On October 23, 1958, a massive "bump"—similar to a small earthquake—collapsed No. 2 colliery of the Cumberland mines in Springhill, Nova Scotia, trapping 174 men 3900 metres underground. Rescuers acted immediately, with little hope there would be many survivors. Slowly they extracted men, alive and dead, from the ground. On the ninth day, they reached the last 7 to be found alive. Among them was Maurice Ruddick, a 46-year-old African Canadian, a slim man with a thin moustache who always pomaded his hair.
When the miners finished a shift, it took an hour to ride to the surface in the trolleys. Ruddick would sing during the trip, blues, jazz or popular songs of the day. Some of the miners joined him to sing "Dem Bones" or "Don't Be Cruel" or "Bye Bye Love." As they ascended from the pit, their baritones rumbled up ahead of them, audible to the company men who worked on the surface.
After the mineshaft caved in on them, the 7 men struggled to survive. Ruddick, despite a broken leg, helped his companions keep their spirits up by singing and leading them in song and prayer. He later described the experience in "Springhill Disaster," the song he wrote about the event.
Ruddick and the other "miracle miners" enjoyed public attention briefly after the disaster. For Ruddick, the only Black in the group, racism dimmed his moment in the spotlight. As you will learn in the accompanying Historica Minute Maurice Ruddick, survivors of the disaster were invited by Georgia's governor to vacation at a luxurious resort. Upon learning that Ruddick was Black, the governor said that Ruddick would have to be segregated. Ruddick agreed to the governor's terms so the other miners' vacation would not be ruined, but he and his family stayed in a trailer apart from his colleagues.
The 1958 mine collapse killed 74 men and ended Springhill's tenure as a large-scale mining town. The mines were sealed shortly after the Big Bump. Maurice Ruddick died in 1988, all but forgotten for his role during those 9 long days.
Springhill Mine Disaster: Maurice Ruddick
A 1958 photograph of injured miner, Maurice Ruddick, in hospital. From the website for Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management.
50 Bodies Found; 24 Missing
Read a local 1958 news story about the rescue of miners trapped by an explosion in a Springhill coal mine. From Library and Archives Canada.
Springhill, N.S., marks 50 years since mining disaster
Watch a CTV News story about the observance of the 50th anniversary of the Springhill Mine disaster.
Mine disaster like an earthquake
A news story that recalls the rescue of miners from the 1958 Springhill mine disaster. From the website for the Times & Transcript.
Ship’s Co. mines spirit of Springhill
A 2008 review of the Ship’s Company Theatre’s production of Bump, a retelling of the 1958 Springhill mine disaster. From the website for the Ship’s Company Theatre.
Miracle At Springhill
Read a digitized copy of the book Miracle At Springhill written by Leonard Lerner. Includes references to “Maurice Ruddick, The Singing Miner.” From the Internet Archive website.
Excerpt: All of Me
This excerpt from Anne Murray’s autobiography All of Me includes an account of the recognition Maurice Ruddick received for helping to sustain his fellow miners awaiting rescue from the collapsed Springhill mine. From Random House of Canada.
The Springhill Mine Disaster of 1958: Final Report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry
Read the entire Final Report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Springhill Mine disaster of 1958. From the website History of Coal Mining in Nova Scotia.
Spring Hill Disaster
An article about Maurice Ruddick’s song "Spring Hill Disaster." Includes sheet music with lyrics. From the Canandian Folk Music Bulletin.
No More Pickin’ Coal
Sheet music with lyrics for the song “No More Pickin’ Coal” by Valerie Hope MacDonald, daughter of Maurice Ruddick. From the Canandian Folk Music Bulletin.
U2 - Springhill Mine Disaster
Watch a video of the band U2 performing the song “Springhill Mine Disaster,” written by Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger. From YouTube.
A profile of the Town of Springhill, NS. From The Canadian Encyclopedia.
An article about songs inspired by Canadian disasters. From the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
The miracle miners
A CBC News story about the rescue of miners from the collapsed Springhill coal mine.