When Coal Was King
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Louie and Mary Gresl

by Mary Gresl Wickman

In the year 1924, I came to Coalhurst as the young bride of Louie Gresl. We were married in Lethbridge on a Saturday afternoon, and the wedding party took place at Harry and Rosie White's place, where we were staying. Harry was a driver boss at the mine. After the rice throwing, the children came to chivaree us. We had exchanged a $5 bill for nickels and then had the children march from the kitchen, through to the front door. Even the carried ones received 5 cents. In those days for 5 cents you could buy a chocolate bar, ice cream cone or a package of chewing gum, so the candy stores were quite busy that day.

That evening Louie's pals also came around, but a small keg of beer consoled them. The last to come was Harry's Dad. with a wash tub and stick with which he made his presence known. In the evening a few youngsters tried to stage a comeback for more nickels, but someone chased them off with a broom. The friends and relatives were partying all Sunday and even Monday after the mine shift ended for the day. Both my and Louie's Dads were not present, as they were out working at threshing at some unknown farmers. As my mother lived on a homestead at Duck Lake, 85 miles south of Edmonton, we decided to have our honeymoon there, but that is another story.

When we came back. Rosie White had found us a nice company house. We had it fumigated, painted inside, scrubbed and cleaned, then we moved in.

I would like to mention here that Louie came from a family of nine boys and two girls.

I had known my husband many years as we were neighbours and I also babysat with the two youngest, Steve and Harry Gresl. Our mothers were also very good friends.

When we settled down, my husband planted a lawn, trees, and a very nice flower and vegetable garden. We had beautiful sweet peas, and quite a few Sundays the patriarch of Coalhurst, Mr. Morrisey, would come for a bouquet of sweet peas for the church.

We lived next door to Mr. and Mrs. Logan and Joe Cash the mine office accountant. When my son Steve was born. we really celebrated as we had our folks there. Charlie Gresl and Margaret White, who stood up for us at the wedding. became God-Parents to Steve. For music we had Tony Niedermier and his accordion with Albert Ditrich and his violin. There was food and drink for about 60 people or more. I recall some of the people. Mr. and Mrs. Frank Pilchak. the Niedermiers. Logans. Sprouts. Veres. the Gresl boys. Fred, Anthony. Joe. Charlie, also our mine doctor. Dr. Inkrote: later he married and left. Then we had Dr. Murray.

One day my husband wanted to show me the inside of a mine, something I shall always remember. First he had to get permission from the manager, Mr. Quigley, and made an appointment with the hoist engineer to let us down the shaft. After the day shift was over we went down. I think it was 600 feet maybe more. Once down, I was shown where my father worked, the horse stable, cars, etc. Then to a place where Frank Prusik was working. He had just got through drilling a hole in the side of a wall and was waiting for the fire boss to come and fire it. When he came, he asked me if I wanted to do the honour. My husband insisted, so we hid behind another wall and I pulled the switch. Nothing happened, so the fire boss untangled the wires and asked me to pull the switch again. There was a bang and roar, with dust and smoke and coal. The fire boss looked at me and joked, "now see what you have done."

There also was a Frank Ditrich working that shift. He showed me his horse, named Bruce. Frank had him trained to stamp his foot when asked his age, and nod his head for yes and no. The poor thing had only one eye, as did the other horses. When we were ready to come up my husband rang the bell and we really shot up. I was almost sitting down. Next day Louie was scolded by the hoist engineer for not notifying him, but it was fun.

The Gresl boys were very well known in Coalhurst. My husband Louie, worked in that mine some 16 years. His brothers, Anthony, Charlie. Fritz And their dad also worked there, including my dad Karl Mutolisek. Joe Gresl, the oldest, moved from Coalhurst to Shaughnessy. and John was a delivery boy for Tony Pavan our "Grocery and Meat" store. My mother used to tell me what a good salesman he would make, as he used to get orders of groceries from her that she never had any use for. The other two boys Harry and Steve attended school.

When I was a newly wed I was very shy, so when I had to go to the store and post office I had to go past the miner's hall, where there were always a few men hanging around. I was very embarrassed. They were looking at me, or so I imagined. When I complained to Louie about it, he laughed and said, "All right Mary, when I go up some night, I'll tell the guys when they see you coming to duck into the building because it bothers you!" Of course he never did.

In 1934 the miner's hall burned down, it was a very sad sight, but worse was yet to come.

In 1935, a year I will never forget, my son Louie was born in February. When he was three months old a row of houses caught on fire and our home was one of them. We saved a few things, and went to live with Louie's dad who was a widower and had a large home. Although the mine was slacking down there were still a few men working. Louie and brother Fritz were pipe and pump men and were needed there, and another brother Anthony, who was a driver was also there. In the afternoon as the day shift were almost coming out, most of the afternoon shift were in, there was a terrific explosion and sixteen miners died. One was my husband and his two brothers. The mine closed down for good, the people and company houses moved to Picture Butte and Shaughnessy. It was a terrible tragedy but I managed to pull through with the help of my sister-in-law. Rosie White. She was such a wonderful person, she was not only a sister but a second mother to all of us. If we had any problems, she was the one we turned to, who solved them for us. Yes, she was very kind.

After my 11 years in Coalhurst, I moved to Edmonton, so the boys had their education. Twelve years later I moved to the coast, and now live in Burnaby a suburb of Vancouver, B.C. My oldest son Steve was in the Army with the Royal Engineers and trained here in Chilliwack, B.C. Both are now married, and I am a great-grandmother.

I visited Coalhurst a few years ago, but we missed the land mark, the slack dump is almost gone. The trees we planted were still there where our house stood, and so also are many memories, but for us we must go on.Our Treasured Heritage A History of Coalhurst and District

This article titled "Louie and Mary Gresl Family" by Mary Gresl Wickman is reprinted from Our Treasured Heritage: A History of Coalhurst and District (Lethbridge, Alberta: Coalhurst History Society, 1984. The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year of the Coal Miner Consortium express their thanks to the author and the Coalhurst History Society for this material.

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