05/09/2012 07:28 EDT | Updated 07/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Westray Mine disaster remembered with vigil

Relatives, union members and politicians gathered in New Glasgow today for a sombre vigil marking the 20th anniversary of the Westray Mine explosion that killed 26 coal miners in Nova Scotia.

About 50 people gathered in the rain and marched about one kilometre from the local community centre to Westray Memorial Park, stopping before a black marble monument bearing the names of the men killed in the disaster on May 9, 1992.

Leonard Levigne said he remembers rushing to the coal mine in Plymouth that day, to help with recovery efforts.

"They said, 'Your first trip underground is going to be recovery.' It was already changed from a rescue to a recovery, so that's how we started off on our first mission," he told CBC News.

"It's something I'll never forget and I'll keep with me forever."

Levigne, who works at Xstrata's Brunswick Mine near Bathurst, said it was important to remember the men and show their families they have not been forgotten.

"They're still in our thoughts and in our hearts," he said.

Debbie Martin, whose brother-in-law Glenn Martin died in the disaster, said relatives find it comforting to come together.

She said the memorial will be a remembrance of loved ones and a chance to share time with others who experienced a similar loss.

Mine owner, managers responsible for dangerous conditions

Rev. Glen Matheson opened the ceremony with a prayer and moment of silence at 7 a.m.

Stephen Hunt, a representative of the United Steelworkers union, told the crowd that not enough is being done to prosecute those responsible for workplace deaths.

"I think some laws have changed and on the books it's better, but in practise I don't see the enforcement," he said.

"It's going to take some governments with some courage, it's going to take some regulators with some courage, it's going to take town council with courage to challenge the laws and challenge what they know is wrong."

An inquiry into the disaster found the owner and managers were responsible for dangerous conditions at the mine, but the Crown wasn't able to prosecute any employers.

In addition to the early-morning vigil at Westray Memorial Park, the ceremony will include an educational session at a local high school and an evening memorial service at the site of the disaster.

The Men of the Deeps choir will sing at the gathering and 26 white roses will be laid at the site by high school students.