men of the deeps

The Men of the Deeps is a choir of working and retired coal miners from the island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada. Organized in 1966 as part of Cape Breton's contribution to Canada's Centennial Year (1967), the group's inception was an effort by the people of Cape Breton to preserve in song some of the rich folklore of that island's coal mining communities.

Since 1967 the group has been singing of the work and lifestyle of the Cape Breton coal miner to audiences throughout most of Canada and the United States. In 1976 they became the first Canadian performing group to tour the People's Republic of China after diplomatic relations between the two nations were restored in 1972. And as recently as September 1999 the men traveled to Kosovo in the former Republic of Yugoslavia at the request of Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, where they performed in a gala festival organized by actress Vanessa Redgrave on behalf of the United Nations Children's Fund. The group's most recent tours have brought the choir as far north as the Ekati diamond mines in the Northwest Territories, and as far south as Arizona, Alabama, Florida and the Appalachian coal mining communities of Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania. In September 2008 the group was invited to perform in Las Vegas at the international MineExpo conference where sold out audiences enjoyed its unique blend of songs and stories for six consecutive nights.

For most of its 50-year history the musical director of the Men of the Deeps was John C. O'Donnell, Retired Professor of Music and Professor Emeritus at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Throughout his fifty-year association with The Men of the Deeps, Professor O'Donnell traveled almost weekly to Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, where he rehearsed the singing miners: a round trip distance of 485 kilometers. In 1983 Professor O'Donnell's efforts were honoured by the government of Canada when he was awarded the prestigious Order of Canada. And in 1993 his efforts were recognized by the University College of Cape Breton (now Cape Breton University) when the degree Doctor of Letters was conferred upon him at its Spring Convocation. That same honour was conferred upon the entire group in the year 2000. Most recently his alma mater, St. Francis Xavier University honoured him with an honorary doctoral degree in recognition of his dedication the coal miners choir.

The choir took a step forward when Assistant Director Stephen Muise came on the scene. Stephen is the son of one of The Men of the Deeps' long-standing members and 'grew up' (so to speak) with the choir. He brings with his impressive musical qualifications, a unique understanding of the history of the choir and a close affiliation with the coal mining communities of Cape Breton. Having accepted the position, in 2006, of Assistant Musical Director, Band Leader and Technical Director, his presence has given the group a sense of confidence for the future longevity of the choir. In 2016, Stephen assumed full responsibility as conductor and musical director ot the The Men of the Deeps. In addition to his work with The miners choir, Stephen is a music educator with the Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board. He also comes with much professional experience, having performed with artists such as Rita MacNeil, The Rankin Family, Bruce Guthro and Matt Minglewood. Stephen has a degree in music from Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick.

The forty-three year history of the Men of the Deeps has seen the group perform many times on major television networks, and live performances have been given in most major concert halls and countless smaller venues across North America.

In addition to the honorary doctoral degree from Cape Breton University, the group has been recognized with several major awards from numerous organizations, including the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia. In 2003, the heart and soul of Cape Breton's coal miners' chorus was explored in a Gemini award winning film, The Men of the Deeps, produced by the National film Board of Canada in association with Picture Plant and John Walker Productions. The film was directed by John Walker and has been aired several times on the CTV television network.

The famed Cape Breton miners' chorus also has many recordings to its credit, the most recent being The Men of the Deeps: Forty Years Young celebrating the group's 40th anniversary year, 2006.

To belong to the singing group a man must have worked in the mine. The ages of the men range from the early forties to the upper seventies, several of whom have been with the group since it was organized in 1966. A special sense of authenticity is given to the group by the presence of several retired coal miners who recall vividly the days when coal miners were looked upon as 'second class' citizens, forced to eke out a living mining coal in hazardous conditions while their lives were almost entirely dependent upon the company.

Today the Men of the Deeps is more than a singing group ' it is a social institution. There is a comradery amongst the members of the group that carries over to their audiences wherever they perform. Clad in coveralls and hard hats, they make an impressive impact when they enter a concert hall in total darkness with only the lamps on their helmets for light.

The Ottawa Journal described the group's visit to China as the 'best people-to-people exchange ever.'
Anyone who attends a concert by the Men of the Deeps cannot help but come away with the feeling that they have been touched by a special breed of men.

Information regarding booking The Men of the Deeps may be found on The Men of the Deeps website:


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