Newfoundland’s miners in 1928

To the editor,

“On Nov. 18, 1928, a tsunami struck Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula. Giant waves up to three stories high hit the coast, flooding dozens of communities and washing entire houses out to sea. The disaster killed 28 and left hundreds more destitute, forever changing the lives of the fishing outpost communities.” — Linden MacIntyre, The Wake.

The fishing boats were smashed and the fish simply disappeared. So much for the idea that one could always eat fish. You’d never starve!

But on the Burin Peninsula, there were deposits of fluorspar — in fact they were abundant.

Of course, the year of 1929, the gateway into 10 years of depression, high unemployment and total misery was not exactly the best time to dig a mine. But, with the fish gone, there was a captive workforce so it was time to go mining.

Places like St. Laurence, miners toiled in what would be rightly called the bowels of Hell. They gasped and vomited, the air being so foul through a wet mucky shift underground. Their wages were low, their hours long and respect for them was non-existent.

On top of it all, a number of the miners on the Burin Peninsula were found to be radioactive. Many of the miners, possibly the majority, died an early death — lung cancer, silicosis, etc.

Much of the profits from the sale of the fluorspar, that should have gone to upgrading the machinery in the mines put in proper ventilation, was siphoned off for other purposes by a certain Walter Geibert. He was an accountant from New York who had promoted these fluorspar claims into actual working mines, often at the start, often relying on free labour to start the whole mining project.

In the end, Geibert sold the Burin Peninsula on a promise of a bright future then failed to deliver.

The miners were stuck in this “living Hell,” underpaid, breathing foul air, working with worn out equipment. They literally dug their own graves in places like Black Duck, Iron Springs and Blue Beach.

But a work ethic is a waste of time if it is not appreciated. The Burin Peninsula miner found that one out the hard way.

Dennis Peacock,

Clearwater, B.C.

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news@starjournal.net

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