March, memorial service to mark the 30th anniversary of the Westray disaster


Joe MacKay will never forget the explosion at the Westray mine 30 years ago today.

The underground explosion in Plymouth, Nova Scotia killed 26 miners. One of them was MacKay’s brother, Mike.

“He loved his bikes, including a chopper he just thought the world was about,” MacKay said. “He loved his family. His children meant everything to him.”

Mike MacKay was 38 years old. He was the father of two young children.

Like the other men who worked at the mine, he had only worked there for nine months after it opened in September 1991.

Mike MacKay, pictured on his motorbike, was one of 26 men who died in the Westray mine disaster. (Submitted by Joe MacKay)

Methane gas leaking from the mine shaft mixed with coal dust to cause the explosion.

The bodies of 11 miners have never been found. Among those buried was MacKay.

“The only respite I got was that my other brother was supposed to go to work at the mine that night and he changed his mind and canceled his shift,” Joe MacKay said. “If it wasn’t for that, he would have been there too.”

Monday at 6 p.m. there will be a march beginning at the Bluenose Curling Club and ending at Westray Miners Memorial Park, where there will be a memorial service and celebration of life.

An awareness program for high school students will be held during the day and will focus on the impact of the Westray disaster on workplace safety regulations in Nova Scotia.

Joe MacKay is pictured in front of the monument. (Paul Palmer/CBC)

Many Pictou County high school students will participate in person at the Stellarton Museum of Industry. Other students across the province will be able to join in a live stream.

“We are going to bring in about 40 high school students and they will hear from different speakers about the history of the mine and their health and safety rights at work,” said Danny Cavanagh, president of the Federation of Labor of Nova Scotia.

Prior to the explosion, several safety concerns had been raised by employees, union officials and government inspectors. The incident prompted changes in the law regarding how to establish corporate criminal liability for workplace deaths and injuries.

Commonly known as the Westray Act, Bill C-45 came into effect in 2004.

“Unfortunately, in the first 10 years of this bill’s operation, no charges of criminal negligence were brought,” Cavanagh said. “I don’t think the bill does what it’s intended to do and we still have some work to do around it.”

A methane gas leak in the mine shaft mixed with coal dust and caused the explosion at the Westray mine in May 1992. (Radio Canada)

A $30 million lawsuit has been filed against the province of Nova Scotia by the families of the deceased miners. But the Nova Scotia Supreme Court rejected it, ruling that the province was protected from lawsuits under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

The company that operated the mine, Curragh Resources, was initially charged with 52 non-criminal counts of operating a dangerous mine. The company went bankrupt in 1993.

The charges were later dropped after a Nova Scotia judge criticized the way they were brought. The case went back to trial but was again dismissed. The Supreme Court of Canada then ordered a new trial.

Charges of criminal negligence and manslaughter had been laid against mine managers Gerald Phillips and Roger Parry, but these came to naught when the Crown stayed proceedings, saying there was no had insufficient evidence to secure a conviction.

Clifford Frame, founder and chief executive of Curragh, declined to testify at a public inquiry, as did Marvin Pelley, former chairman of Westray. The inquiry had no federal powers, which meant subpoenas could not be served outside of Nova Scotia, leaving company officials safe in their Toronto headquarters.

rays of light

In the months following the disaster, Joe MacKay was one of the people pushing for the development of a memorial site. Trees were planted in the park, one for each of the 26 victims.

The names of the victims appear in rays of light shining from a miner’s lamp on the monument in the center of the park.

MacKay says May 9 will be a day he will always reunite with his little brother.

“If I’m still alive for the 40th birthday, I’ll be there for this one too,” MacKay, now 73, said. .”