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Remembering the Cape Breton, Canada Miner



June 12, 2018 - Shelly MacDonald couldn’t find medicine in New Waterford Monday morning but he did find solidarity.

“I had to go out for cough drops for my son and first went to Pharmasave and found there and right down the strip all the stores closed,” said MacDonald, the great-grandson of the late Bill Davis.


Wreaths are shown laid out at Davis Square in New Waterford in preparation for the wreath-laying ceremony during the annual Davis Day service Monday. Members of the Davis family said it was a good feeling seeing the large crowd at the ceremony in memory of the late Bill Davis, who lost his life fighting for a better life for the miners and their families.  

Photo by Sharon Montgomery-Dupe

MacDonald then realized the stores were once again honoring and showing respect for Davis Day. 


“I thought that was very respectful and it was much appreciated.”

Davis Day was remembered Monday with an ecumenical service at Calvin United Church in New Waterford followed by a service and laying of wreaths at Davis Square on Plummer Avenue that included a performance by the well-known coal miners chorale group, The Men of the Deeps.


Members of Men of the Deeps perform during Davis Day ceremonies in New Waterford Monday.

Photo by Sharon Montgomery-Dupe

MacDonald was accompanied by various family members including his wife Lisa and two children.

“Our family doesn’t make any plans for that day, there’s no asking who’s going and we all know we’re going to be here. It’s not an obligation, it’s a privilege to be here and be able to see the crowd and everyone pay their respects.”

During the ceremony, MacDonald it was a good feeling seeing the crowd coming out to remember what happened.

“A lot of pride in seeing people come out knowing Bill Davis stood up for their families and gave a big sacrifice for them.”

On June 11, 1925, striking coal miners marched to the company’s power facilities outside New Waterford in an attempt to restore power and water. 

According to the Museum of Industry in Pictou County, the crowd of an estimated 3,000 people included Bill Davis. Once the marchers reached their destination, police began firing and killed Davis, who was 37 at the time.

Davis — a skilled worker who was active in his union — had nine children, with a 10th on the way when he died.

After his death, William Davis became a symbol of determination and resilience in Cape Breton coal miners, highlighted by Davis Day on June 11 every year.

During the service, master of ceremonies Bobby Burchell, retired United Mine Workers of America representative, said one thing he wants to clarify is that it’s not Miners Memorial Day but rather Davis Day.

Burchell said it used to be known as Davis Day but the coal companies didn’t like that because it was a shot at them to have the miners celebrating Davis Day and not working on that day.

As a result, coal companies switched the name to Miners Memorial Day.

“Later on, the miners got together at one of their conventions and said, ‘This is enough of this,’” Burchell said.

“In the future when we talk about this very important day it’s important we remember it’s Bill Davis Day.”

William MacGillivary of New Waterford was on hand with his brother, John. William MacGillivary said their father Charles worked in the mining industry and they feel it’s important to be at the ceremony.

“I think it’s important to be here to show respect for the miners,” he said.

“I think what (William Davis) did was important to union rights and a lot of different issues. I like to pay respect to him and to the people of my hometown.”

John MacGillivary said they do try to attend every year.

“Yes, I do think it’s important to be here.”

Barbara Jean MacMullin of New Waterford, on hand with sons 10-month-old Ethan and William, 9, said they come from a family of miners that includes father William MacMullin, grandfathers Eddy MacMullin and Sonny Chesal, a number of uncles, and now husband Michael, who is a control room operator at the Donkin Mine wash plant.

“I’ve always gone to the ceremony growing up and I think it’s important my children do as well,” she said. “It’s part of our family history and our town history.”

William MacMullin said it was sad occasion and they were there to remember William Davis.

“It’s good to be here.”

Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke described Davis Day as “a day to commemorate and to remember.

“It’s also a day to celebration the mining heritage and history of our community.”

Clarke credited the UMWA for the annual services.

“Without you, I don’t know if we’d be here in great numbers and celebration.”

Guest speaker Levi Allen, international secretary treasurer for the UMWA, spoke on solidarity being the foundation of our countries, nations and unions.


“Every individual liberty that we have derives from solidarity and the heart of solidarity lies with the labour movement where workers come together and bargain for better rights, better protection and better lives for their families and for all of us.” - Your Foremost Source for Coal News