by Cameron Bridge, Nicola Valley Museum and Archives
In the early hours of March 7, 1912, Harry Grimes began his inspections of the Diamond Vale Coal Mine. Grimes had been hired by the Diamond Vale Mine Company to be the fireboss, the person responsible for checking flammable gasses such as methane, as well as checking for fires and inspecting the general safety of the mine. Grimes did not have the necessary qualifications as laid out under the Coal Mines Regulations Act. The mine’s engineer also arrived around the same time as Grimes, and started up the boiler which supplied electricity to both the ventilation system and the hoist to take loaded carts out of the mine.
At 8:00 a.m, the sixteen miners arrived at the mine to start the day, the West and East entrances had been marked clear as had all the tunnels in the East short for two, tunnels 13 and 14, the tunnels of John Pattie and Frank Kallia. Grimes informed the two men that there were gasses trapped in their respective tunnels and provided them with safety lamps. The men descended down into their tunnels and began mining above where the gasses were located in their tunnels. Meanwhile, Grimes went and spoke to the mine’s engineer and told him to increase ventilation. At the same time, Pattie spoke went to speak with John Hogg and Grimes before returning back to his tunnel, this time with an open lamp.
The gasses that had been lying dormant in the tunnel had now been kicked up with the increased ventilation, and this combined with the coal dust in the air and the open lamp, and set off a series of explosions throughout the tunnels. Alex Patterson was located at the mouth of the mine when the explosion occurred, and the blast threw him some 60 to 70 feet. Fortunately, he only sustained minor injuries to his hand. The ventilation fan was blown twenty-five feet from its shaft. The explosion caused tremors that were felt all the way in Merritt. Local physicians, Dr. Tutill and Dr. Williams, quickly got on horseback and rode to the mine to attend to the injured.
The Diamond Vale Company did not own the oxygen equipment necessary to perform a rescue mission, so a train was dispatched to the Nicola Valley Coal and Coke Mine (NVCC), and many of the supervisors of the nearby mines came by to help in the mission, including Charles Graham (Superintendent of NVCC), David Brown (Overman of NVC&C), Thomas Archibald (Fireman of NVCC), Andrew Bryden (Superintendent of Inland Coal and Coke), Howell John (Superintendent of Pacific Coast Collieries). Despite provincial regulations, there had been no map drawn up of the Diamond Vale Mine for close to two years, which proved a great hinderance to the rescue operation.
Ultimately, seven people lost their lives in this accident. They were John Templeton (23, survived by his parents), Henry Grimes (39, survived by his wife and child), John Pattie (30, survived by his wife and four children), John Hogg (25, survived by his wife and child), Frank Kelly (34, survived by his brother), William Herd (unknown age, survived by wife and three children in Scotland who were planning on joining him in Merritt), and William Baxter (27, survived by his three brothers in Middlesboro).