The life of a miner was a difficult one. Not
only did miners spend hours of back-breaking labour but their
safety was in jeopardy.
In a quiet mining community, one of the few
sounds that breaks the peace of everyday life is the shrill of
the mine whistle. Normally, the whistle indicated the start and end
of shifts, much to a miner's grumble or delight.
Unfortunately, the sound could also signal an accident. In a code of sounds
known to all miners and their families, the piercing blast that
indicates an accident was the worst of all sounds. It is that
whistle that could begin prayers, paralyze wives,
and strike fear in all sectors of the community.
The Crowsnest Region was plagued by a
series of accidents in the period 1902-1914. The earliest, May
22nd, 1902, involved the Number 2 mine in Coal
Creek. An explosion took the life of at least 128 miners.
There was not enough wood for coffins and most of the dead were
buried in St. Margaret’s Cemetery (rows 17 and 28), Fernie.
Mountain was the scene of three of Alberta's worst mine
disasters. In 1903, the side of the Mountain sheered away—the
Frank Slide—killing miners on night shift and their families as
they slept. In 1910, 30 men (according to mining historian John
Kierans the final count should be 31 men) were killed at the
Mine. In 1914, 189 men were killed in the
Hillcrest Mine. Their mates,
such as Joe Fumagallo, who worked at the Hillcrest
Mine, had to haul out the dead carrying out individual bodies or
wagonloads of them. Sometimes, the bodies could not be found
and the mine became their
eternal resting place and memorial. It is not surprising that
some men left the mines to pursue other work or set up their own small businesses.
But disasters also occurred in plains mines and, in 1935, 16 men were killed in the
Coalhurst Mine disaster. The
accident, while not having the high mortality rate of the
mountain disasters, destroyed most of the mine workings so that
the mine had to be closed. A methane explosion caused the
Everyday good miners would kiss their wives
and children, and make a silent prayer that it was not forever.
A miner’s life is filled with peril, and memories of accidents
past, lives lost and families ruined are constant reminders that
one small careless act may cause a series of events that lead to
||Nordegg—A Vision in the
Dennis Morley describes the Brazeau Mine explosion that his father experienced in 1941.
Click here to watch!