Men of the Deeps

Men of the Deeps. Choir of Cape Breton coal miners, formed in 1966. It was founded at the instigation of Nina Cohen, whose enthusiasm for the preservation of mining culture had also led to the founding of the Miners' Museum in Glace Bay, NS.

Choir of Cape Breton coal miners, formed in 1966. It was founded at the instigation of Nina Cohen, whose enthusiasm for the preservation of mining culture had also led to the founding of the Miners' Museum in Glace Bay, NS. The choir's first director was Steve MacGillivray; later the same year John O'Donnell was engaged to conduct the choir and continued to do so until leaving for England in 1969. The group stayed together and, on O'Donnell's return in 1973, the Cape Breton Development Corporation, which employed most of the men, took an interest in the choir and hired O'Donnell as permanent director.

The choir has toured extensively in the US and Canada, including performances at Expo 67 and Expo 86. In 1976 it became the first Canadian performing group to tour China after diplomatic relations between Canada and China were re-established in 1972. The Men of the Deeps have toured mining communities, eg, in the Maritime provinces, Ontario, the Canadian North, and the US, but have also performed in other centres, including Toronto, where the choir performed at Roy Thomson Hall as part of the 1989 International Choral Festival. After the 1992 Westray mine disaster, interest in the mining choir became even more widespread; The Men have appeared at the Elora Festival (1994 and 1996), the National Arts Centre, and Massey Hall (1996). At the invitation of actress Vanessa Redgrave, The Men sang for refugees in Kosovo in 1999. The University College of Cape Breton granted the entire choir an honorary doctorate of letters in 2000.

Choir's Makeup and Repertoire

The choir's repertoire features the traditional music of Cape Breton and songs composed by Cape Bretoners such as Allister MacGillivray and Rita MacNeil. It also sings mining and disaster songs, hymns, spirituals, and some folk and popular songs. O'Donnell researches and arranges most of the repertoire and has published compilations of mining songs. The choir is made up of approximately 26 working and retired miners who are amateur singers, and it performs in mining gear - coveralls, work boots, and hard hats with the traditional miner's lamp attached. Their performances are characterized by an appealing "just-plain-folks" authenticity.

Recordings and Television Programs

The Men of the Deeps choir has made a number of recordings. These include one on the Apex label entitled Men of the Deeps (1968, AL-71647) and three on the Waterloo label, The Men of the Deeps (1976, CSPS-898) and The Men of the Deeps 'II' (1976, WR-7) and 'III' (1976, WR-8026). Subsequent recordings were Diamonds in the Rough (1992, Men of the Deeps Music MDCD-1025), a 25th anniversary project; Buried Treasures (1995, Atlantica 02 50322); Coal Fire in Winter (1996, Atlantica 02 506600); Mining the Soul (2000, MDCD) and Their Lights Will Shine (2004, Lakewind).

The chorus sang professionally as the back-up group for Rita MacNeil's song 'Working Man' in 1989, and recorded and toured with her in 2000. They have also recorded with Roger Whittaker. The choir has appeared in the NFB films, The Nearest Point to Everywhere (1978) and Canada Vignette 'Men of the Deeps' (1978) and has been broadcast on radio and television. In 1986 the CTV network produced a documentary honouring the choir's 20th anniversary, which was broadcast nationally on the television program 'Canada in View.' CTV and the NFB followed up with the 2003 documentary, Men of the Deeps; it won a Gemini award in 2004.


Further Reading

  • Walker, John. 'Into Chinese hearts: miners group sings on tour,' Winnipeg Tribune, 24 Jul 1976

    Dafoe, Chris. 'Mining the musical heritage of Cape Breton,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 24 Jun 1989

    MacGillivray, Allister. Diamonds in the Rough: 25 Years with the Men of the Deeps (Glace Bay, Nova Scotia 1991)

    Brooks, Gary. "Choirs by the sea," Chorus, summer 1998

    MacGillivray, Allister. The Men of the Deeps: The Continuing Saga: The 35th Anniversary (New Waterford, Nova Scotia, 2000)

    "The Men of the Deeps in Kosovo," Chorus, winter 2000

    Demont, John. "The Men of the Deeps sing on," Maclean's, 6 Aug 2001

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