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Music Cape Breton's Diversity in Unity

Mining The Coal By The Sea [Video]

Words by Gerard MacNeil
Tune: “Nine Years A Soldier”
© Waterloo Music Company.

1. In seventeen-twenty they sailed to CB,
In search for coal that outcropped by the sea;
They settled the land ’round Morien Bay,
‘Twas here coal mining started, they say.

Mush-a-doo doo-i-a, singing fal the doo-i-addy,
Mush-a-doo doo-i-a, singing fal the doo-i-ay!

2. The immigrants came from far and wide,
To work in the coal mines side by side;
Mates became buddies and brothers to be,
Down in the deeps of old CB.

3. When the mines shut down at Morien Bay,
They packed up and left to work in Glace Bay;
Many mines did they open in this big town,
Now, my friends, there’s none to be found.

4. Coal mining spread through many a town,
As far as we know it will always be around.
Cape Breton is rich in coal, you see,
And it all began with that coal by the sea.

The Coal By The Sea documents the discovery of coal in Cape Breton and celebrates the opening of the first commerical coal mining operation in North America. Coal that was first mined in 1720 in Port Morien, besides being shipped off to the Boston States, also kept the workforce warm throughout the building of Fortress Louisbourg.

This video recording, produced by Folkus Atlantic in 1996, features a performance by the Men of the Deeps at the Glace Bay Miners’ Museum.

The Coal By The Sea, 1996. The Men of the Deeps/Joan Weeks. FT-59, 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.