We took a ride on Monday up the coast and ended up at the Miner’s Museum in Glace Bay. It had been in the back our minds since we saw the “Men of the deep” choral group at the Louisbourg Playhouse on Sunday (only former or retired miners are allowed in the chorus and they sang mostly songs about mining and talked about it too).
Little did we know when we paid our admission that it included a guided tour of a coal mine. The Miner’s Museum was built on top of a coal mine that closed in the 1960’s and the entrance to the mine is inside the Museum. I was surprised because Susan was in her wheelchair but they said that although there were some bumpy spots she should be able to take the tour.
Before the tour started we saw a half hour movie on the history of coal mining in Cape Breton which actually goes back to the 1720’s when coal was mined for winter heating while the Fortress at Louisbourg was being built by the French. Coal mining really took off by the mid-1800’s. After watching the movie, even keeping mind that the Miner’s Museum was built by the miners of the area and not by the mine owners, I think that anybody would become a staunch union supporter. The conditions the miners worked and lived under were appalling. Safety was pretty much nonexistent and wages were at the poverty level when they weren’t below it. Two attempts at unionization and subsequent strikes in the early 1900’s were brutally suppressed by the police and the Canadian Army (not one of their shining moments and it’s not like we can claim any high moral ground as the same thing happened in the USA many times).
Miners were paid by how much coal they dug, not by how many hours they were on the job. The time spent getting to the coal seams, which was up to an hour and a half, and the time spent shoring the tunnels was unpaid time. The only power tools were compressed air powered chisels which broke the coal out from the seams. Coal was shoveled by hand into boxes that were brought to the surface by ponies. Our guide into the mine was a former miner who had worked in the mines for 46 years. Up until the time the last mine closed in the 1980’s, coal miners were paid $0.68 (yes, that is 68 cents) for every long ton (2240 pounds) of coal they dug.
For the mine tour we had to put on a small cape (so our clothes wouldn’t get wet from the dripping water) and a hard hat. The highest height of any of the mine shafts we were going into was only 5-1/2 feet (in-between the shoring timbers) and the low point was 4 feet. Thank heaven’s for the hard hat because I “bonked” my head over half a dozen times during the tour.
The tour started down a long incline with lights about every 20 feet. Our tour guide pointed out that these lights were for the tourists and hadn’t been there when it was an active mine. The only light the miners had was the one on their hard hat. At the bottom of the incline we took a left turn into one of the original mine corridors. Every 50 feet along the corridor a side “room” had been dug where the coal had been taken out. The mining was done this way because most of the coal had to be left in place otherwise the ceiling and the mine would collapse.
We’re in Nova Scotia at a small campground in a small town called Spencers Island on the shore of the Bay of Fundy. It’s not an island, just named for one that is about a mile offshore. The campground is called the Old Shipyard Beach Campground and it is where the Mary Celeste (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Celeste)was originally built and launched. So far we haven’t seen any empty RV’s with missing campers but maybe the campground owners are removing them and selling them on the black market before anybody notices.
We’ve been at this campground several times in the past and it is at the top of my favorite place’s list, but that was when we had the travel trailer. I didn’t think our motor home would fit since the campsites are on the small side so I didn’t make any plans to come here. Last week we were staying in Amherst, Nova Scotia and were thinking of Louisbourg, Cape Breton as our next stop. Amherst is about 50 miles from here and on Friday we took a scenic drive down along the coast for old time’s sake. We stopped here for ice cream and found that the campsites had gotten larger since we were last here. In talking to the owners I found this was in large part due to an intense storm earlier this year around Easter that washed up and deposited a lot of gravel over the campground. They had a local contractor re-grade the campsites and found they had gained about 3 feet in length when he was done. They now had several campsites that were long enough for our motor home so we drove here on Sunday and will be staying the week.
Hardly anybody lives on the road between Amherst and Spencers Island. There are a few small towns on either end but for the most part you don’t seen anything but trees and occasionally the Bay of Fundy on the way. Considering how few people live along the road it is actually kept in reasonably good condition. There are two spots where there is a single-lane bridge, both of which left very little clearance on either side of the motor home. They also creaked noticeably as we drove over but since I know that delivery trucks drive this way frequently I wasn’t too concerned (at least that is what I kept telling Susan).
Today’s is July 4th but we’re in Canada, so there are no Independence Day Celebrations except for what’s on satellite TV from the states. Last Sunday was Canada Day, however, and there was a parade and fireworks in St. Andrews where we were staying. Fortunately I had made reservations at our campground far enough in advance to be able to get a spot because the campground was filled literally to overflowing (there were several trailers and tents in a field at the entrance of the campground).
They take their holidays seriously here. Canada Day was Sunday, but was observed as a holiday on Monday. We were low on some supplies and drove into St. Stephen on Monday in order to go a supermarket and all of them were closed. So were most of the other businesses.
The fireworks were launched from a small park near the campground so we could see them over the trees. One of our cameras has a fireworks setting so I got a couple good photos (and a lot of bad ones).
Part of a salmon cage washed up against the dock at our campground today. It trapped a boat against the dock so the campground staff pulled it away and anchored so it wouldn’t drift off again. By early afternoon a local crew came to remove it. Just about everybody in the campground came down to watch.
The salmon cage in the water off of the campground beach.