When Coal Was King
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Walter Blyth

Walter Blyth Family. L-R. Walter, Mary, Jane (wife), Margaret and Chrissie.Walter Blyth emigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1919. He hoped to find employment as a coal miner near Nanaimo, BC, on Vancouver Island. In 1920, a year later, he was joined by his wife, Jane, and daughters, Mary and Margaret. The family lived and worked at Nanaimo until 1923, then moved to Bellevue, AB, where Walter found work in the mines.

At the age of 12, Walter had begun working in the mines of Scotland to supplement the family income. As a young man he showed an interest in music and his grandfather paid for his violin lessons. During times of hardship, Walter found that these lessons had been a blessing as he was able to use his talent as a means of income when he was between jobs.

This meant much to the young family. Walter managed to save enough money to buy a piano and two violins. In later years, Walter was unable to play the piano. He had tragically lost four fingers of his right hand to frostbite while working in the mines.

He was, however, able to handle the bow and continued to play the violin. His knowledge of music enabled him to teach his girls to play the piano. His eldest daughter, Mary, passed the Toronto Conservatory examination. Mary remains an accomplished pianist to this day.

In 1925, the family moved to West Coleman. In 1923, their son, Walter Jr. was born. He attended school in Coleman. At the age of ten in 1933, Walter Jr. died, a victim of spinal meningitis. The family's youngest daughter, Chrissie, was born at home in West Coleman in November 1930.

Walter and Chrissie.Walter continued to earn extra money for his family during the depression years, using his musical talent to play at dances, concerts, wedding anniversaries, etc. He played in the Crow's Nest Pass Amateur Orchestra and for the Caledonian Society. After teaching his daughter, Mary, to play piano, she too played with the Amateur Orchestra at the tender age of 12. Mary also contributed to the family income by playing for dances in the Pass over a number of years.

Mary Blyth married Vince Vohradsky of Bellevue in 1937. The couple moved to Kimberley, BC, where Vince worked as a butcher. Her sister, Margaret, while visiting Mary in Kimberley, met Norman Fisher, her future husband. Margaret settled in Kimberley and the two sisters lived close to one another throughout their married lives, until Margaret passed away in 1989.

Chrissie attended Cameron School in West Coleman and then transferred to the Coleman High School after she completed grade school. She worked for Dr. A. L. Goodman, a dentist, for three years before she moved to Kimberley. There she worked for the East Kootenay Telephone Co. Chrissie married Bob Udahl in 1953. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Due to the nature of her husband's work they lived in many different areas throughout the province of British Columbia.

Walter Blyth passed away in 1963 at the age of 75. Jane moved to Kimberley and lived with her daughters, Mary and Margaret, until she too passed away in 1971. Jane lived to be 81 years old.

Mary Vohradsky continues to live in Kimberley and carries on her musical ability. She is the organist at the Kimberley United Church. Prior to this, Mary played in a dance band in Kimberley and was always in great demand.

Chrissie, her husband and family, live in Ladysmith, BC, and she volunteers as the organist for the Anglican Church.

Chrissie recalls a moment when her Dad said, "If you can play an instrument and can entertain people, you will never go hungry." She also remembers most of the years her Dad worked at the McGillivray tipple. Once he was asked to work a few shifts underground. Chrissie would wait for him on the hill watching for him to make his way home. She would pick crocuses (spring wild flowers) while she waited patiently. On one particular day she ran up to him with the flowers and said, "Hasn't this been a sunshiny day, Daddy?" She never forgot how unhappy he sounded when he replied, "Where I've been all day there is no sunshine. It's black as night all of the time." The memory of that conversation has always remained with her.Crowsnest and Its People Millennium Edition

This article titled "Blyth, Walter Family" is reprinted from Crowsnest and Its People, Millennium Edition (Crowsnest Historical Society, 2000). The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year of the Coal Miner Consortium would like to thank family and the Crowsnest Historical Society (a member of the consortium) for this contribution. Josephine Aristone has corrected some of the information. The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year of the Coal Miner Consortium (of which the Crowsnest Historical Society is a member) would like to thank the author and the Crowsnest Historical Society for this material.

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