Hillcrest Mine Disaster
On the morning of June 19th of 1914, a massive methane and coal dust explosion rocked the Hillcrest Collieries coal mine in the Crowsnest Pass of southwestern Alberta, Canada.
Miners from nearby mines in the Crowsnest Pass, including Fernie and Hosmer in B.C, Coleman, Bellevue, Passburg, and Lethbridge in Alberta rushed to the scene, and struggled day and night to rescue or recover the bodies of their miner friends. At risk of life they braved the possibility of new explosions, roof collapses, poisonous gas, suffocation, and mine fires. Once the rescue and recovery efforts were over, the death toll stood at 189. Of the 235 men who entered the mine that morning, only 46 survived.
On that Friday morning in June, the mine had been idle the previous two days due to overproduction of coal. Before 7:00 AM, the fireboss, William Adkin, had completed his mine inspection and posted a notice in the lamphouse warning of some low levels of methane gas along with some cave-ins in various parts of the mine. Methane gas was always present in the mine, but for it to explode it had to be above 5% and less than 14%. Coal dust itself was highly explosive, but it could be kept in check if there was enough moisture to dampen it. Moisture levels that day were considered adequate. The lamphouse was where the men would pick up their miner's lamp and deposit or pick up their "checks" -- the small brass numbered tags which the timekeeper used to keep track of time worked. There were two checks in the lamp house used to identify a miner. When the miner went in the mine, he picked up both and handed one to the timekeeper who placed it on a board. That told the timekeeper that the miner was in the mine. When the miner left the mine after his shift, he deposited his second check on the board in the lamphouse next to the other one. This system showed that the man who had entered the mine, had come out safely.
Although the mine was successful, and considered one of the safest in the region, disaster was around the corner. On Friday June 19, 1914 an underground pocket of methane gas ignited, which set off a larger coal-dust explosion resulting in the worst mining accident in Canadian history and at the time the world's third worst mine disaster. The explosion was so violent that it even destroyed part of the surface plant. As well as damaging the mine infrastructure, this had a profound effect on the town of Hillcrest Mines. A total of 189 men were killed, about twenty percent of the town's population and half of the mine’s total workforce, which left 130 women widowed and about 400 children fatherless.
The Hillcrest mine disaster, the worst coal mining disaster in Canadian history, occurred at Hillcrest, Alberta, in the Crowsnest Pass region of western Canada, on Friday June 19, 1914. At the time it was the world's third worst mine disaster. The accident had a profound effect on the town of Hillcrest Mines, which in 1914 had a population of about 1,000. A total of 189 men died, about half of the mine’s total workforce, which left 130 women widowed and about 400 children fatherless. Many of the victims were buried in a mass grave at the Hillcrest Cemetery. Condolences came from across the country, including a brief message from King George V, but the commencement of World War I soon overshadowed this event.