David Burchell was a pioneer in Canadian coal mining. He was an explorer, with five underground coal mines to his credit. He was a builder, with his own corporation, and he contributed greatly to the advancement of coal mining technology in Canada.
Burchell was born in the small mining town of Joggins, Nova Scotia. After high school, he attended Mt. Allison University in New Brunswick, where he received a B.Sc. degree. His mining career began in 1936, and by the 1950s, he was the owner and operator of five underground coal mines in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. These included the Toronto, Franklyn and Cranberry mines in the small community of Bras D’Or, and the Beaver and 4-Star in nearby Broughton. One of the earliest forms of mechanized longwall mining in Canada was used at the 4-Star mine.
Burchell explored coal seams in Cape Breton, and developed mining operations from scratch. He also resurrected abandoned mines. The 4-Star mine had been closed and flooded since 1904. Fifty years later, Burchell rehabilitated it into an economic and safe business which went on to receive the John T. Ryan Trophy in 1960, 1962, 1963, 1967, 1968 and 1969.
Burchell also made many technical contributions to the coal mining industry. He introduced the first coal cleaning plant at the Franklyn mine in the 1950s, using air and sand. The first continuous underground coal loader machine in Canada, called the Duckbill Loader because of its two sweeping mechanical arms, was employed at one of Burchell’s operations.
The first conveyor belts used underground in a Canadian coal mine were used at the Franklyn mines, and the first hydraulically powered longwall roof supports in Canada were installed at the 4-Star mine in 1966. The Goodman coal auger machine, first of its kind in Canadian coal mining, was used at the Beaver mine.
Burchell made important contributions to the welfare of the mining industry in Nova Scotia, and in Canada as a whole. He played a prominent role as member of the Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board, where his extensive experience, mature judgment and social sensitivity contributed towards a resolution of employer-employee conflicts. His abilities in this field were acknowledged by his appointment, as a Canadian delegate, to meetings of the International Labour Organization in Turkey in 1956, and in Geneva in 1959 and 1970.
Burchell was also active in the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM). By 1973, he had obtained the distinction of CIM Life Member. He became a member of the Fifty-Year Club of CIM in 1986, having served on council for as many years, highlighted by serving as CIM president in 1958-1959 and by receiving the CIM Coal Award in 1984.
Burchell was also a pillar of the Mining Society of Nova Scotia for many years, serving as president as early as 1949-1950 and receiving the Mining Society Medal in 1977. He and wife Margaret were also active in community affairs.
Throughout his career, Burchell helped contribute to a positive image of mining in his community and abroad.