Explosions in the workings of prairie coal mines were
unusual, unlike the situation in the volatile, mountain
mines, where deadly combinations of methane gas and highly
explosive coal dust created an ongoing threat. Although methane
had seldom been detected at the Coalhurst Mine, an unexpected
explosion killed 16 miners there on December 9th, 1935.
Snow blanketed the ground when shortly after 4:30 pm, three
miners staggered out of the mine badly scorched. A methane
explosion had taken place deep within the mine between 4 and
4:30 pm when shifts were changing. More than 200 community
members gathered at the pit to see whether loved ones had
Rescue teams made eight trips into the mine and eventually
recovered 16 bodies many of whose faces were burned beyond
recognition. The following were killed: Mike Kadilak, married,
two children; Steve Zmurchuk, widower, one child: James Workman,
widower, two children; Eben Williams, married, two children;
Angelo Ermacora, married, 10 children; Lee Gossul, single;
Anthony Gresl, married, one child; Louis Gresl, married, two
children; Friz Gresl, married, one child; bill Lukas, married,
one child; Albino Simeone, single; John Cook, married, five
children; Andy Prokop, married, two children; E. Rota, married,
two children; Harry Duggan, married, two children; and John
Sarog, widower, one child. The three injured miners were
John Saccardo, Frank Prusik and Andrew Kucji, who is quoted as
God, but we are lucky to be here. It was quitting time. We
start to walk out...Suddenly, fire, like might wind, come quick
explosion! I think this is the finish. Coal dust swirl through
air, gas gag us, we get no air, fire burn our clothes...Fifteen
minutes, maybe twenty, we crawl along...Pretty soon we stagger
out. We were pretty lucky. Those other men. They never came out
At the Royal Commission established to investigate the
accident, evidence suggested that a mine worker might have
dropped his electric safety lamp, shattering the bulb and
creating a sparkan outcome that defied the standards used in
the construction of the safety lamps. No precise cause for the
explosion was ever determined. Work continued in the mine, but it closed less than six
months later when the Galt No. 8 Mine came into production.
The multiple funeral took place on Friday, December 13th.
Mayor D. H. Elton of Lethbridge made arrangements for a special
train to bring 300-400 people to the city. The funeral had the
proportions of a state funeral with three different church
services, based on the religious denomination of miners.
At 9 am Catholic Mass was celebrated at the Greek catholic
Church in North Lethbridge. At 10 am Mass was said the St.
Patrick's Roman Catholic Church and, finally, a Protestant
service at 3 pm. A giant funeral cortege of cars took the
deceased and mourners to the Catholic cemetery and City cemetery
for Protestant miners. Thousands of Lethbridge residents as well
as most of the population of Coalhurst walked in the procession.
Miners from other centres including the Crowsnest Pass came as
well as members of the Canadian Legion. There were various
bands with covered drums. An estimated 5,000 mourners assembled
at the cemetery and heard the bugler play the "Last Post." With the shutting down of the mine, Coalhurst's economy
shrank and today it is suburb of Lethbridge.
This article is based on the account titled "No Christmas
this Year" by Janine Coombes, in Our Treasured Heritage: A
History of Coalhurst and District (Lethbridge, Alberta:
Coalhurst History Society, 1984), pp. 154-161.