Trapped in Moose River Mine

Diagram depicting the location of the trapped men and the rescue route.

On April 12, 1936, three Toronto men were trapped underground in a Moose River, NS gold mine: mine owner Herman Magill, his business partner Dr. David E. Robertson and the mine’s timekeeper Alfred Scadding.

Once the roar of crashing rock and timber caused by a cave-in subsided, the three contended with a rainstorm of water from above and rising water from below. Eighteen hours later when their lights gave out, there was total darkness. Burning a dynamite box gave them some heat and a little light for a few hours, but mostly they huddled together for warmth and listened for signs of rescue.

As time passed, their joints stiffened, their legs grew numb and the wet increasingly hurt their feet. They mostly feared being crushed as the roof above them rumbled and groaned.

Photograph of a group of men gathered around Allister Bowman, listening to the men trapped in the mine.

Maritime Tel & Tel employee J. Allister Bowman using earphones to listen for word from the trapped men who used a microphone lowered down a 120’ borehole to communicate with the surface. MT & T making such a small microphone in such a short time was an impressive achievement.

NSA: N-318

Their flagging spirits uplifted when a mine driller, Billy Bell, opened a long, 2-inch wide tunnel to them to allow communication with the surface. This narrow portal of contact allowed them to receive small amounts of food and medicines, oilskin cloth and a flashlight.

When a microphone was lowered to them, the men spoke with their wives and exchanged information with the rescue coordinators. Rescue seemed imminent, and yet the waiting continued and their health deteriorated.

Watching the water in a nearby surface pond disappear into the mine motivated the rescuers to work quickly, knowing the risk of drowning was imminent for those trapped below.

Photograph of a group of rescuers standing next to a pond.

A group of rescuers at Moose River standing near where the cave-in had caused the earth to collapse and a pond to slowly drain into the mine.

NSA: Catherine Godwin no. 2

On Day 7, Herman Magill died of pneumonia. By then more than 150 people were working in shifts risking their lives to remove the debris and to carefully create a rescue shaft without causing another disastrous cave-in.