Mine Explosion, Richards Inquiry, Westray



It wasn’t a great speech. I will be the first to admit to it. And it is a bit odd watching all my ticks while talking. Still I want to post this for posterity as I think it is important to cast my voice into this story. I was uncomfortable with the setup because I could only see myself and not the audience. So I was unable to take any queues from them. It was presented in an almost deadpan style. Which I think is an accomplishment for me. In the past I had great difficulty getting thru speaking about it without being overcome with rage, sadness and guilt. All in all a success considering how difficult it used to be to talk about this topic I was able to lay out the basics of what I faced as far with this moral and ethical dilemma.

Mine Explosion, Plymouth, Richards Inquiry, Uncategorized, Westray


Reader advisory

I doubt anyone is going to read this. I am writing this for myself and not for Facebook. There are glaring omissions in grammar. It jumps about. For now that is how it will be. I have a hard time writing about all this and keep myself emotionally removed. I think it best to write thoughts down now and organize them later.

I really don’t have much interest at moment in advertising my thoughts about Westray. Maybe I can convince myself otherwise but most days it seems there isn’t whole lot of interest in listening to what I have to say. I say this even though I have been part of couple interviews. Three speeches and countless nights at kitchen tables talking about my memories. Most people only listen for few minutes anyways then return to regular programming. They quickly get the 1000 yard stare. Tell me to forget about it and move on. In many ways I have packed it away. 25 years of practice and I have become pretty good at going my own way. I am writing down my thoughts as they come to me so this post I intend will be sort of a scrapbook. It will therefore be a bit disjointed at times. My intention is to someday weave it all together into a book by putting the threads and yarn in a palatable sequence.

I just thought I’d start a diary chronicling the how Westray Mine has involved my life. How I have dealt with it with varying degrees of success and how I think I have finally moved on.

I never chose the Limelight. A long time ago it chose me. I wish sometimes that I could have lived out my life by the river in anonymity. But that wasn’t the choice for me.



Free speech has been pushed through the meat saw of political correctness. It has in many ways come to pass and be accepted that a good speech crush no sensibilities, cross no intersections, bury no indentities. Cries of Facism and Systemic Oppression reign supreme. Truth now takes a back seat to expediency.

This tide has swept through the mainstream media, to the blogosphere, then on to business and academia to wider world as well. This Doctrine is enforced by a new age Maoist Red Guard. The supposedly benign good intentions to some a force for political control on everyone else.

This PC culture has become a binding code of silence on the free flow of information and the dissemination of truth. Instilling the fear of offense makes it easier for the puppetmasters to enact their four score conspiracies on a dumbed down society.

There will always the bold contrarians among us. Those given the task to offend societies sensibilities in the sometimes vain effort to break the chains of thought control. At one time those men and women would be praised. Now they are scorned. Called the Crazy Uncle. Or worse. Often treated with contempt. Laughed at when they tire of the farce and turn away.

I grew in a world of Sesame Street and Star Wars. A world of Big Bird and make believe. Counted myself a contrarian yet at the crucial pivot in my life I relied on others to decide what bits of a story would stitched to a narrative about a tragedy that should never have happened in the first place. It was a grave mistake to make.

Today looking out the window of my house where I live to the valley below rain and wind rules the day.  On days like this it is best to stay inside. In Nova Scotia the drear, wet and wind forces those who are wise to seek shelter and stay warm. It reminds me of a day 25 years ago. A day that started with a phone call early on Saturdsy morning. On that the rain was cold and the wind were pelting.

Looking back now I cannot help but wonder about the, coulda’s, woulda’s and shoulda’s. Wonder too how that timeline would have played out in a world of email, text messages and social media.

The World of Mainstream news has spent much of past year fretting about the scrourge of so-called “fake news”. So pervasive they claim on the internet. They pine for good old days when editors in smoky rooms would decided what news would be told.

Media types will claim that those were the good ole days. A time when news was told that was true. Nothing broadcast without being fact checked.

Those days are long gone. In its place has sprung a wild west of information no more than a mouseclick away. Some good and some bad were the power to offend and be equally offended reigns supreme.

I had planned to let these two weeks pass. It was supposed to be a time of quiet personal reflection. But as happens often in my life a phone call would change my plans. Sitting down to another interview I realized how far I have come.

There are 5 stages of grief. Six for me if you count self loathing.

When I got the latest phone call to talk about Westray I at first just slumped in my chair. Wondering if it is worth the risk to tell the truth. Yet soon I saw it as my opportunity to set the record straight. Right a few wrongs that years have shaded away

On the drive home from New Glasgow without a cell phone connecting me to world and some introspection I charted my path from there to now. Until last year I meandered thru the first four stages. I suppose that was my bargain to help squeeze me thru the days.

On May 29th 1992 I left the first interview thinking I was courageous and done my bit. Thought that it should be left to others to decide how best to do right thing. Put my faith in the smoky backrooms that news would not end up fake. I waited by ended up stuck in one day. A day as it has turned out that is officially denied by those who know far better than I. Permanently cast the victim I willingly accepted the blame.

Once I was fully subsumed in the pathology of the victim.


Looking back at that picture and the words I cannot help but laugh at the effect. That article was sold as venerification of the victim with me the willing participant to its intent. I have been told been one of the most read stories on that magazine’s website. It ended up winning an award in journalism a couple years back. Soon after this followed an interview on CBC and another piece, much along same lines in Chronicle Herald. The self described paper of record for Nova Scotia.

Still I was pulling threads from the same coat.

I am writing this in part to correct some errors in past reporting. When I started this I was drawing from a memory 20 years old. While doing background work for Closure piece I had made a request to RCMP for a copy of my statement. Mostly to confirm and where needed correct my timelime in the days before and after May 9th. Whether on purpose or not at the time the Mounties didn’t oblige and instead ignored me. Hoping I suppose that I would just go away. As a result that story was published with an error. Phillips, Parry and Eagles showed up not on 6th of May but on the 22nd.

I would not know of this error until a year or so later. Still stewing in my malaise I decided to once again try and get my statement. Much ado and run around later I received it as per my request. Well sort of. I have a copy of it somewhere in house but when document finally arrived what I was in possession of was not a full transcript of my statement to RCMP but instead a redacted version of it. Reading it you would think I was investigating the grassy knoll. Yet even thru the ommitance I could parse, confirm and where needed revise my memories of those times.

So the call answered the local paper in New Glasgow turned on the wayback machine. After doing several interviews and speeches I am never sure how was going to go.


I am happy I did it. Maybe the door can be finally closed.

I keep saying I will write a book. Maybe some day I will. There are still bits that could be told but for now I am good.



Something I wrote on Saturday in response to fellow who wrote the Evening News Article

He thought I should write that book….

Might be good idea to write down for history. I have made some attempts at writing it but seem to freeze up when I put pen to paper. A friend or two have offered to be a ghost writer. Maybe that is way to go.

I have more or less packed it away. Talking about doesnt churn up deep held feelings like it once did. It does help to talk. Doing has helped remove me emotionally so that I can see it dispassionately from the third person. Still driving this morning from town that day in May has become a mark on my soul. A hinge and pivot in my life squirrled down a memory hole. Forgotten to history.

People say forget about it and move on. That is a tall glass of milk to drink when you give up a career for something everyone denies happening.

Yet that is what I have done. Most days. Once the 9th passes and spring turns to flowers the memories will receed. Maybe time does heal. I didnt always believe that but I am getting older and need to enjoy what life I have in front of me.

I think I owe it to the 26 to do just that.


I would like to send something to you that I have written to proof read. It might be end of week before it is done. I decided to be in news again. Hopefully for the last time. If I get it done as I’m kinda stuck right now. I still haven’t made up my mind on posting my thoughts to the wider world but if you are up for it I’ll forward to Admin then he can forward on to you.

Like you my goal at this stage is to leave a bit of a record. It is the only noble cause that is left as far as I am concerned. And I’m with you about what is next and more importantly what is important. It might be a bit selfish but best use of my time now is helping those around me, as you say, who are nearest, to weather the storm.

If that makes me clueless as well, then I am gladly guilty as charged.

These days I gaze up at the stars rather look down at the earth. But like you this doesn’t necessarily mean that my head is in clouds. There are many who would say that but having done the calculus the best course of action now is to put the shutters on house for coming storm. There is a certain grim reality to what is coming but I am finding by solving for x I can enjoy now and still maybe have a laugh or two…

Canadian Identity, Economy, Government, Mine Explosion, Plymouth, Uncategorized, Westray

A walk back in Time

I am going to take everyone on a walk back in time. First off I should say that I live in a wonderful corner of the world. There are so many stories to tell.

Today I went for a drive along the shores of the Northumberland Strait in Nova Scotia. Canada. Starting in Arisaig, Antigonish County I headed southwest thru Lismore and on to where I grew up in shadows of the Pictou Coal Fields. But my First stop was in Knoydart where there was a cairn built some years back. Maintained by the locals it is tucked out of the way at the end of a road thru the woods to the shore.


It takes about five minutes to walk into the Cairn. It was constructed to commemorate two men who it is said fought at The Battle of Culloden in 1746. The final confrontation of the Jacobite uprising of 1745 and part of a religious civil war in Britain. In those days the men took a rock from where they lived threw it in a pile before casting their fate in battle. Afterwards those that lived picked up a rock and took it home. The rocks left would then become the Monument to those who died. These men in their later years came to these shores in the exodus from Scotland starting in the 1770’s. Legend has it that they took their rocks with them to the New World. It can’t be proven but it does make for a good story. This year, like years past, on the 16th of April people will gather at the Cairn. To remember those men and others. It will be followed by dinner at the Lismore Community Hall. It is always a great day.

The Cairn

The Plaque

It’s been over two hundred years since these men died. But remembered they are.

But that isn’t the only reason I made this trek today. I also went for a walk on the shores. The rocks here tell a story as well. But this story is much older then the one told at the cairn. For this story starts more than 420 million years ago.


When I was a child I played on these shores every summer not knowing that this formation is one the the best preserved Upper Silurian sedimentary sequences in the world. Scientists have been coming to this shore to study these rocks for over a hundred years. I then got in my Truck and left there. Drove southwest on Route 245 from Arisaig. I travel back again to Knoydart to where the Cairn is located. In doing this I have traveled thru the Devonian to the Upper Carboniferous of the Lismore Formation. This formation is 2.5 kilometers thick from top to bottom. I have driven six or seven kilometers and spanned about a hundred million years.

On this shore are interesting sequences of rock and fossils.

One can see fossilized remains plants and shellfish

Fossilized ripple marks in a Sandstone of an ancient ocean from over 300 million years ago.

From here I can again look southwest, past the Cairn towards the Pictou Coalfields of the Stellarton Formation. The place where my career in Geology ended 24 years ago.

I then decided to drive back to Stellarton. To the open pit mine where once men toiled underground in the dust and darkness. Above is a picture of the open pit mine where they have dug a big hole to exploit the Foord Seam. To the left thru the fence one can see the old workings dug many years ago mostly by hand. The shiny rocks are where the coal has been mined. This coal seam is over 40 feet thick. The amount of time required to deposit the material that would eventually become the coal boggles the mind in and of itself. I could continue on but my point in doing this is to give one a sense of scale. A story that spans 120 million years. This story shown in rocks is wonderful to see and ponder.

In a couple of weeks, on April 30th, I am going to again return to Lismore. This time it will be to work for an old friend. I will be helping set Lobster traps in these waters. Then a couple of weeks later I have made a promise to myself to return to New Glasgow. Long overdue, I will attend for the first time a memorial service for my friends who died needlessly mining the coal of this Foord Seam.

It does pain me to see so much misplaced skepticism of science these days. Climate change with it’s insistence on a consensus being the best example. Casting those opposed as Deniers and threatening them with fines doesn’t strike me a productive way to advance the Theories of Climate Change. And it seems suspicious to me that proponents of this theory are now resorting to these measures. All I know is that the models proffered 15 years ago are falling apart. Twenty years hence we will know once and for all if the Doomers were right. This can be said to be true because China and India will not agree to limits and the West will talk but nothing is going to change. A gigantic roll of dice I suppose but one I hope to live to see.

That said I don’t think it is fair to take the failings of one segment of scientific research and apply it whole cloth to everything else. There is always going to be disagreement. When a theory falls out of favour it should be seen not as a failure of science but as a triumph.

I will end by saying I often wonder why I stay here in Nova Scotia. Opportunities are much greater places elsewhere. But I know in my heart that this place and I are linked forever and all time. Maybe it can be said that this speaks to my humantity. To my insistence on doing things not because they are logical but because they are right. Some day in a blink of an eye I will be gone. I too have cast my fate, like those men at Culloden, with these shores. My intention is to have my ashes scattered in the waters of the Northumberland. The one and only thing I know for certain is that ten thousand years from now I will be like the rocks at that cairn but small specks of sand in a great monument.

It could be said that this too is a roll of the dice. It might be I suppose. But it is one that I am happy to accept.

Economy, Mine Explosion, Westray

Not My Department

I read an article yesterday that discussed the ongoing demise of West Philadelphia. A place once prosperous. Now turned into an Urban kill-zone due in large part to 60 years of Government Spending. If the road to hell was paved with good intentions then West Philly is a Superhighway. When Johnson launched the Great Society in 1964 it was intended to be a hand up for the poor so that they could join the rest of the middle class, to eliminate poverty and racial injustice. And yet here we are 60 plus years later and things have from what I can see have only gotten worse.

I have read much over the years about the ongoing rot and decay that is our modern world. Wondered aloud and to myself what is the cause. There seems to be general malaise, an indifference, that has swept the land. We have lost our way. People everywhere are more focused on where and how this society oppresses, on identity politics and the intersections of oppression heaped on this underclass and others. Instead of focusing on and celebrating merit and individual responsibility we have instead split everyone according to race, gender and the books they read. No longer self-reliant and independent West Philly is what is wrong with liberal world we live in boiled to it’s essence. I am of the opinion that the vast majority refuse to admit things are rotten to the core.  It seems to be the only way to fix it is to tear it down. But we know this won’t happen. Instead it will be a death due to indifference. West Philly will end up hollowed out much like Detroit. Houses left to fall back to ground. The streets taken over once again by trees and wildlife. The bears and raccoon’s the only ones left working for a living.

Liberals everywhere want to throw blame to this, blame to that. They wait with baited breath for next pronouncement from City hall to fix what ails. Yet when someone stands up and says that the people that live there need to somehow take control of their own lives the insults come fast and furious. I’m tired of being called a racist for saying that Black people in West Philly need to stand up. Get a job, Get Married. Buy a house and have a family like adults are supposed to do. The stats prove that these people won’t do this. Black lives will matter when black people decide they matter.

How can I as a white man talk about things to which I know nothing? That is the hue and cry of Social Justice Warriors.  A term I despise. To me it seems pretentious and condescending. And as a traditional, white, middle aged male I am forced to sidelines by these people. Told to endure endless trolls telling me how my oppressing intersects with them. It is difficult to be this person, a member of the patriarchy, when for so much of my life I have been coming to terms with the hand fate dealt me.

I wrestled over the years with inequality of outcome in my life compared to others given same opportunities. I need to add that there were those who did as I did yet luck shone on them and not me. Fate can be cruel but the hard lesson I needed to learn is that if you think you are a victim then you will end being one as well. It wasn’t until after my Grandmother died in the spring of 2000 that I realized that I needed to seize agency rather than seek blame. I was able to transform my life by changing how I saw myself.

I look at my life now. It is in all respects what I wished for as a young man. I have a home, loving wife, family and sons that I am very proud. But it was not always this way. In high school I was like many. I believed in my entitlement. Thought hard work was optional and ended up going to University entrenched in this delusion. It should not have been that way. My Parents and Grandparents worked hard to get to where they were in life. But I was young and like many youth today today felt society had an obligation to provide.

So I waited.

Waited for a politician to come and save the day. My wish ended up being granted. I grew up in Plymouth on outskirts of Stellarton. A town long known for coal mining. Through the 1980`s I had heard rumblings and rumours of a mine. It would end up being built just down the road from where I grew up. Of course as with most projects in Nova Scotia politicians and their cronies had their fingerprints all over it. But they promised 20 years of work with good pay. People like me were excited. We would not have to go down the road after all.

Eventually I did get call. I ended up working in coal lab as a technician doing tests. Not a bad job. I was working less than a month when mine exploded. I was doing the coal dust tests in days preceding May 9th. I have over the years tossed back in forth about who is to blame for this tragedy happening. I have at times blamed myself. Others will console me by saying you did your job. There was nothing you could do.

Then yesterday morning while drinking my coffee I read a blog I follow by Parker Donham. He is pundit who has been doing commentary on Nova Scotia politics for as long as I can remember. He was providing the latest in the on going saga of the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax. The neglect and filth that is the main hospital for our province.

I could not help but think back to the Westray Mine. It too neglected. Not cleaned up. I wonder sometimes if we will ever learn from our mistakes.

We have compartmentalized our vocations so that we can shrug our shoulders when things inevitability go wrong. Then I clicked on link to a video from his post.

Not My Department

By Tom Lehrer
Gather  round while I sing you of Wernher von Braun
A  man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience
Call him a Nazi, he won’t even frown
“Ha, Nazi schmazi,” says Wernher von Braun

Don’t say that he’s hypocritical
Say rather  that he’s apolitical
“Once the rockets  are up, who cares where they come down
That’s not my department,” says Wernher von Braun

Some have harsh words for this man of renown
But some  think our attitude should be one of gratitude
Like the widows and cripples in old London town
Who owe their large pensions to Wernher von Braun

You too may be a big hero
Once you’ve learned to count backwards to zero
“In German oder English  I know how to count down
Und I’m learning Chinese,” says Wernher von Braun

I hate to use the term but there are days in my life when everything intersects. When an article from Blogger in Pennsylvania and one from The Island of Cape Breton  speak to me.  The video summed up for me beautifully the tragedy that was and still is for the families that is Westray. Lack of Individual responsibility doomed  a mine. It appears it will also doom a hospital and a city as well.




Mine Explosion, Plymouth, Richards Inquiry, Westray

In The Light

The Light


In my dream it always starts in the light. It start out as a field somewhere in the hills. Sunrise. Dew on the hills. I’m sitting watching the day unfold. In the distance I see the ocean, the tides, the ebbs. the flows.

Westray has always been as a story a visual one rather than a written one for me. I have decided to try and bring to life what has lurked in my mind’s eye all these years. Bring it into the light. But it has always been difficult to write down my thoughts on paper. This is in large part owing to the lack of a voice given to me that was given to many others. I grew up before the internet in a world of books and encyclopedias. Information was always something that was consumed by me. I have always waited for others to tell my story. Waited for my turn.

I did have my chance in aftermath of explosion at Westray to have my say. I was asked by the CBC program the 5th Estate to be part of their documentary “The Last Shift” in the summer of 1992. At the time I declined thinking wrongly that at some point I would get my chance to talk. It was a mistake.

After many years I decided to give it a try again. I sought out a reporter even then still clinging to the need for validation and credibility that comes from it for my voice to be heard. So in the summer of 2013 I got in touch with Stephen Kimber and over the course of next several months we conversed via emails to put together what I think is an excellent summary of what happened to me before, during and in aftermath of Westray explosion. The following spring my story was published. Titled “Closure” it was intended and it was hoped, that it would as title suggests close the book. And for a while it did. I received many positive comments. Those who took time to speak or write to me appreciated what I was trying to do. I was then interviewed by Information Morning. A CBC radio show in Halifax. Then in April of 2014 I was asked to speak at National Day of Mourning event in Port Hawkesbury. During the summer I reached out again to Local newspaper. I began to realize that the more I talked about Westray the more I had to say. Into this came a phone call in Fall of 2014 and with it an offer to go to Safety conference in Gander Newfoundland to speak again. In May of 2015 I went to Gander to give my speech. In the intervening months I worked with some fine people from Halifax to work on my presentation. I wanted to make a difference and an impression. I left Newfoundland afterwards feeling like I had. I was told by that it made people think about safety and what the impact is of poor planning and contempt for safety in a workplace. It was then that I thought the journey would end. My life would enter a new phase. The post-script if you will to Westray. But it wasn’t meant to be. I knew this oddly enough when I was at a wedding and looked up towards a Tree.


I have have always found it a little surprising what inspires and shapes my thoughts on life’s questions. The day was like many in late summer Nova Scotia. I was standing with my wife along many friends and family of bride and groom for a wedding of a lovely young couple. The wedding took place under an old Pine tree. It  certainly wasn’t the tallest tree. Though it did seem to reach out with it’s branches towards everyone present in a comforting protective embrace. Weddings have always been a time of reflection for me. While I did my best to pay attention to proceedings I could not help but let my mind wander as I looked towards the sky. I once again thought about Westray how still feels unfinished and decided that way forward was to write it down in my own as best I can. After the wedding I decided that to complete this I would need to write book. A few weeks later I received a call from someone who attended Gander talk inviting me back to Newfoundland. This time it was Placentia Bay. I gave my speech, it was once again well received.

What I need to do right now is give a little background on what happened to me at Westray.

The Story


At 5:18am on May 9th, 1992 26 men were killed when an explosion fueled by methane and coal dust consumed the- Westray Coal Mine in Plymouth, Pictou County Nova Scotia. It is now 22 years later and I am still haunted by what happened at that mine. The reason for this is because I worked at there at time of explosion. I still have questions about why this happened and how it could have been prevented.

Westray has ebbed and flowed since explosion in my thoughts and dreams. For me it has always become more intense in lead up to anniversary. I cannot help but think about the grief and loss felt by families of the 26. What makes it more difficult is the sense of injustice that has pervaded everything related to Westray. It is main reason why I have such a difficult time talking about it. Even now I feel that the story of Westray belong to the miners and families left behind. I cannot begin to understand how the families have felt and still feel about how they were treated by government and the Westray Coal Company.

One cannot speak about Westray without emphasizing the loss of life. It is hard for me to talk about it because it will always be first and foremost their story. When I say their story I mean the 26 men who died and the families left behind. I had only worked at the mine for about 3 weeks when explosion occurred. I didn’t have time to get to know any of the men on that shift. However I did know two of the men. Both I knew from before they started working at mine.


Robbie Doyle grew up just two farms down the road towards New Glasgow. Him being 4 years younger than me meant that we traveled with a different circle of friends. But we did talk and occasionally growing up he would come up to put the hay in barn on my Grandparent’s farm. He was always one to help and he could be found at Volunteer Fire Department many days. Larry Bell was 2 years older. I knew him much better. We spent many weekends during our teens running the roads and having fun.

Larry and Robbie would die on morning of May 9th. As fate would have it they had just returned underground driving a small tractor like one shown in picture. Sometime later I was told that what they were doing could have waited until day shift but knowing them they would not want to not leave it for someone else to pick up. They were all good men who didn’t deserve the fate they were given.

I have always had a problem with the story-line that was told by those who should have known better in Government and the Company. From the outset it was apparent to me that talking points for this cover-up and misdirection of responsibility would be the blaming of the miners who were working that night for their own deaths. I have always strongly felt that this was and is a despicable betrayal by our government in finding the truth of what happened. In permeating this story-line those in power needed to downplay or discredit the importance of the coal dust as a contributing factor in explosion.


Worse still it turns out that even in their passing mention of tests during the Richards Inquiry they got the date wrong. I don’t think there was a sudden rush of methane that ignited. It was there, present, lurking, just like the dust, waiting for the proper conditions to become a critical mass. It is hard for me even now to comprehend the absolute total destructive power of the blast that took the lives of the 26 that morning. A couple of years later I sat down with a miner I knew who worked for RCMP when they did their criminal investigation. He showed me pictures of aftermath underground. In reviewing them I was struck by the sheer force of blast. If it is any consolation the event was instantaneous and final.

The reason I know about the coal dust problem at the Westray mine is because I worked at Westray. Even more to the point I worked in the Lab and I was the one that processed the last set of dust samples prior to explosion. As I said sometime ago. I had a front row seat to the bad decisions the would result in the tragedy that was and is Westray. All these years later I cannot understand why this could have happened when simple steps could have been taken to prevent it.

I need to write more but for now that is all. After the wedding Cindy and I went for walk down to the shore. Looking up at the tree I was surprised at how different it looked. The trunk and branches twisted by years of prevailing winds. Yet still reaching for the sky.