One of the pillars of our collection is hundreds of artifacts related to the Pictou County coal industry. Most came to us from the former Stellarton Miners’ Museum when it ceased operation. Thanks to those who took steps to preserve this mining heritage, we have almost 1000 objects - tools, safety equipent, books and photographs - documenting one of Nova Scotia’s three nationally-significant coal mining areas. (The Springhill Miners’ Museum, and the Cape Breton Miners’ Museum preserve the coal mining heritage of the other two coalfields.) Some gems from the Stellarton collection are featured in our Coal & Grit exhibit.
The Westray Collection
To that collection we have added other artifacts relating to Pictou County coal mining, most notably items associated with the ill-fated Westray Mine. That mine opened September 11, 1991 and was closed by a disastrous explosion May 9, 1992 that killed 26 miners. Among the objects associated with that story are tools and miner’s personal gear, a roofing bolter (weighing 75,000 to 80,000 pounds) of the kind said to have caused the spark that ignited the deadly methane explosion, as well as items related to the public reaction to the incident and its aftermath.
There were several developments to improve mine safety throughout the 1800s and 1900s. In our collection are miner’s safety lamps which provided light as well as a warning of failing air quality in the mine; air quality monitors used to detect the ever-present and highly explosive methane gas; emergency breathing apparatus and self-rescuers carried by the miners, and the much larger breathing apparatus used by mine rescuers.
The miner’s pick is the emblem of his trade and the most basic tool of hand mining. Our collection includes these as well as the shovels and hammers and pit jacks that were essential underground. A special hammer with a copper head was used underground to sample rocks because it wouldn’t give off sparks and ignite methane gas.
Our collection includes headgear from the soft cloth caps that carried an open flame bicket lamp to the modern, moulded plastic hardhats with hearing protection used at Westray. The latter provide a mount for the electric headlamps connected to belt-mounted battery packs.