SPRINGHILL, N.S. – One of the last surviving draegermen from the 1958 Springhill mine disaster has died.
Hilton McNutt died Sunday in Springhill. He was 89.
“I’m really saddened by the passing of Hilton McNutt,” retired Anglican minister Rev. Frank Likely said Sunday night. “He really was a special person and an important part of Springhill history.
“This morning, we talked during the Remembrance Day ceremony that there are no veterans left from the First World War and very few from the Second World War. The same is true from the mine disasters in 1956 and 1958.”
McNutt worked in the Springhill coal mines and was a draegerman in both the 1956 mine explosion and the 1958 bump. During the night of the bump commemoration on Oct. 23, McNutt, who for the first time met the last of the rescued miners, Harold Brine, said he was eating his lunch at the 12,500-foot level in the Number 2 mine when it bumped, killing 75 miners.
It took three hours for McNutt to get back to the surface, where he donned his draegerman’s gear and headed back into the mine, digging through debris, walls and wreckage to rescue those still trapped.
During an interview the night of the bump commemoration, McNutt recalled what happened and remembered those who lost their lives.
“I knew them all. I saw them every day, they were my friends,” McNutt told the Amherst News. “The things I saw I’ll never forget and days like today bring all those memories back. I can still remember their faces.”
With McNutt's death, it's believed that Harry Munroe, who lives in Leamington, is the lone draegerman left from the 1958 bump.
McNutt’s son, Scott, said his father suffered a stroke on Nov. 1 and never recovered. He remembers his father as a reserved and very humble man.
“He was a great man and a great father,” said Scott, who was three at the time of the mine disaster. “He never talked much about the mines, but he considered himself very lucky to have survived. He was knocked unconscious by the force of the bump and after coming about it took him three hours to get to the surface, where he got his draegerman’s gear on, had a cup of tea or coffee and headed back into the mine.”
After the bump, he worked on the decommissioning of the mine before moving to Shelburne to work at the home for boys. He also worked in social services in Woodstock and Newcastle, N.B. and came back to Cumberland County to work with Indigenous Affairs in Amherst until his retirement.
Harold Brine, the last of rescued miners still living following the death several months ago of Herb Pepperdine, said he was saddened to learn of McNutt’s passing. They last spoke the night of the bump commemoration.
“It’s so sad,” Brine said. “It was nice to be able to talk to him that night. There are fewer and fewer of us left from back then.”
Brine said he knew McNutt prior to the mine disaster.
“I always liked Hilton, he was a great guy,” Brine added. “We’ve lost a great guy.”
Rev. Wayne McCarther, minister at St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church in Springhill, remembers meeting McNutt the night of the bump commemoration.
“I had an opportunity to speak to him briefly that night. He was sitting the front row and we had a great conversation,” said McCarther, who as a second-year university student at Mount Allison University was at the pithead in the days following the disaster. “The actions of people like Hilton the night of the bump were just incredible. It was amazing they were able to get the trapped miners out and he played a role in that.”
McNutt worked for both the provincial and federal governments in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia following the mine explosion, was active in the Springhill Baptist Church and volunteered with numerous charitable organizations, receiving a Paul Harris Fellowship from Rotary International.
A memorial service is planned for Nov. 15 at 2 p.m. at A.H. Brown Funeral Home in Springhill. His remains have been cremated and he will be buried in a private graveside service.
Donations in memory of McNutt can be made to the Springhill Baptist Church or a charity of choice.