North America’s only, and Cape Breton’s own, coal miners chorus the Men of the Deeps, has been going strong for 50 years. A new book by its long-serving director and conductor, John C. (Jack) O’Donnell, chronicles the many achievements of The Men of the Deeps during their first half-century, from his perspective. The Men of the Deeps: A Journey with North America’s Only Coal Miners Chorus is published by CBU Press and is now in stores.
The choir has been engaging with audiences around the world since 1966. Formed with a goal of representing Cape Breton and Nova Scotia at the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal (Expo ’67), The Men of the Deeps has lived on as North America’s only coal miners chorus. Their work preserving some of the rich folklore of the island’s coal mining communities has taken them far and wide, and they have found kinship wherever in the world hard-working men make a living underground.
The Men of the Deeps have performed all across North America, in China and in Europe, released nine albums, been the subject of two National Film Board of Canada films, toured around the world, and frequently been featured on TV and radio.
O’Donnell travelled almost weekly between Antigonish and Glace Bay to rehearse with The Men. He broke new and important ground, becoming a world class authority on coal mining songs. He evolved into a choral champion of songs with Maritime and particularly Cape Breton subject matter and he published widely on mining songs in Canada.
Emeritus professor and former chair of the St. FX music department, O’Donnell is a Member of the Order of Canada, and has received an honorary degree from Cape Breton University, the Katharine McLennan Award in recognition of his major contributions to the heritage of Cape Breton’s coal mining communities, and the Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award from the East Coast Music Association.
A new exhibition, opening this week and running until February 2017 at the Cape Breton Centre for Heritage and Science, also commemorates and celebrates this history of The Men of the Deeps. The exhibition, From Coalface to Concert Halls: The Men of the Deeps, opens in conjunction with the official launch of O’Donnell’s book on Wednesday, December 14, from 4-6 pm, at the Centre for Heritage and Science, 225 George Street, downtown Sydney.
This is a free event, open to the public, and will be broadcast live on CBC Cape Breton Mainstreet with Wendy Bergfeldt. Everyone is welcome, there will be light refreshments and an appearance by The Men of the Deeps. Both the book and The Men of the Deeps 50th-anniversary compilation double CD, Coal to Gold will be available for sale.