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Miner's Day (Canada)
"Get up!" the caller calls, "Get up!"
And in the dead of night,
To win the bairns their bite and sup,
I rise a weary wight.
My flannel dudden donn'd, thrice o'er
My birds are kiss'd, and then
I with a whistle shut the door,
I may not ope again."
~ Pitman Poet, Joseph Skipsey (1832-1903)
Davis Day, also known as Miners' Memorial Day is an annual day of remembrance observed on June 11 in coal mining communities in Nova Scotia, Canada to recognize all miners killed in the province's coal mines. This incredibly dangerous occupation dates back thousands of years to the small-scale mining of surface deposits. Coalfields in Roman Britain were being worked as early as the late 2nd century AD. Until the late nineteenth-century coal was mined underground using a pick and shovel, and children were often employed underground in dangerous conditions. Mineworkers used rodents (mostly mice) and birds (canaries) underground to track the amount of concentrated carbon monoxide in the shafts, knowing that the animals would exhibit symptoms of dangerous conditions earlier than the miners themselves. This tartan commemorates the coal miners who lived, worked and died in the designer’s hometown of Springhill, Nova Scotia, and elsewhere in the provinces of Canada: Black is for the coal and the darkness of the mine; Yellow is for the miners' lamps; Red represents blood on the coal for the lives lost; And white represents the remembrance of miners’ lives.⛏️
Coal has been mined in Canada since 1639, when a small mine was opened at Grand Lake, New Brunswick. In 1720, French soldiers began to mine at Cow Bay (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) to supply the fortress at Louisbourg.
Cape Breton later supplied coal to Boston and other American ports, and to the British militia in Halifax. By 1870, 21 coal mines were operating in Cape Breton, but virtually all of them were abandoned in the early 20th century.
Named in honour of William Davis, who was killed at the New Waterford Lake riot on 11 June 1925, Miner's Day (also called Davis Day) has come to symbolize both the miners' battle for fair wages and the continuing struggle to save Nova Scotia's coal industry. Its original purpose was to mourn Davis's death but has evolved to become an occasion for mourning all miners killed in provincial coal mines.
William Davis, for whom Miner's Day is named, was a coal miner from Cape Breton Island. Born in Gloucestershire, England, Davis had been a coal miner from a young age until his untimely death. His father worked in the mines at Springhill, Nova Scotia, and his older brother, then fourteen years old, was killed in the 1891 explosion there.
Davis began working for the Dominion Coal Company Limited (DOMCO) in 1905 at various collieries in the Sydney coalfield in Cape Breton, eventually graduating to become a pumpman and a roadmaker, lastly at the No. 12 Colliery in New Waterford.
Davis was killed June 11, 1920 during a confrontation with the company police of the British Empire Steel Corporation (BESCO), who had taken over the coalworks and begun a targeted campaign to break the miner's union.
For more on this event and the circumstances leading to it, click the mineshaft.