Nina Cohen, 1907 — 1991

Beaton Institute Archives, MG21.5A 4200.

Vision and Persistence

Empathy — the ability to understand and share the feelings of another — is a gift, and not one felt by everyone to the same degree. Glace Bay's Nina Cohen must have been empathetic to a great degree. She never worked in a coal mine, nor did anyone in her family, yet Nina devoted enormous energy to seeing that the hard lives miners led underground, and their contributions to life on Cape Breton Island, were duly acknowledged by the society around them. She played a leading role in the creation of two major cultural institutions: The Cape Breton Miners' Museum and the choir known as the Men of the Deeps.

Nina was born and raised in Glace Bay, one of four children of Rose and Max Fried. She graduated from Glace Bay High, attended Mount Allison Ladies College and married Harry Cohen. Together they had one child and adopted two orphans who had survived the Holocaust. Beyond the life of her family in Sydney, Nina was always busy in the wider world. The Cape Breton's Red Cross Society was a major involvement; so too was her chairing of the island's tourist board and when she served as president of Canadian Hadassah-WIZO. Nina Cohen was a woman who knew how to get things done. Nina's approach to life, as recalled by her niece, was simple: “If you want to do something, then do it."

In the early 1960s, with Canada's Centenary looming, it came to Nina and others on Cape Breton that the importance of the coal miners to the Island and to Canada was insufficiently recognized. She headed up a determined campaign to create a miners' museum, with the goal being to have it open for Centennial celebrations in 1967. It may have been a long shot, but that only made her work harder. Years of speeches, lobbying and fund-raising paid off. The museum opened, and a choir of miners, the Men of the Deeps, came into existence. Nina Cohen's work on behalf of Glace Bay and its miners had made a tremendous difference.