Dominion #14

The history of the Dominion #14 coal mine in New Waterford would be unremarkable were it not for its relationship with the Dominion #12 mine, which was immediately next to the #14.

The #14 was opened through slopes (decline tunnels) from the outcrop of the Victoria coal seam in 1908. It operated until 1932, producing an average daily output of 1910 tons. Its total production was 5,878,001 long tons of coal.

Many of Nova Scotia’s historical underground coal mines were interconnected through tunnels, usually for practical reasons such as facilitating air circulation and reducing costs by sharing shafts and tunnels. Unfortunately, these connections also sometimes allowed flooding and fires to spread from one mine to others.

Underground connections between the #12 and #14 allowed water from the #14 to be drained through a pipe into #12’s pumping system. Water enters most mines through the surrounding rock, but it is usually in amounts small enough that it can be managed with pumping systems.

In the case of the #14, the mine made about 90 gallons of water per minute, which was pumped into the #12 and then to the surface to remove it from the workings. This is a good example of why mines were so often interconnected: the two mines could share a pumping system and significantly reduce costs.

In 1932, the offshore area that had been allocated to the #14 mine was reallocated to the #12. This brought mining in the #14 to an end as mining would subsequently focus on the #12.

Since the two mines were connected by tunnel, the #14’s roadways were then used as part of the #12’s ventilation system. Specifically, #14 provided a return airway system for the east side of the #12.

Ventilation is essential in coal mines in order to remove methane gas from the workings and ensure the mine’s safety. Methane is a gas formed as organic matter decomposes in the absence of oxygen, such as when plants die in wetlands, marshes and swamps – the sorts of places where coal usually forms. The methane is trapped in the coal as it forms and is released as coal is mined.

Methane is a greenhouse gas. It is also combustible, which is why it has always been a safety challenge in underground coal mines. It is essential that it be vented out of a mine, so it cannot pool and trigger fires and explosions. The #14, while no longer an active producer, therefore performed an important role for the #12, which was a major mine that operated from 1907-1973.

Unfortunately, the connection between the two mines would also become an example of the risks associated with linking mines.

In 1943, #12 had an extensive fire that shut it down for months.

The fire was discovered at 6:55 a.m. on May 26. Attempts were made to contain the fire with water and stone dust, but the fire was too big. (Stone dust is often used in underground coal mines to prevent, and reduce the intensity of, explosions. The dust absorbs heat which helps prevent coal dust igniting and reduces the spread of flame.)

On June 5, the area was sealed off with sandbags in an unsuccessful attempt to deprive the fire of oxygen.

Next, an attempt was made to put the fire out using six tons of dry ice. Dry ice is the frozen form of carbon dioxide (CO2) and when it melts, it turns into a gas, not a liquid as regular ice does. CO2 can be used to extinguish fires because it displaces oxygen in a room and deprives a fire of the oxygen.

On August 5, it was confirmed that the dry ice had not worked so on August 18, water was put into the section to douse the flames. However, by August 21, it was clear that this also had not worked.

On August 25, concrete dams were built and at 7:15 a.m. on September 13, water was again turned on. By 8:20 p.m. the next day, 2.5 million gallons of water had been poured in, about three times the amount necessary to flood the fire area.

It was not until October 16 that the water had receded enough for an inspection to confirm that the fire was out.

There were no casualties from the fire in the #12 mine but two workmen were killed by it in the #14. They were more than two kilometres from the fire and technically in a different mine, but because the #14 served as a return airway for the #12, smoke was drawn into #14 and the two men died from asphyxiation.

The men were part of a crew of about 17 who worked in the #14 to maintain the inactive mine because of its role in the #12’s ventilation system.

Accidents like these are reminders of why the modern mining industry is so committed to safety – Nova Scotia’s industry has reduced its injury rate by 90% since 1997. Today we believe the most important thing to come out of a mine is the miner.

The Dominion #12 coal mine employed many men and fed many families, but its story was, in many ways, one of tragedy. See its story at