Men of the Deeps is a choir of Cape Breton coal miners formed in 1966. It was founded at the instigation of Nina Cohen, whose enthusiasm for the preservation of mining culture had also led to the founding of the Miners' Museum in Glace Bay, NS.
The choir's repertoire features the traditional music of Cape Breton and songs composed by Cape Bretoners such as Allister MacGillivray and Rita MacNeil. It also sings mining and disaster songs, hymns, spirituals, and some folk and popular songs. O'Donnell researches and arranges most of the repertoire and has published compilations of mining songs. The choir is made up of approximately 26 working and retired miners who are amateur singers, and it performs in mining gear - coveralls, work boots, and hard hats with the traditional miner's lamp attached. Their performances are characterized by an appealing "just-plain-folks" authenticity.
The choir's first director was Steve MacGillivray; later the same year John O'Donnell was engaged to conduct the choir and continued to do so until leaving for England in 1969. The group stayed together and, on O'Donnell's return in 1973, the Cape Breton Development Corporation, which employed most of the men, took an interest in the choir and hired O'Donnell as permanent director.
The choir has toured extensively in the US and Canada, including performances at Expo 67 and Expo 86. In 1976 it became the first Canadian performing group to tour China after diplomatic relations between Canada and China were re-established in 1972.
The Men of the Deeps have toured mining communities, eg, in the Maritime provinces, Ontario, the Canadian North, and the US, but have also performed in other centres, including Toronto, where the choir performed at Roy Thomson Hall as part of the 1989 International Choral Festival. After the 1992 Westray mine disaster, interest in the mining choir became even more widespread; The Men have appeared at the Elora Festival (1994 and 1996), the National Arts Centre, and Massey Hall (1996). At the invitation of actress Vanessa Redgrave, The Men sang for refugees in Kosovo in 1999. The University College of Cape Breton granted the entire choir an honorary doctorate of letters in 2000.