The McCormick and Turner families

Stephen McCormick of Big Pond was one of 11 men killed in an 1899 accident in the Caledonia coal mine in Glace Bay. Despite the tragedy, coal mining continued to run in his family, as it so often did historically in mining towns.

Around 1:00 a.m. on June 16, 1899, Dan Marlin, one of the mine’s overmen took a horse to the Caledonia’s (aka Dominion No. 4) stables and smelled smoke. Around 3:00 a.m. the underground manager, Thomas Johnston, and a group of miners, including McCormick, grabbed buckets and went in search of the fire. It was around 4:00 a.m. that the first of two explosions took place about an hour apart.

A crew was sent in search of the men, but Johnston, McCormick and the others were dead, killed by after damp (carbon monoxide) caused by the explosion, not the explosion itself. The men’s remains were in two groups about fifty feet apart. Another man, Donald Martin, was about 90 feet further away, in a sitting position leaning against the wall. The men had their coats wrapped around their faces because they had tried to keep from breathing the after damp.

According to family lore, Stephen McCormick’s body was brought home in a wheelbarrow. His name and those of the other men killed that day are on a plaque in the Miner's Museum in Glace Bay. The plaque was donated my members of the McCormick family to the museum after the original memorial plaque was destroyed in a fire.

Historical accidents are a key reason why the modern mining industry is so safety-focussed. Nova Scotia’s mining and quarrying industry has reduced its injury rate by 90% since the Westray inquiry report was released in 1997. We believe the most important thing to come out of a mine is the miner, and our modern safety record reflects this.

Stephen McCormick left behind a widow, Jane (nee MacIntosh), and six children. A picture below shows the kids, including Louis, the oldest, who is standing in the middle, back row. Louis was 11 years old when his father died.

Louis worked as a labour organizer for almost half a century, and held various roles, including serving as a board member of the United Mine Workers in the early 1920s and as the secretary/treasurer of the miner’s union in Glace Bay. He also worked in the Dominion No. 2 colliery (

On the other side of the family, William Turner, born in 1885, emigrated from the Staffordshire area of England to Glace Bay in 1906. He married Agnus Lyons from Paisley, Scotland, and had six children: Arthur, Francis, Dan, Alex, Allister and Agnus.

William was a miner at the Caledonia mine. When he retired, he was the operator of the rake (the wheeled carts that carried miners in and out of the mine).

William and his brothers lived on Winona Street in Glace Bay in a company house that backed onto the Caledonia mine’s property. The mine was just a few hundred yards from the house. A picture below shows William’s son, Arthur, at the Winona Street house, with the mine in the background.

William’s sons all worked at the Caledonia. Arthur was an equipment engineer and operator and spent his days “fixing things,” as he used to say. The rest of William’s sons were labourers. Francis later quit in the 1960s and started his own business.

Arthur and a couple other miners were once trapped in the Caledonia behind a rockfall. They made their way to the South Street airshaft and climbed up the ladder several hundred feet to safety. The air shaft was located near the end of South Street, near where Glace Bay Hospital now stands.

Arthur, who was married to Helen McCormick, worked at the Caledonia until it closed in 1961, almost a century after the mine opened. He was one of the men engaged to close the mine, including arranging for equipment to be removed from it.

After the Caledonia closed, Arthur finished his career at the Dominion No. 26 Colliery (

Arthur passed away in 1977 shortly after retiring. Except for the years 1939-42 when he served as chief petty officer on the corvette HMCS Shawinigan during WWII, he worked in the mines his entire career.

Today, Nova Scotia’s mining and quarrying industry employs over 3000 Nova Scotians and is the highest-paying resource industry in the province. Our average annual total compensation (wages and benefits) is $102,000 per year.

Our thanks to Art Turner Jr., son of the Arthur Turner discussed above, for sharing his family’s story with us.

See the rest of the Caledonia mine’s story at