Draegerman Courage – A Nova Scotia Tale

by Ron Foley Macdonald

Every once and a while Nova Scotia finds itself in the center of world attention because of a tragic event. Whether it’s the sinking of the Titanic, the Halifax Explosion, the Springhill mine disasters (1891, 1956, and 1958), or the Swiss Air Crash, this province on the edge of North America suddenly gets thrust upon the world stage for all the wrong reasons.

Such was the case on April 12, 1936, when the Moose River gold mine grabbed headlines all over the world. While three men were inspecting a mine, it caved in and the world stood transfixed as J. Frank Willis, the Regional Director in the Maritimes for the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (the precursor of the CBC) dropped a specially made microphone down a drilled hole to the trapped men (you can listen to excerpts from Willis’s broadcasts at the CBC Archives).

650 radio stations across North American tuned in, with an estimated 100 million listeners; even more listened through the BBC, which transmitted the live updates to the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. It was the first live radio remote broadcast in Canada, and it was a story that resonated around the world, holding people’s attention in the midst of the darkest days of the Great Depression.

The story also caught the attention of Hollywood. Warner Brothers made a film version of the tale as an hour-long B-Movie in 1937. Entitled Draegerman Courage, it was a relatively faithful retelling of the events – three men trapped, one a doctor, the live radio broadcast, and the eventual rescue of two of the men.

Directed by Louis King, a journeyman director who was the brother of A-Lister Henry King (The Song of Bernadette, Jesse James, Twelve O’Clock High), the film can be seen from time to time on TCM, and is also available on a double bill Warner Archive DVD from Amazon.

While it follows some of the usual formulas of potboiler narratives – an extraneous love story is included, for example – Draegerman Courage is a pretty nifty little film that captures the essence of one of the province’s great tragic stories, a tale that once dominated the news media right around the world.

Ron Foley Macdonald

Ron Foley Macdonald

Ron Foley Macdonald is a filmmaker, musician, author, and arts journalist who lives in Halifax, NS. He has written for such publications as the Halifax Daily News, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, and Take One. He taught film history for 15 years at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and has also taught at Dalhousie University and Mount Saint Vincent University. For two decades he was the Senior Programmer at the Atlantic Film Festival. He is currently the curator of the film and video series at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, and the producer of the recent feature films Exit Thread and Roundabout.
Ron Foley Macdonald

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