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…

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.