When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Abraham Dodd

During the 90 years that the Lethbridge coal field was in operation, literally thousands of ordinary working miners came and went. Unfortunately, we seldom hear or read of them because we tend to concentrate on the activities of the bosses and managers instead.

Miners came mostly from Europe but there were individuals from many other parts of the world as well. The Galt Company, which exploited the coal resources of the Lethbridge region, began with miners of Scottish descent from Westville and Stellarton, Nova Scotia. Next the company brought in miners of eastern European descent from the Pennsylvania coal fields. Many Hungarians found their way here, mostly young men who had homesteaded in the Esterhazy district of Saskatchewan and worked in the Lethbridge mines during the winter. Their wives and children stayed on the homestead, proving up by fulfilling the residency requirements. At one time Lethbridge had significant numbers of some 43 ethnic groups, many of them involved in coal mining.

One such miner was Abraham (Appy) Dodd, born in Wales' Rhondda Valley in 1855. He entered the pits in that country as a boy and made the mining of coal his life-long occupation. He married 17-year old Mary June Thomas, also from Perth, in 1874. In 1875 he and his wife became the parents of a baby girl called Margaret. Details are sketchy but Abraham Dodd was involved in a dramatic rescue at a pit in which he was working near Perth, in the Rhondda Valley, in 1878. Shortly afterwards, he got into trouble with the police for constantly fighting in public. He decided to immigrate to Canada.

By 1885 he was a resident of the unincorporated community of Lethbridge, District of Alberta, NWT. Like nearly all miners at the time, the family lived in a shack, which was assessed at 8150. They kept livestock, which probably consisted of a couple of milch cows, and was assessed at 8200. The shack was likely located on the edge of the coulees, in the general vicinity of today's Molson's brewery although no description or address was given. Their religion was Presbyterian.

Only the river bottom drift mines were operating in 1885 and Abraham Dodd likely worked in Drift Mine No. 1 as it was one of the big producers among the river valley mines. The drift mines closed in 1893 and from then on, Dodd would have been employed in Galt shafts Nos. 1 and 3.

The family can be traced in Lethbridge from 1885 to 1899. Their lot in life never seemed to improve much, their shack continued to be assessed at $150 although their livestock holdings increased slightly to a valuation of $250. In 1900 the family made a decision to seek a better life elsewhere.

They went to Belt, Montana, a small mining town about 25 miles southeast of Great Falls. It is unlikely that the move made much difference in their fortunes since coal mining was a boom-and-bust business-mostly bust-regardless of location. There is some indication that the family returned to Lethbridge around 1913. According to family tradition, a cousin from Wales visited them here in that year. Mary June Dodd died soon after and was buried in Lethbridge. Unfortunately civic record-keeping in such areas as cemetery records in those days was slip-shod at best. Few church records for the period have survived. Thus the death of Mary June Dodd, if it occurred here, cannot be confirmed.

And that is all we know of one of the many early workmen and his family. Abraham Dodd likely was much the same as many of those who helped to build the 60,610-person prairie community we call the City of Lethbridge.

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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