July 12, 2015
The Men of the Deeps is a male choral ensemble composed of coal miners and former miners from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Formed in 1966, the group has a mandate to preserve the traditional music and folklore of the Canadian Maritimes and particularly the Cape Breton region. To belong to the singing group, a man must have worked in the mine. The ages of the men range from the late-thirties to the upper seventies. As of 2006, only one member had been with the group since its inception, but other original members had returned after brief times out of the group. In this category are both a mine manager and a former president of District 26 of the United Mine Workers of America. Their repertoire includes traditional songs of Cape Breton; modern, authored songs by Cape Breton songwriters; and songs arising from mining regions throughout the English-speaking world. Their style is decidedly working-class, but this obvious class-consciousness is not overtly political. Since the group’s inception, the musical director has been John C. (Jack) O’Donnell, now Professor Emeritus of music at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. In 1983, O’Donnell’s contribution was recognized by the government of Canada, as he was awarded the Order of Canada. In 1993, he was further honoured when he received an honorary Doctor of Letters from the University College of Cape Breton (now Cape Breton University), an honour that was bestowed upon the group as a whole in 2000. In 1977, the group became the first Canadian musical ensemble to tour the Peoples Republic of China. In 1999, they went to Kosovo and performed a concert on behalf of the United Nations Children’s Fund. The Men of the Deeps have toured most of the major cities in North America and have also performed concerts specifically for fellow miners during United Mine Workers of America conventions in Cincinnati and Denver. They have also released several albums on the Apex, Waterloo and Atlantica record labels. The group has appeared on numerous television programs including National Film Board of Canada short film featuring it in performance and a 2003 documentary, which won a Gemini Award.