— by Cameron Bridge

 

While the Diamond Vale Mine Disaster is a well-known tragedy within the community, it was unfortunately not the only mining tragedy in Merritt’s history.

A few months prior to the Diamond Vale Mine Disaster on Dec. 3, 1911, disaster struck at the Middlesboro No. 2 Mine.

The first shift had just finished for the day at 3 p.m. and the second shift was about to start working.

It is noted in the Nicola Valley News that it appears that where the men would unfortunately meet their untimely end, a “shot” (explosive meant to dislodge coal from coal seams) hadn’t properly gone off. Instead, it had partially ignited the coal, creating Whitedamp – a noxious gas that comes from burning coal in a confined area, composed largely of carbon monoxide.

When arriving at the mine, the Fireboss, Wiliam Hallinan, warned them of the potential dangers and advised them to stay away from the cross-section until he could inspect it properly with them.

While there were no witnesses to the accident, it is generally believed by those at the time that Dusion Vuchmirovich, a 25-year-old Serbian man, was the first to enter the cross section where the Whitedamp was located, having either misunderstood the instructions or not believing in the potential danger.

Robert Dishart, 28 years old, either found him or similarly decided to risk it, and in an attempt to rescue Vuchmirovich also succumbed to the noxious gasses.

It’s then believed that Alex Thompson, 16 years old, heard the cries of Dishart and tried to rescue the pair, but met the same fate.

When Hallinan arrived around 4:30 p.m. to do the inspection, he saw that the men were nowhere to be found, and in searching for them found the three and realized what had happened.

He tried to rescue Thompson, but was unable to hold his breath for long enough, and so sent for a rescue team and the local doctor. Dr. Williams attempted to resuscitate the three, but unfortunately was unable to do so.

Middlesboro ceased operations for the remainder of that day and the next.

Dusion Vuchmiorvich was buried in Washington at the request of his friends, both Robert Dishart and Alex Thompson are buried in Pine Ridge Cemetery.

On the day of Dishart and Thompson’s funerals, the stores closed and a large portion of the town turned out to pay their respects.

An inquiry held a couple weeks after the tragedy concluded that their deaths were a result of an accident, caused by inhalation of carbon monoxide.

The inquiry also recommended changes to the Mining Act to take better care of men’s lives in the cases of burnt shot.

Middlesboro tipple and power house. Photo/B.C. Bureau of Mines.

 

Middlesboro Colliery. Photo/B.C. Bureau of Mines