When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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George Rollingson

Oldtime miners in front of the Miners’ Cairn on 2 September 1963. From L-R: Mike Homulos, Matt Homulos, John A. Foster, and George Rollingson. Rollingson alone spent over 40 years in Lethbridge coal mines, the others equally as long.  George Rollingson was born in Northumberland, England, on 10 April 1881. He went to work in the coal pits there as a boy of ten. With his brother, John, he came to Lethbridge in 1902 where they got a job with George F. Russell in his Pothole Coulee mine. In 1904 there was a business disagreement between the brothers, the upshot being that John remained at the Russell mine while George returned to England.

George Rollingson continued to work in the coal mines in the Old Country but found time to marry in 1904 and start a family with the birth of his son, Henry, in 1906. (Another son, Albert, was born in 1923.) In 1913, probably sensing the opportunity for a better life, he returned to Canada and to Lethbridge.

He got a job as overman at the Malloy Mine near Picture Butte. But he spent much of his spare time trying to get started in a mine of his own. He secured a coal lease on a tract of land in the Pothole district from rancher Wm. D. (Curly) Whitney, paying him 50 cents per ton of coal mined. And whenever he was able, he put in time trying to develop the property. As soon as it looked as if the new mine might be a commercial success, Rollingson left the Malloy brothers and started on his own.

The new mine was located near the junction of the St. Mary and Oldman Rivers. Rollingson registered the name of the mine as "The Twin River Coulee Mine" and the brand name "Whoop Up Coal" for the product. The Mines Branch assigned a number, Mine No. 738, to the property. Although occasionally leased to others, this was Rollingson's most important holding over many years. He opened at least four entries along the length of the outcrop on this lease.

Rollingson was to be involved with other mines over the next 40 years. They included: Mine No. 55, which he and John Rollingson had worked from 1902-04; Mine No. 977, held briefly by Rollingson in 1922; and Mine No. 889, leased by Rollingson and his son in 1950-56.

By the late 1950s, Rollingson had become a legend in the Lethbridge coal fields. Mine inspectors pointed out that he continued to operate low-producing mines because he had always mined and it had become "force of habit." They marvelled that, even when well into his seventies he could "handle a miner's pick with the best of them."

When he finally retired in 1955 at age 74, George Rollingson had put in 64 years in the coal mines, about 20 of those years in England and 44 years in the mines of the Lethbridge area.

In 1963, the Lethbridge Historical Society and the Lethbridge Miners' Library Club unveiled a marker railed "The Miner's Cairn." in the river bottom. George Rollingson, along with oldtimers Matt and Mike Homulos and J. A. (Jack) Foster, played a prominent part in the ceremony. In 1988, the cairn still stood in front of the Coalbanks Kiosk, the latter a later tribute to the coal miners of the region.

George Rollingson died in Lethbridge on 7 July 1967.

Lethbridge Its Coal IndustryThis article is extracted from Alex Johnston, Keith G. Gladwyn and L. Gregory Ellis. Lethbridge: Its Coal Industry (Lethbridge, Lethbridge: City of Lethbridge, 1989), Occasional Paper No. 20, The Lethbridge Historical Society. The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year of the Coal Miner Consortium (of which the City of Lethbridge is the lead partner) would like to thank the authors for permission to reprint this material.

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