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Music Cape Breton's Diversity in Unity

Mining Kelly’s Cove

Written by Mrs. DJ MacDonald, Kelly’s Cove is a Cape Breton union song that looks at the importation of non-unionized surplus labour to do the work of unionized miners in Cape Breton. Kelly’s Cove, located near the foot of Kelly’s Mountain in Cape Breton, is known today as New Campbellton.

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.

Kelly’s Cove, 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.

Kelly’s Cove

Words by Mrs DJ MacDonald
Tune: “The Blackleg Miners”
© Waterloo Music Company.

1. When Kelly’s Cove began to work,
The happy miners came like dirt,
White backs and dirty shirts,
The yappy, happy miners.

Join the union or you’ll die,
Join the union or you’ll die,
Join the union or you’ll die
Among the happy miners.

2. And when a vessel will come in,
Burchell will be on a pin;
He will make the miners spin,
The yappy, happy miners.

3. Big Flora, she keeps a hall,
Where the miners always call,
When they’re coming in the fall,
The yappy, happy miners.

4. Young Charlie Sutherland went ’round,
Hauling coal from underground;
He swore he’d never haul a pound
For the yappy, happy miners.