“If only the young miners would take heed and know of the struggle and suffering the old miners went through, they would guard that freedom with their lives if necessary.” —Jock Gilmour.
Back in October I told you that the man-made mountain of coal waste from South Wellington’s No. 10 Mine (1937-1952), with its great view overlooking Beck Lake, was being razed to make way for redevelopment. By now that historic and landmark ‘slack pile’ is no more.
I also told you about the mine’s pre-Christmas 1940 explosion that killed miners Chris Mills, James Waring and Eugene Gava despite the heroic efforts of professional rescuers (known as Draegermen for their oxygen breathing apparatus) led by Jock Gilmour.
That column drew this great response from Kerry Parker:
“With pleasure, delight and pride I read the above article. Jock Gilmour was my maternal grandfather. Jock, affectionately known as ‘Pumpy’ to his grandchildren and great-grandson, was an amazing man. I was fortunate to have had him in my life for 35 years. From a very young age I listened to his stories — how his own father and brother, fighting for the unionization of the coal mines in Extension in 1912-1914 were both sent to jail. How he himself, just a 14 year old lad, was rousted from bed while the militia searched their home in Extension looking for guns.
How he took up his father’s cause in the 1930s, with my grandmother at his side, attending secret meetings in Nanaimo trying to get the unionization his father fought so hard for. How as leader of the #10 South Wellington Draegerman Team he saved men from mine disasters, or recovered their bodies, in the mines of South Wellington as well as the 1947 Pacific Eastern Gold Mine disaster at Bridge River.
The 1940 #10 explosion in South Wellington, I know, really impacted him for the rest of his life. He would talk to me most often about that disaster in particular. I heard the pain again and again in his voice, telling me he knew it was a recovery not rescue mission.
After the #10 shut in 1952 Jock went on to do an amazing amount of work throughout the province of British Columbia. He worked as a first aid man and blaster at places like Ripple Rock and the Deas Island Tunnel. He also worked for various lumber/logging companies such as Mayo, Beban, Crown Zellerbach, MacMillan & Bloedel out at Kennedy Lake and worked also in Alberta and Washington State.
Another thing he was really proud of was in 1978, along with a man from Ladysmith named Dick Whiskers (whose father was also part of the coal strike of 1912-1914), took it upon themselves to refurbish the gravesite and monument dedicated to Joseph Mairs in the Ladysmith Cemetery. In Jock’s correspondence with his ‘brothers’ of the United Mine Workers regarding refurbishing of the gravesite he said to them, ‘He (meaning Joseph Mairs) died for his fellow Brothers in the United Mine Workers. If only the young miners would take heed and know of the struggle and suffering the old miners went through, they would guard that freedom with their lives if necessary.’
With less than a Grade 4 education this brilliant man always stood up for what he believed in, strived for equality of all persons no matter what race or religion, shared what little he had with anyone less fortunate, and taught his family strength of character and conviction.
I have, through the years, done my best to document everything I could on my beloved grandfather, Jock Gilmour, his wife Rachel Emmerson and his parents John Gilmour and Annie Rodger so that my son and other people in our family will never forget the strength and courage they had to make life better for all of us.
I had the opportunity to take one of those Morden Mine walks with you [T.W.] a few years ago. I was deeply moved when you talked about the explosion at the #10 and very proud to tell you at that time of my grandfather’s participation in recovering the bodies of Chris Mills, James Waring and Eugene Gava.
I am truly grateful that you write these stories to keep the memory of men like my grandfather alive.