Last February, I posted this post. As it is Black History Month, I’d like to see more people know this story. And so today, I’d like to introduce you to Maurice Ruddick.
The Bump (underground earthquake) of October 23, 1958 in Springhill, Nova Scotia, was the most severe bump in North American mining history!
A small bump occurred just as 174 coal miners began their 8 to 11 P.M. shift at the Cumberland Pit Shaft Number Two. An hour later, a second and more intense bump happened. Immediately, seventy-three miners were killed by a massive cave-in. Within 24 hours, more than half of the survivors were rescued. Amazingly, six days later, on the morning of October 29, twelve more miners who were trapped 8,000 meters down, were saved.
By then, the Canadian and international news media had made their way to Springhill. The disaster actually became famous for being the first major international event to appear in live television broadcasts (on the CBC). Teams began to arrive from other coal mines: from Cumberland County, Cape Breton Island and Pictou County.
On Friday, October 31, 1958 the rescue site was visited by various dignitaries, including the Premier of Nova Scotia, Robert Stanfield and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh who had been at a meetings in Ottawa.
On November 5, 1958, the last group of survivors was found! The men, and their stories of survival, made the news in Canada and abroad. “If it wasn’t for Maurice Ruddick, they’d all have been dead” was often quoted in these news reports.
Even though the forty-six year old father suffered a broken leg, he did everything he could to keep everyone’s morale up, especially with his singing. For instance, on November 1, the men shared their last sandwich and water, Ruddick leading them in a loud “Happy Birthday” to Garnet Clarke. As they waited to be saved, day after day, he kept telling jokes and singing! When the rescuers finally arrived, Ruddick is quoted as saying, “Give me a drink of water, and I’ll sing you a song.”
One person who was so taken aback by the miracle of such heroics was the Governor of the Georgia (United States), Marvin Griffin. He invited the survivors to vacation and recuperate at one of his state’s luxurious resorts, Jekyll Island, usually reserved for millionaires. However, when he discovered that one of the miners was black, Maurice Ruddick,Griffin amended his offer, and said that Ruddick would have to be segregated from the others. When Ruddick heard this, he refused the offer. But when he learned that his fellow miners would not go if Ruddick wasn’t also going, he changed his mind and accepted the offer.
So Ruddick, his wife, and the four of his twelve children, accompanied him on the trip all stayed in a separate area of the island, in trailers built by Griffin especially for the occasion, and attended separate ceremonies from the white miners.
Ruddick was named 1958’s Canadian Citizen of the Year, awarded by Ontario Premier Leslie Frost. He described him as “an inspiration to all … a man with the divine attribute of common sense.” For his part, Ruddick accepted the honour, “for every miner in town.”
UPDATE: an interesting legacy is his daughter, Valerie Macdonald’s, song she wrote about it. Heather Sparling, an ethnomusicologist, has done a study of ‘Disasters Songs in Canada,’ from the Atlantic Canadian disaster songs at Cape Breton University (disastersongs.ca).
To learn more about today’s post, I would suggest first is CBC Archives. Another very good page with the story, followed up with many other links is Black History Month by Historica Dominion Institute site. You still want more? No worries. A few other sites are Find a Grave.