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Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Disasters
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Frank SlideThe life of a miner was a difficult one. Not only did miners spend hours of back-breaking labour but their safety was in jeopardy.

In a quiet mining community, one of the few sounds that breaks the peace of everyday life is the shrill of the mine whistle. Normally, the whistle indicated the start and end of shifts, much to a miner's grumble or delight. Unfortunately, the sound could also signal an accident. In a code of sounds known to all miners and their families, the piercing blast that indicates an accident was the worst of all sounds. It is that whistle that could begin prayers, paralyze wives, and strike fear in all sectors of the community.

The Crowsnest Region was plagued by a series of accidents in the period 1902-1914. The earliest, May 22nd, 1902, involved the Number 2 mine in Coal Creek. An explosion took the life of at least 128 miners. There was not enough wood for coffins and most of the dead were buried in St. Margaret’s Cemetery (rows 17 and 28), Fernie.

Turtle MountainTurtle Mountain was the scene of three of Alberta's worst mine disasters. In 1903, the side of the Mountain sheered away—the Frank Slide—killing miners on night shift and their families as they slept. In 1910, 30 men (according to mining historian John Kierans the final count should be 31 men) were killed at the Bellevue Mine. In 1914, 189 men were killed in the Hillcrest Mine. Their mates, such as Joe Fumagallo, who worked at the Hillcrest Mine, had to haul out the dead carrying out individual bodies or wagonloads of them. Sometimes, the bodies could not be found and the mine became their eternal resting place and memorial. It is not surprising that some men left the mines to pursue other work or set up their own small businesses.

But disasters also occurred in plains mines and, in 1935, 16 men were killed in the Coalhurst Mine disaster. The accident, while not having the high mortality rate of the mountain disasters, destroyed most of the mine workings so that the mine had to be closed.  A methane explosion caused the disaster.

Frank Slide Interpretive CentreEveryday good miners would kiss their wives and children, and make a silent prayer that it was not forever. A miner’s life is filled with peril, and memories of accidents past, lives lost and families ruined are constant reminders that one small careless act may cause a series of events that lead to dire repercussions.

Nordegg—A Vision in the Valley (excerpt)

Dennis Morley describes the Brazeau Mine explosion that his father experienced in 1941.

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