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
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.
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.