English Slope

It’s a school today but it used to be a coal mine in Stellarton.

The English Slope was opened by the Acadia Company in 1887-88 to mine the Deep coal seam. However, the mine was a disappointment to its owners. The coal proved to be poor quality and plans to dig additional tunnels off the main slope (decline tunnel) were abandoned. In fact, the original plan had been to connect the English Slope with the Foord Pit but a fire in the Foord Pit in summer 1892 prevented that from happening. The English Slope came within 100 feet of the Foord Pit before stopping.

After several stops and starts, the 2800-feet-deep English Slope was closed in 1892.

Unfortunately, the story of the mine did not end there.

By 1906, the short-lived mine had been largely forgotten. On Labour Day that year, children were playing ball near the mine’s entrance and their ball rolled into it. Four boys – brothers Donald and Stanley Gunn, William Frew and Thomas Patterson – went after it.

There were soon out of sight so an older boy, Alexander Cornett, went into the mine after them. Cornett was still near the entrance when he heard one of the boys say it was too dark to see, and another boy said, “Here’s a match.”

Cornett ran back up the slope when he heard the exchange but an explosion soon followed and a sheet of flame burned his back and head.

Stanley Gunn and William Frew were killed by the blast. The other boys survived their injuries.

The explosion triggered a fire that was so smoky, a crowd two miles away, watching boat races near the New Glasgow bridge on the East River, complained about it, not knowing the source of the smoke.

Stellarton’s fire department and volunteer miners fought the fire for several days, pouring thousands of gallons of water into the mine before the flames were put out.

The slope was filled in to prevent any future accidents.

In 1947, the English Slope was mined again, but by bootleggers this time. During a miners strike over wages, some men dug through the fill at the mine’s entrance and burrowed through the rock and coal that fell from the tunnel’s roof in the 1906 explosion. They mined coal, loaded it into trucks at night and sold it to families that were desperate for fuel because of the strike.

When this was discovered, the Acadia Company closed the mine again by detonating explosives that caused the bootleggers’ underground workings to collapse.

The deaths of the two boys were the result of historical mining practices and government regulation that were clearly not good enough.

Today, before they even start mining, companies must get government approval of reclamation plans and post reclamation bonds (money in escrow, basically) that ensure funds are available to reclaim sites from both a safety and environmental perspective. Reclamation is a key part of the mining process today.

Almost as if to make up for the tragic deaths of the boys, the site is now the G. R. Saunders Elementary School on Bridge Avenue. Saunders was mayor of Stellarton from 1934 to 1937. He was a decorated soldier and he helped lead relief efforts during the Moose River Mine Disaster in 1936.