Rescue at Moose River, Nova Scotia

Dr. D.E. Robertson emerging from the Moose River, NS gold mine after 11 days trapped underground, April, 23, 1936.

Waiting for Rescue

Due to a cave-in, three men were trapped in a Moose River, NS gold mine in April, 1936. Days passed as rescuers tried to find a way into the mine without causing a disastrous cave-in. Water was rising underground and the cold and the damp created great physical discomfort, threatening to drown those entombed. One of three - Herman Magill - died of pneumonia.


Communication had been opened with the surface through a narrow hole into which a slender microphone had been lowered. Much of the talk between the trapped men and the rescuers included asking: “Do you think you will be able to get us out today?” Even though they were conserving energy by not speaking or moving, the survivors were weakening.

As Day 10 came and went, Robertson began to hallucinate and Scadding was in extreme pain from trench foot. Finally, at 11:40 pm on April 22, a Stellarton draeger crew broke into the area where the men were waiting.

An hour later and after 242 hours underground, Dr. Robertson arrived at the surface to be greeted by a chorus of "hurrahs" from the crowd. He was able to walk out of the mine. His first words were: "thank you boys".

Salvation Army members who were on hand to support the rescuers led the crowd in singing "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow". Journalists trying to capture this historic moment on camera had set up extremely bright magnesium flares to light the scene. However, after being in the dark for so long, the doctors worried that the survivors’ eyes would be damaged and ran around extinguishing the flares.

Dr. D.E. Robertson and Alfred Scadding peering out of a float plane.

Robertson and Scadding were first treated in the field hospital set up at Moose River but were quickly transferred by seaplane to a hospital in Halifax, a much faster and less jarring way to transfer the injured men than the roads at the time.

NSA: J.H. Christian NSARM 1976-91 no. 15 N-0193 and N-0317

Scadding, carried out through the 3-foot wide shaft on the back of a miner, emerged shortly afterwards. Later, due to trench foot, all of his toes were amputated. When the rescuers removed the body of Herman Magill a hush fell over the crowd. You can see silent film footage of Scadding and Magill at British Pathe.

The survivors were airlifted to a Halifax hospital. J. Frank Willis made his last broadcast at 2:00 a.m. Everyone went home. The rescue was finally over.

Celebration and Commemoration

Thanks to the live radio coverage and the drama of the rescue, the event at Moose River left an indelible mark on a generation of Nova Scotians. The survivors and their rescuers were instant celebrities.

A $10 bill autographed by Dr. D.E. Robertson.

A $10 bill autographed by Dr. D.E. Robertson after he survived 11 days underground in the Moose River, NS, gold mine, April 1936.

MOI: I93.6.2

Dr. Robertson’s autograph was sought; the miners who rescued him were feted at a banquet, awarded medals, and some traveled to Toronto to be celebrated there.

Gold medal with the Nova Scotia Coat of Arms.

Medal awarded to the rescuers of 3 men trapped in a Nova Scotia gold mine, 1936.

MOI: I2012.5.2

The engraved back of the medal awarded to the Moose River rescuers.

Reverse of medal awarded to the rescuers of 3 men trapped in a Nova Scotia gold mine, 1936. The engraving reads, 'For conspicuous service, Moose River, NS, April 1936'. This one was presented to A.N. Sample of Stellarton.

MOI: I2012.5.2

Photograph of a large group of people sitting around numerous banquet tables.

To commemorate a strong local tradition of mine rescue, the Town of Stellarton held a banquet to honour its miners and draegermen who had risked their lives at Moose River.

MOI: I91.32.49

Immortalizing the Rescue

Woodcut engraving of Wilf Carter.

Engraving of Wilf Carter.

Courtesy of Lisa Brawn.

Nova Scotia singer Wilf Carter immortalized the Moose River story in the song "Rescue From the Moose River Gold Mine". Along with J. Frank Willis’ radio broadcasts, verses like the one below etched the events of that time in the minds of a generation:

Long days and nights they had laboured
Turned back when great cave-ins fell
While far below patiently waiting
Three men were in one living hell

A cairn commemorating the rescue was erected on the spot where the pipe used to communicate with those trapped still stuck out of the ground. The pipe was incorporated into the monument. This location is of interest to current mining activity in Moose River.

Photograph of a stone cairn commemorating the Moose River rescue.

Moose River commemorative cairn.

Courtesy of Ivan Smith.