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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Circa 1920's appeal to laboureres and employers to work together against the Communist-influenced Industrial Workers of the World"During World War One, I had to report to the police every month. All Austrian citizens had to do the same... Those who reported regularly had no problems. Those who failed to report were in trouble and were sent to the special labour camps in British Columbia. Once I failed to report to the authorities for three months. I was having difficulties at work. I remember as if it were today. I was coming home from work in the mine. It was midnight, the moon was shining brightly and the night was beautiful. I was thinking that the next morning I would walk the seven miles into town and report to the police. I stopped a moment, looked at the moon and sorrow welled up in me. I said to myself "Oh God, good God, is there anybody in the world who could talk to the angels on behalf of us Poles? Why am I supposed to go there? What for? I am not guilty of anything. I do not owe anyone anything. Austria is not my country."1

With the outbreak of the Great War, all "enemy aliens" were required to register and report on a regular basis to the nearest police station or government office. Not doing so meant that an immigrant could face imprisonment at an internment camp.

These internment camps not only housed those deemed to be a national security threat but was also a prison for any immigrant unfortunate enough to be unemployed or fired from their job in the swelling wartime nationalism.2

Not only did the Drumheller Valley's "enemy alien" coal miners face possible imprisonment because of their birthplace but those naturalized after 1902 were also suddenly disenfranchised under the War Times Elections Act. The Act passed by Prime Minister Robert Borden's conscriptionist Union government was legislated under the belief that the "foreigners" traditionally voted Liberal and thus, could threaten the victory of Borden's government.3

To make conditions even more difficult for any immigrant eastern European coal miner, the passing of the War Measures Act enabled the federal government to take any actions it determine necessary in a time of war. The Drumheller Valley coal miner never posed any actual threat to national security and the passing of such legislation was not done in answer to any "enemy aliens" posing a real threat. It was done mainly as a response to public pressure.4It's a Miner's Life! A social history of the Drumheller Valley coal miners

This article has been extracted from It's a Miner's Life by J. E. Russell (East Coulee, Alberta: Atlas Coal Mine Historical Society, 1995). The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year of the Coal Miner Consortium would like to thank the author and the Atlas Coal Mine Historical Site (a Year of the Coal Miner member) for permission to reprint this material.

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