Once in a while, we stay for free at wineries, breweries or farms through our membership with Harvest Hosts. This time, we decided to stay at the Glace Bay Miners’ Museum. We started with a self-guided tour of the inside, then walked around the outside where the Glace Bay Miners’ Memorial stands, along with a number of pieces of equipment. It was a hot sunny evening and the view overlooking the cliffs to the ocean was stunning!
After dinner, as the sun was getting low, I saw a number of cars pull into an area that didn’t look like a road. We surmised that young folks were either going there to drink, smoke or generally hang out. I became more and more curious, so I took a walk on the edge of the property to see what I could see. Out of the corner of my eye, in the direction of the memorial, I saw movement, and thought it was a ghost. Then I remembered seeing that gentleman walk up to the memorial a few minutes earlier.
I walked up to say hello and laughed that I thought he was a ghost, then asked if he knew any of the miners whose names were on the memorial. He answered “Yes, I’m one of them.” The memorial is made up of 12 posts with lunch pails on them, each bearing the name of a miner who died during an explosion on 24 Feb 1979. There is a plaque in front of that which bears the name of the 16 miners that were trapped by a gas explosion. Ten of them died instantly, 6 were rescued and brought to hospital in Halifax, 4 of the 6 survived. My ghost, Kenny Brinston, is the first survivor listed on the plaque. Read the story and the names of the miners involved in that disaster.
He told me he was 30 when it happened. He never went down to the coal mines again. He was badly injured, mostly burn injuries. In my mind, his injuries were much more than physical. He has lived these last 34 years as a ghost. He returns to spend time with his “friends” as often as he can, even though he lives on the other side of Cape Breton.
Kenny started mining at 18 because “I didn’t like school”. He felt fortunate at the time to get hired on as the list of applicants was over 2000 names long. He knew someone who helped his name go to the top of the list.
Kenny explained how they mined deep and far under the ocean. The cage that took them down 800 ft, in groups of up to 30 men, would reach the bottom within 2 minutes. From there they were on a sort of wagon that would drive them one mile deep and 5 miles out under the ocean. He told me it could be cold and wet, with times when the sea water poured down on him like a shower the whole time he worked. He explained all the equipment that was on the grounds.
On the day of the explosion, they had 6 experienced miners, Kenny being one of them, with the rest being young men who had just started a few weeks earlier. They were there to learn from the old timers. Kenny said the loss of life was likely greater because these young miners would not have seen the danger of a gas explosion coming.
Eventually, I asked him to come meet Leon, because sometimes, I need a witness to my story. Who would believe I ever met a ghost?
Thank you, Kenny, for sharing your story with me. It is still hard for you to talk about it, as you kept apologizing for your voice being fraught with emotion. I hope my retelling of your story does you and your friends justice.