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Music Cape Breton's Diversity in Unity

Mining Jolly Wee Miner Men

Jolly Wee Miner Men is a song based on a series of similar traditional mining songs from Ireland and England. It describes the solidarity that existed between miners and demonstrates that their sense of humour, their rich camaraderie and their bravery helped them deal with their dangerous work environment, poverty and forms of oppression that they encountered each day.

This version is from a live recording of the Men of the Deeps on March 25, 1968, when they performed with the University Singers at Holy Angels High School auditorium. Francis H. Stevens of the Cape Breton Post reviewed the show the following day saying, “[they] gave vocal evidence of the beginning of a great tradition. There cannot be any doubt about it.” This archival recording can be found on T-062 at The Beaton Institute.

Jolly Wee Miner Men, 1968. The Men of the Deeps. T-062. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.

The Men of the Deeps

The Men of the Deeps is a world-renowned male choral ensemble composed of former coalminers from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Inspired by Glace Bay activist, Mrs. Nina Cohen, and famed Nova Scotia folklorist, Dr. Helen Creighton, The Men of the Deeps was organized in 1966 as part of Cape Breton’s contribution to Canada’s Centennial Year (1967) with the specific aim of encouraging the people of Cape Breton to preserve in song some of the rich folklore of the Island’s coal mining communities.

The ensemble first performed to thousands of people in packed theatres in Sydney, New Waterford, and Glace Bay. Those in attendance were highly impressed with the new choral group, including H.P. MacKeen, the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, who became the patron of the chorus. Concerts were then held at the Isle Royale Hotel, the opening of the Miners’ Museum, the Queen Mother’s visit (1967), and for Expo 67 in Montreal.

In 1976, the group became the first Canadian musical ensemble to tour the Peoples’ Republic of China, after diplomatic relations between the two nations were restored in 1972. Over twenty years later, they travelled to Kosovo to perform on behalf of the United Nations Children’s Fund. The chorus received an honorary Doctor of Letters from the University College of Cape Breton (now Cape Breton University) in 2000. Recent concert tours have brought the choir as far north as the Northwest Territories and as far south as Arizona, Alabama, Florida and the Appalachian coal mining communities of Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Since the group’s inception, the musical director has been John C. (Jack) O’Donnell, now Professor Emeritus of music at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

Jolly Wee Miner Men

Collected by George Korson from the singing of Bob Stewart
© Waterloo Music Company.

1. We’re all jolly wee miner men
And miner men are we.
We have travelled through Canada
For many’s the long dee.
We have travelled east and travelled west,
This country ’round and ’round
For to find out the treasures
That lie below the ground.

2. Oh, some have got money
And some have none at all.
But when we’ve got money
The bottle we will drown.
And we’ll fill our glasses right up to the brim
As the toast goes passing ’round:
Here’s my health to every wee miner man
That goes beneath the ground.

Repeat first verse

Additional verse:

3. I’ll build my love a castle
A castle of high renown.
Neither king, duke nor earl
Will pull my castle down,
For the king loves the queen,
Aye, and the empress does the same.
Here’s my health to every wee miner man
That goes below the ground.