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Music Cape Breton's Diversity in Unity

Mining New Waterford’s Fatal Day

New Waterford’s Fatal Day is Angus Timmons’ personal account of a mining disaster at the No.12 mine in New Waterford in 1917. This song uses imagery found in various British songs about mining disasters (e.g., The Mines of Avondale).

This field recording was collected by Ronnie MacEachern in 1978.

New Waterford’s Fatal Day, 1978. Amby Thomas. T-1066. Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.

Amby Thomas

In 1906, Amby Thomas was born in Deep Cove, a small Cape Breton fishing community between Gabarus and Louisbourg. In his early years, Amby attended ceilidhs where local and traditional folk songs were sung. He was especially interested in songs by local songwriter Lauchie MacNeil.

Amby lived and attended school in the village until 1916, when a local priest noticed he had a vision problem. He suggested that Amby move to Halifax to study at the School for the Blind. He attended the school until June 1919, when he moved back to Deep Cove to finish school.

After completing his studies, he worked in a lobster factory in Kennington Cove and then as a fisherman with his father until 1952. During this time, he also farmed near his family’s home and cut timber in the nearby woods that was used in coal mines in the area. From 1939-1945, he worked at the naval base in Point Edward, where he was responsible for railroading and other jobs at the base.

In 1967, the government forced Amby and the other residents of Deep Cove to move from their land so that the Fleur de Lis trail could be built. In 1969, he married Mary and moved to Sydney.

His interest in local and traditional folk songs led him to work with singer-songwriter and collector Ronald MacEachern to record the lyrics and sheet music for some of his songs. Together they released the book, Songs and Stories from Deep Cove, Cape Breton. As a result of their collaboration, these songs became accessible to future generations interested in learning more about Cape Breton’s rich songwriting tradition.

New Waterford’s Fatal Day

Words and music by Angus Timmons
© From the collection of Ron MacEachern.

1. Come all you good people, draw near, pay attention,
And listen to these few lines I’m now going to pen.
‘Tis of an explosion, a terrible disaster
Which brought on the death of so many brave men.

2. It was in sixteen for my bread I did labour
That day the dreadful news went around.
But little I thought that so many lay lifeless,
All torn and mangled down under the ground.

3. I quickly quit work, as may well be imagined.
All in sixteen likewise did the same.
From fourteen and fifteen in hundreds we hurried
On to the rescue, our comrades to save.

4. When those sixty-five men at their work they had started
In number twelve pit on that day in July.
Oh, little they knew that grim death would o’ertake them
And before nine o’clock they’d be called on to die.

5. When the first of the victims to the surface was carried
The sorrow and grief I shall never forget
Of mothers and wives, sisters and sweethearts
When they saw their beloved ones lying out there in death.

6. As we gaze on those men as they lie dead before us,
Our thought how they soared to our home in the sky.
We ask our dear Lord to have mercy upon them,
For none of us know how or when we must die.

7. Oh! Pity the friends of those poor Newfoundlanders
As their corpses were brought home on the steamship, the Kyle
Nineteen in number, ’twas homeward she bore them
To be laid there to rest ‘neath their own native soil.

8. We have heard of our boys who have fallen in battle
Being shell-shocked and gassed by our foes far away.
But all those things were completely forgotten
When we saw what had happened in our town that day.

9. When the time had arrived for those men to be buried,
When their bodies were ready to be lead ‘neath the sod,
With tears in our eyes and our hearts full of sorrow
We commended their souls to the mercy of God.

10. Those men are now gone, in their graves they are sleeping.
No doubt they’ll be mourned for many a long day.
Of one of the number I make special mention,
For we all lost a friend in the late John McKay.

11. Many thanks now are due to all those outsiders
Who came to our aid in that day of great woe.
May they get their rewards in the great hereafter
And be crowned with success while they stay here below.

12. There are still many more I would like to mention;
To leave those unthanked, indeed, would be wrong.
The clergy, the doctors, the nuns and the nurses –
May they all be rewarded in the great world beyond.

13. Now I’ll conclude and my song I will finish.
A few words to the mourners I yet wish to say:
Although they have parted from those they love dearly,
They’ll all be united on the great judgment day.