"The coal miner is no ordinary man. His story has a heartbeat. It should not be allowed to die."
Coal was first discovered in Cape Breton by the French with Port Morien recognized as North America's first commercial coal mining operation established in 1720.
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By the late eighteenth century many coalmines were flourishing on the Island, and major steel plant operations were underway in both Sydney and Sydney Mines. This industrial development attracted countless immigrants from the European continent. Cape Breton Island is noted for welcoming the largest industrial immigration to Canada prior to the Second World War. Many of these people, of course, worked in the coalmines and contributed to the wonderful cultural mosaic which is Cape Breton today.
Coal miners are not generally a singing lot - at least not in the sense that sailors, voyageurs or lumberjacks are known for their singing. Unlike the sailor hauling on the bowline to the rhythm of a sea shanty, there are no mining songs a man would swing a pick to. Miners had little breath left to spare for singing, with lung disease and silicosis exacting a high toll among coal miners. But the Cape Breton coal mining industry did bring together, in the workplace and in the surrounding communities, a wide variety of peoples with a rich array of singing traditions - all of which found an outlet in the ceilidh tradition of a burgeoning island community.
The songs representing the mining industry which are presented on this website are drawn largely from the repertoire of North America's only coal miners' choir, The Men of the Deeps. We are also indebted to the work of established folksong collectors like George Korson and to singer/collectors like Ronnie MacEachern for their tremendous contributions to this song tradition. Furthermore, much of the music and poetry of composers such as Ray Holland, Nell Campbell, Allister MacGillivray, Charlie MacKinnon, and Al Provoe reflects the spirit of Cape Breton's mining communities in the same way that oral tradition molds the spirit of a people. For this reason, we are proud to include their works in this collection.
Many live and rare recordings of traditional tunes show influences of those early European immigrants - especially of Ireland, England and Scotland. Like all music and poetry which come from the "folk," these songs are for the people. It is hoped that all those visiting this website will appreciate and absorb the rich culture represented, and that these songs will survive to enrich the heritage of future generations of Cape Bretoners.