Working Man

Rita MacNeil:  Working Man

Quiz by Sharon Michiko Yoneda

"It's a working man l am, and I've been down underground"

"In the dark recesses of the mine where a man ages before his time."

a mine explosion

"and the coal dust lies heavy on your lungs."

artists:  Rita McNeil and The Men of the Deeps

songwriters: Rita McNeil and The Men of the Deeps 

date released:  1988 by Rita McNeil

Rita McNeil was born in the small community of Big Pond on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.  She was one of eight children in a large, boisterous family.  Rita suffered debilitating awkwardness and shyness because of a congenital cleft palate.  Early surgery removed the outer deformity, but it did little to erase the inner trauma she carried into her adulthood.

 As she grew into her teen years, hardship was her constant companion.  A first love affair left her with a child out of wedlock.  She married early, but the marriage also failed.  In hindsight, one can only look for the silver lining; the gravity of these early experiences gave McNeil the strength to survive the vicissitudes of the music industry.

 The miner's life has always been a dark, dangerous and precarious one, carried out in the earth's margins and depths, usually far underground — and in the case of Nova Scotia's coal mines, frequently in dank subterranean tunnels stretching for kilometres out beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Sweat from the miner's brow has often been mingled with the blood on the coal or gold.

 Miners live with death as a constant threat, and are frequently the victims of underground tragedies — dust explosions, falling coal and rock, asphyxiation from gas; still, others drown, are caught in machinery, or are run over by coal cars. Above ground, coal miners die from silicosis, black lung and other related diseases caused by breathing coal dust, while gold miners fall victim to silicosis as well, and sometimes to arsenic poisoning.

 Over nearly three centuries of mining activity in Nova Scotia, countless numbers of miners and quarrymen have been killed in disasters large and small. Major coal-mining catastrophes in the last 130 years include: