A family's effort to honour a loved one and eleven other men who lost their lives in a mining disaster is getting closer to a reality.

It's been nearly 40 years since Joanne Shepard last saw her father alive.

Fabian was one of 12 miners killed in one of the deadliest explosions in Cape Breton coal-mining history. 

“That explosion and losing my dad that day actually drove me away from Cape Breton,” Shepard said. “I married at a very young age and moved to Ontario with my husband. I didn't want to be in Cape Breton and I didn't want to be around coal mining.”

But Shepard did return to the island eventually, with a goal in mind to honour her dad's memory and the other men that were killed in the No. 26 Colliery mining disaster in 1979.

“I want people to remember that these miners, my dad included were family men,” Shepard said. “They were hard workers. They were honest men, they were dedicated to their families and communities.”

Each stone at the memorial is going to be engraved with a miner’s name and there will be a helmet on top of the stone.

Through Shepard's efforts and determination, work got underway Thursday to transform part of the Cape Breton Miners Museum property into a memorial park -- along with a monument remembering the men.

“It took a village to make this miners memorial park happen,” said Mary Pat Mombourquette, the executive director of the miners’ museum.

Through fundraising and small government grants, Shepard and Mombourquette have raised $60,000, but are still $40,000 short. They are confident the funds will be there when the park has its grand opening.

“I spent the winter going to my back door and people would come in with $10, $20, $100, some with $5,000,” said Mombourquette. “Everyone who dropped in to visit had a story to tell about where they were when the 26 Colliery disaster happened.”

Said Shepard: “With this being the 40th anniversary of the mine explosion in 1979. It's very dear to my heart to see this project become a reality.”

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kyle Moore.