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Music Cape Breton's Diversity in Unity

Mining The Cape Breton Coal Miners

The Cape Breton Coal Miners was written by Ray Holland; it describes the nature of being a coal miner, the satisfaction they gained from their job and their close connection to Cape Breton. He wrote the words to this song to serve as an introduction to the Men of the Deeps at Man and His World – Expo ’67 – and chose the age-old “Villikens And His Dinah” as the tune following their debut performance in Montreal.

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.

The Cape Breton Coal Miners, 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.

The Cape Breton Coal Miners

Words by Ray Holland
Tune: “Villikens And His Dinah”
© Waterloo Music Company.

1. We are the coal miners from Cape Breton Isle;
We don’t make much money but manage to smile.
Workin’ hard for our living-a-mining the coal.
The dust and the sweat seep into our souls.

So come all you miners and listen to me
Be proud of our country and good old CB.
When we get to heaven and God reads the scroll,
He’ll say “Step right in boys for you’ve loaded coal.”

Repeat Chorus

2. We work in the coal mine far under the ground
Where never a ray of sunshine is found.
While some men are brushing and some loading coal,
The dust and the sweat seep into their souls.

Repeat Chorus

3. The Miners’ Museum they’ve built last year
In memory of miners in centennial year.
Though memories won’t bring back the men that have gone,
The his’try of mining will still carry on.

Repeat Chorus

Additional verses:

4. Coal mining’s a living, it’s rough and it’s tough,
But being coal miners we’re used to that stuff!
We’re a proud lot of people and happy we are,
And proud that we come from the Isle of CB.

5. We’re Cape Breton miners, my friends, have no fear;
And happy to have been to Expo last year.
Some call us coal miners and we do agree,
But we’re better known as the Men of the Deeps.