.

“We’re in different times right now and people’s health and safety come first with us and as tough a decision as it is to make, I struggled with it, but I think it’s in everyone’s best interest that we just put it off and do a bigger and better one next year,” he said.

Online memorial not ideal

Burchell said he considered trying to hold the memorial online, but it would be too difficult. The day involves a church service, the laying of dozens of wreaths, and speeches and songs by the Men of the Deeps, North America’s only all-miner chorus.

“I know myself, I’ll be placing a wreath at the monument in New Waterford and if anybody decides that they want to place a wreath at their local monuments, I think that would be appropriate, as long as they follow the guidelines of social distancing,” he said.

In Cape Breton Regional Municipality, the annual memorial moves from community to community, but it will still be held in Port Morien next year, Burchell said.

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