Last Thursday night an explosion occurred in the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company's mines at Fernie which resulted in the death of from 150 to 175 miners. The magnitude of the disaster was so appalling that those living here in the same district were paralyzed when the terrible news was flashed across the wire.
At 7:30 that night nearly 200 men were labouring in No. 2 shaft of the mine, unmindful of the near approach of danger. Two minutes later a thunderous roar was heard, the mountains about Fernie trembled, and more than 150 human lives were snuffed out like the snuffing of a candle. There was no warning of danger; the first intimation was a silent but remorseless death. There was no opportunity for escape, no chance to fight for one's life, no time to plea for mercy or make peace with God. Death came quickly. There was no torture, either mental or physical, to the great majority. With picks in their grasp, or hands on their drills, the men dropped unconscious, and death came with the concussion or the after damp without a wail of sorrow or cry of pain.
But a disaster of that kind means sorrow and suffering for the living. It means many widows, many fatherless children, many homes bereft of their mainstay and support. And that is the case in Fernie today. There are few doors in the long rows of miners' cottages that are not darkened by folds of crepe, and few eyes in these homes that are not be-dimmed with tears shed for loved ones buried in the chaos and darkness of the wrecked tunnel.
And such a misfortune carries with it responsibilities that the people must not shirk. It brings to the surface the strongest feelings of humanity, and prompts all men to do what they can to alleviate the sufferings of the unfortunate. This is the time for all men to act. It is no time for selfishness, no time for parleying, no time for argument as to what or how much you should do. Do, and do at once. Give as the gods have given unto you. There are homes that are stricken, mothers who are destitute, children who will be starving. This is not time to look sorrowful and say "God pity them." This is the time to give one dollar or more for their aid. Every man in the district can give one dollar; many men can give more.
There are perhaps 75 to 100 families in Fernie left destitute by the death of husbands and fathers. Cranbrook has always been liberal when the needy hand was extended. This is the time for the people of British Columbia to do something, and it should be done quickly. The Herald will undertake to receive subscriptions for this purpose and acknowledge the same through its columns, and forward the sums collected to the Fernie branch of the Canadian Bank of Commerce.
Fernie, May 24. - One of the most disastrous mining accidents in the history of British Columbia occurred here shortly after 7:30 o'clock Thursday evening in the No.2 mine of the Crows Nest Pass Coal company's colliery on Coal creek. The explosion is said to have extended from the No. 2 mine to the No.3, and the loss was very heavy. At the time that the explosion occurred the night shift had been at work but a short time and there were said to have been something less than 250 miners working in the two districts. When the extent of the explosion became known the work of rescue was at once started and assistance from every available quarter was rushed to the scene.
Within a few minutes after the explosion took place 10 bodies were taken out. They were found a short distance from the point where the tunnels from the No. 2 and No.3 mines connect. This is, in the opinion of men who are familiar with the working in the No. 2 mine, a bad omen, as the gas is sure to be much worse in the inner chambers of the No. 2, and it is in this portion of the mine that the greater number of the men who composed the night shift were working. It is feared that there are from 150 to 175 men imprisoned in these two districts with their escape cut off by the deadly gases in the tunnel, even if they have not already succumbed.
Despite the awful nature of the calamity perfect order prevails and almost every able-bodied man in Fernie is now on the ground aiding to the extent of their ability in the work of rescue. In the town of Fernie, which is about five miles from the mines, a terrible gloom has settled over the people.
Among those who are not familiar with the mine in which the disaster occurred there is a tendency to the belief that most of the victims of the accident will be found to be foreigners. This is far from being the case. The No. 2 mine in which the explosion occurred, although known to be dangerous, was one of the most coveted by English speaking miners who were prepared to take chances for the reason that it afforded the opportunity to make the largest pay.
The most dangerous of the company's workings was the No. 1 mine, which is immediately across the gulch from the No. 2. This is known locally as the dangerous workings for the reason that certain restrictions were placed upon the company in working them, which were not made to apply to the other mines, and it was in this mine that the bulk of the foreigners were at work. They are all absolutely safe, the company's immense tipple being the only connection between them and the mines in which the explosion took place.
The No. 2 and No.3 mines have common addit, but some 300 yards in their workings branch out almost at right angles. The workings are all on the level and those of No. 2 extend into the hill close upon a mile. This mine, it is said, has been advanced into the hill, and for the last three-quarters of the distance the miners have been restricted to the use of safety lamps, while the men in the No. 3 mine, opening off from it, have been permitted to use open lamps. The mines were ventilated from a common fan, and this having been rendered inoperative and the addits choked up, there were no hopes held out for the imprisoned men.
The first intimation of the disaster which those on the outside received was the rush of coal dust and fire to the height of over 1000 feet above the fan. Word was immediately sent to Fernie, five miles from the mine, and inside of 12 minutes from the time the accident occurred relief parties were at work. R. Drinnan, one of the mine superintendents, Dr. Bonnell, the mine physician, and True Weatherby, were the first to enter the mine. When about 500 feet into the workings Drinnan was overcome by afterdamp, and had it not been for his two companions would have perished. On being removed to the outer air he recovered, and gave instructions to the rescuing party to repair the overcasts. The overcasts are the pipes which convey the air through the mine. As they had been almost completely destroyed it was impossible to enter owing to the afterdamp which prevailed. Volunteers were called for and a score of brave men sprang to the work, and for nearly six hours this policy was pursued with tireless energy. Every few minutes the men would collapse and were borne to the outer air and their places were quickly filled by new volunteers.
The first body recovered was taken from No. 3 mine, about 11 o'clock, and was that of Will Robertson, a lad of 13 years. Several hours elapsed and then three more bodies were recovered. None of the victims gave the slightest sign of life, and were removed to the wash house. At 4 a.m., the relief parties had penetrated so far the gas became unbearable, and operations had to be suspended for an hour or two in order to let the mine clear of afterdamp.
The rescuing parties are working four hour shifts, and the company is doing all in its power to assist in the work. General Superintendent Stockett and Superintendent Drinnan have been on the scene ever since the accident, and are doing all in their power for the comfort of the men working.
The town is horror stricken and heart rending scenes meet the eye on every side. All day the trains to the mine have been crowded with anxious friends and relatives of the imprisoned men hurrying to the scene of the disaster. A meeting of the board of trade has been called for tonight to organize a relief fund for the sufferers.
The cause of the accident is unknown but the opinion of many of the miners is that it was the result of a heavy shot from one of the machine holes.
Fernie, May 24 - At the mine itself the active work of recovering the bodies has been for the time suspended, and all energy is being expended along the line of making the mine safe for the rescuers. The gas is clearing but the force of the explosions is now seen to have been almost inconceivable. The roof in some places has been fearfully shattered and to such an extent that it would now be nothing short of fool hardiness for the rescuers to remain long in the mine without taking necessary precautions for their own safety. Lack of air is greatly impeding the work of rescue.
It is possible to go into the mine for a considerable distance now, and in the No. 2 the rescuers can see a number of the victims but it will be days in some cases before the rescue party can work around to them. The men in the No. 2 mine were evidently killed by the concussion from the explosion. The bodies so far as can be seen do not appear to have been mutilated, and in the majority of instances there is nothing in their position to even suggest that their lives had been snuffed out, but not one of the entire crew in the mine did escape except the motorman, Bruce Stewart, who fortunately was out when the explosion occurred. It is now thought in view of the position in which a number of the bodies taken out were found that W. H. Brearley, the fire boss, had endeavoured after the explosion to get as many of the men as possible together and effect an escape. Where Brearley's body was found there were some sixteen others, who were all overtaken with damp and died without a tremor. Nine additional bodies were taken from the mine today, making 49 in all that have been recovered.
Fernie, May 24 - This was a day of funerals in Fernie and one which will be long remembered. The arrangements were well systematized. As the bodies of the victims were taken from the mines they were made presentable in the company's wash house, and as each shift of the rescuers were relieved, the bodies were loaded on the train and brought in to Fernie. At the depot in many instances the bereaved were waiting to claim their dead, and in such instances the bodies were taken to the homes. But in the majority of cases the relatives had no knowledge that the bodies were on the train, which made round trips every four hours, and the bodies were taken to the church of England, which was used as a general morgue, and a number were afterwards taken from the morgue by relatives, but such as remained unclaimed by 6 o'clock in the evening were accorded a public funeral by the committee of the Fernie board of trade, and by arrangement all places of business were closed and the people of the town fell in line behind the string of wagons carrying the bodies of the victims and followed them to the grave. There were 17 of the public funerals and in one instance there were 14 coffins in the procession. All told there were 35 funerals during the day and a long line of graves marks the increase in Fernie's city of the dead, an increase which unfortunately will be quadrupled before all the victims of the disaster are laid at rest.
Fernie, May 26 - An incident occurred last evening that has caused considerable comment and no end of joy on the part of the people. It seems that the miners heard that Constable Stevens, a man who had been given his job by Constable Barnes, had made a remark to the effect that he was sorry that there had not been 200 more men at work when the explosion occurred. Naturally, at such a time when every heart was wrung with sorrow and nerves were at a high tension, such a brutal comment would arouse the ire of any man, if he had a spark of manhood in him. The men talked over the matter and finally concluded to take action. Cool counsel prevailed and it was the desire of the men to compel Stevens to clear the town. They called at the jail and were met by Constable Barnes, who began to expostulate, but the men were not in a mood for that and told him to produce Stevens, or he would have to go. Stevens was produced and the men, about 500 strong, formed into two lines and the insulter of the dead was forced between the two rows. The man was told to take off his uniform and star before he started and then no time was lost in forcing him to the railroad track and out of town to the east. The men were exceedingly temperate. In most cases the constable would have gotten a dose of tar and feathers.
The force of the explosion was so great that the air and coal dust, with rocks and chunks of coal were forced back through the fan house, carrying away the roof of the building, and it has not been seen since. A column of dust and rocks arose nearly 1000 feet high, and then spread out and dropped, covering that side of the mountain with the debris. So strong was the force that from one of the old tunnels large timbers were torn loose and blown out of the mouth through the bath house. And it is said that in some cases the clothing was torn from the bodies of unfortunate victims and even buttons ripped off.
When it became known that such a large number of men had been lost in the explosion, the question of burial confronted those interested, and the company began to telegraph to Cranbrook and Nelson. A large number of caskets were secured at Nelson and Undertaker Campbell had 25 on hand that he could let go, and a carload at Morrissey on the way here from the east. He acted with promptness and arranged with the railroad authorities to turn that car back and give it over to the coal company, making 75 in all that he furnished.
The little cemetery in Fernie was not in shape to receive such a sudden and large addition caused by the disaster. More ground was cleared off and men set to work digging graves in long rows to receive the dead as fast as the bodies were recovered, identified and made ready for burial. Owing to the changes taking place every day, and the fact that many of the men were so badly mutilated by the force of the explosion, there will necessarily be a great number of the victims who will be buried in nameless graves.
Toronto, May 26 - The officials of the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company state that so far the cause of the explosion is not known, but that the day preceding the accident the mines were inspected by the government mine inspector, A. Dick, who issued his written certificate that the mines were in excellent condition.
Inaccurate telegrams from the west about the mines being dangerous and reporting previous explosions, and assigning various causes for the explosion should not be believed. This is the first explosion that has taken place at the mines. Men were recently fined by the magistrate at the insistence of the company, for taking matches into the mines, tobacco being found upon them, and one man who denied having matches about him, on being searched, matches were found in his hair. The safety lamps can only be opened by magnets.
Bruce Stewart, a former employee of the Cosmopolitan hotel, and the victim of small pox last year, was employed in the fatal shift, but fortunately was called out to the mouth of the tunnel a few moments before the explosion for repairs for the motor in his charge. As a consequence he escaped all injury.
Undertaker Campbell returned Tuesday night from Fernie. He said that funerals were being held every hour and that in many cases the remains were in such condition that the coffins were not allowed to be opened. Women and children were following the dead through the streets crying and moaning and the whole town was in mourning.
Government Agent Armstrong arrived in Cranbrook on the delayed passenger Wednesday morning. He had gone there on a special train Monday when he heard the rumors of a possible riot. Speaking of the conditions he said that everything was quiet there, and that the men had made no demonstration whatever since chasing Constable Stevens out of town, but had been quiet and orderly. Nothing had been done with Constable Henderson, but he had heard threats and lost no time in getting out of town also. Constable Barnes had heard threats, but had not left or surrendered his star as it had been reported. The bodies that are now being taken out are badly mutilated and many so disfigured that identification is impossible. There is no truth in the report that a number of specials had been sworn in, as Mr. Armstrong did not deem it necessary. Mr. Bullock-Webster, chief of the police for the Kootenays, visited Fernie Tuesday, returning to Elko that night. Mr. Robertson, provincial mineralogist, arrived in Fernie Monday in company with William Blakemore, and the two made an official visit to the mine. Mr. Blakemore, the next day, gave out a report to the effect that in all probability the bodies would all be recovered this week.
Mr. Armstrong said that considerable feeling was exhibited against A. Dick, inspector of mines, owing to the fact that he had only two days before signed a certificate to the effect that the mines were all right.
Fernie, May 26 - Opinions as to the cause of the explosion differ widely but one that is generally offered by the miners themselves is that it was caused by the drilling machine hole, close to the "rib." When this is done the black powder has not sufficient chance to expand and not infrequently catches fire. It is said that experiences of the kind have been had before and that difficulty was experienced in getting the fire out.
S.J. Marsh, a young man who drove a team in Cranbrook and was favourable known here, was among the victims. He left here and worked for about three years in the St. Eugene mine at Moyie and was a member of the Moyie union.
Toronto, May 26 - The Crows Nest Pass Coal Company's directors have authorized the statement that the company will pay all funeral expenses, relieve against immediate want and suffering and provide permanently against destitution. Very little damage has been done to the mines and when the work of rescue is completed operations can be immediately recommenced upon the old scale, so that the miners may resume their occupations at an early date.
Victoria, BC May 23 1902
Sec. Board of Trade,
Mayor of Victoria sends sympathy and assures me liberal assistance. Have appealed to premier for grant in aid. Draw on me for two hundred dollars.
Montreal Que. May 24, 1902
Board of Trade
Our directors and officers deeply sympathize with your afflicted people, Bank will be instructed Monday morning to place three thousand dollars to credit of relief fund.
T. G. Shaughnessy
Ottawa, Ont. , May 23, 1902
Mayor of Fernie, BC
I am shocked and distressed beyond measure at the horrible calamity which has overtaken your town. Wiring two hundred and fifty dollars as a small personal contribution to relief. Can I do anything to help you.
Rossland, BC. May, 23, 1902
Mayor of Fernie, BC
Our city extends heartfelt condolences to assistance if needed and if so in what form.
J.S. Clute, Jr.