I honestly was not sure what to expect as I started my journey underground at the Cape Breton Miners Museum. Would I be walking down a slippery slope to my sprained ankle? Would I come out covered in black soot from head to toe and a sore back for a week?
Put those fears aside! The mine was clean, had lots of room to move around, was well-kept and the slope wasn’t steep. I don’t want to spoil the entire experience but here is a bit of an overview.
The first thing you do is get suited up with your helmet and cloak. Once everyone is dressed, your ex-miner of 30 years tour guide will lead the group to the entrance of the mine. And then the decent under the Atlantic Ocean begins.
Stories are told as you enter the mine of how miners made their way down in carts with no breaks and no lights. After a short walk you will come to the first set of doors. The doors were extremely important to keep shut as it allowed the air to flow down to where the miners were working. Doors were tended by 7 or 8 year old boys- trapper boys. This story tugged on my heart strings a little thinking about a child, the age of my little nephew, wearing a hat with a candle on top (as his only light source) and sitting down there for 8-12 hours a day in the cold mine. The boys would be paid 50 cents a day.
Horses also had a role to play. They worked the same shift as the miner each day and worked down in the mine for 10-15 years before they were taken out of the pits. Thankfully for the ponies, in the 50’s the pit ponies were replaced with motors. But this created more of an air issue for the miners.
A not so well known fact is that it was down is these Mines is where they invented the highland dancing (wink, wink)!
Trying to get the rats out of your pants was a sight to see! Miners would have the bottom of their pants tied up and the necks of their shirts to keep the rats out. The rats had their benefits though. If the miners saw them running it meant there was gas. Because the miners used candles on the top of their hats for lights, it was extremely easy to have gas explosions. These explosions were a main cause of death for many miners.
The tour went through a few tunnels and there were replica ponies in place to see how they were kept and also a drill that was still operational.
Mine tours are offered all year round. It was a fun and hands-on expereince of Cape Breton History.