Westray Mine to Disappear
"He jumped over the fence and that's the last I seen of him."

Westray Father Glad Mine to Disappear

By Stephen Thorne

This article appeared in
The Sunday Daily News
Halifax, Sunday, 21 December 1997

PLYMOUTH, Pictou County (Canadian Press) — The Westray mine can't disappear soon enough for Marshall Doyle.

Every night for 5½ years, Doyle has gone to bed under the glare of floodlights shining on the silos that loom over the colliery where his youngest son Robert died with 25 others in a massive underground explosion.

Every morning he has awakened in their shadows.

And he's churned up bittersweet memories every day he has tilled the soil of the Pictou County farm where he and his boy worked side by side.

On Thursday, the province announced it will clean up the mine, which sits adjacent to Doyle's farm. It will dismantle Westray's blue silos, plant grass and turn over the property to the community. A tender call for the demolition work was published yesterday.

Mine assets, worth between $1 million and $5 million, will be sold, with proceeds likely going toward the surviving miners' severance fund.

"It's about time," sighed Doyle, who has steadfastly refused to leave the 140-year-old homestead where he raised a family and reared beef cattle.

"They could have done this a year after the explosion."

Some relatives of miners killed in the May 1992 blast say the inquiry report of Justice Peter Richard helped them close a chapter on the disaster.

Others said government's commitment to make good on all 74 of his recommendations gave them a degree of closure after years of disturbing testimon and protracted court proceedings.

But for Doyle, the fact Richard absolved the miners of blame for their own demise and the province committed to rid the 150-hectare site of its blemishes will help soothe wounds he says will never really disappear.

"It's terrible," Doyle said during last spring's fifth anniversary services. "The mine is there in front of your eyes all the time.

"There were times through the day you could look up there and see the young fella, Robbie, going back and forth."

All four of Doyle's sons worked the farm but 22-year-old Robert seemed to love it the most. He'd often toil long hours tending their herd of about 60 Charolais and Hereford cattle before taking his shift in the mine.

"That night he was helping us with loading for the ... feeder sale. It came 7:30 and Robbie said: 'I gotta go, Dad.' I said to him: 'In the morning, if you're not too tired, we'll go to the sale.'

"But it never materialized. He jumped over the fence and that's the last I seen of him."

Awakened by the 5:18am blast, Doyle was among the first at the mine entrance. Clouds of dark coal dust spewed into the sky.

"It was pretty grim. Grey smoke was coming out of her and the fans were still screaming. Debris was all around the front of the porthole — steel and everything. We kept our hopes up, but you knew there wasn't much chance."

A tender was to be called yesterday for the sale of Westray's assets. Everything will be sold from heavy roof-bolting machines to the upscale furniture that still adorns the office of former manager Gerald Phillips.

The nearby mine entrance is sealed by concrete blocks, its shafts where the remains of 11 miners still lie are filled with water.

Doyle surveyed the site Thursday, then pulled out a picture of his smiling boy. He pondered it a minute and stuffed it back in his pocket.

"It'll be a few years down the road before this is all finally put to rest."

Go To:   Westray Scrapbook Fifty clippings about the Westray coal mine disaster
Go to:   Main Westray Coal Mine Disaster page
Go to:   Westray Public Inquiry online transcript of testimony
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First uploaded to the WWW:   1997 December 22