‘I didn’t want to be called a chicken’

From our October 2012 issue

By Clifford Scott – White Rock, B.C.

I worked in number eight mine at the Britannia Beach Mine, south of Squamish, B.C., from 1952 to 1957. The tunnel went straight in four miles. The shaft and cage went down about 5,000 feet through dry ore. The ore was copper, gold, zinc, and lead. The Victoria mine cage went up to the surface.

Sometime in the 1800s the mountain came down and buried the whole town. The only people that were saved were the miners coming off the afternoon shift and the graveyard shift that was going to the mine.

The day of the rockslide, the payroll came in for the miners to the bank which was also buried in the rock slide along with a lot of $4 bills that were in circulation since the 1800s – 1892 to 1900 and 1902 and 1903.

The Brittania Beach hard rock mine is vertical ore. The seam runs vertically. They have four shifts. The dayshift miners work 1 a.m. to 3 p.m. The miners do their blasting at the end of their shift and there is a four-hour period for the smoke to clear out, then the next shift comes in at 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.

They end their shift with blasting and also have a four-hour period to clear the smoke. That’s called the twilight shift. Transferred miners work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The afternoon shift works 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., and the graveyard shift is from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The lamp man looked after the dryers and blowing the dust around for the health of the miners. The miners change their day clothes and pick up the lamp that you put on your cap to go into the mine.

I was on the ore train that took 20-ton ore cars and we had 20 ore cars on the electric motor. We took turns between being a brakeman and a motor man.

It was June when all the snow started melting. The water was coming through the crack in the mountain and the chute man was either sleeping or didn’t come to work. The two men that were in there were in their 50s and 60s and they chickened out as they were told there was about 500-600 feet of water over their heads that would be coming out of that chute.

I was on the next dayshift at 7 a.m. Superintendent Len Allen and my shift boss, Jim Martin, were there with me about 500-feet from the chute that I was going to pull. I wasn’t thinking about dying – the only thing I was thinking was that I didn’t want to be called a chicken.

I said to Len and Jim, “I’ll pull the chute.” I only had 1,000 pounds of pressure to pull that gate, so I had to use the booster. I had to put it up to 5,000 pounds to open that gate and the water came out like it was coming from Niagara Falls!

The water went out of the tunnel about a mile knocking the 20-ton ore car off the track. All the planks I had stood on were gone and I had my arm around an air pipe and was hanging on midair. Then Len and Jim came back to see if I was alive.

They both said, “Cliff, it took a lot of guts to pull that chute.” They sent me home and paid me for the rest of my shift.