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Music Cape Breton's Diversity in Unity

Mining Miners’ Memorial Hymn

Miners’ Memorial Hymn is a hymn written by Horatius Bonar in memory of the miners that were killed during the The Gresford Disaster at the Gresford Colliery in Northeast Wales on September 22, 1934. This is the Nova Scotia version of the hymn, which contains an additional verse written by Judith O’ Donnell. This hymn shows that miners have a strong faith that can be defined as intellectual, simplistic, and accepting, but always firmly rooted.

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.

Miners’ Memorial Hymn, 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.

Miners’ Memorial Hymn

Words by Horatius Bonar
Verse 6 by Judith O’Donnell
Tune: “Gresford”
Arranged for the Men of the Deeps by John C O’Donnell.

1. Go, labour on while it is day;
The world’s dark night is hast’ning on;
Speed thy work, cast sloth away;
It is not thus that souls are won.

2. Go, labour on beneath the earth
In tombs that are devoid of light,
Where those who perished found rebirth
Their lamps eternity to light.

Additional verses:

Go, labour on: spend and be spent,
Thy joy to do the Father’s will;
It is the way the Master went;
Should not the servant tread it still?

Men in darkness at thy side,
Without a hope to cheer the tomb;
Take up the torch and wave it wide,
The torch that lights time’s thickest gloom.

Toil on, faint not, keep watch, and pray;
Be wise the erring soul to win;
Go forth into the world’s highway,
Compel the wanderer to come in.

Toil on and in thy toil rejoice,
For toil comes rest, for exile home;
Soon shalt thou hear the Bridegroom’s voice,
The midnight peal, “Behold, I come!”