by Vince Ditrich
Born October 24,1899, in Libusin .Czechoslovakia. He was
raised and educated near the coal mining district there. On May
13, 1913, he arrived in
Lethbridge, Alberta with his mother, two
brothers and one sister. They then proceeded to Frank, Alberta
where the children received some more education at the Blairmore
School. They resided in
Blairmore for a short time, then moved
to Michel, B.C. From 1913-1917 Frank resided in Michel working
on the tipple, and delivering groceries to bachelors living on
the hillsides and working in the mine. He went underground for a
short time, and one day, when a cold airshaft was opened, he
caught an icy draught to the head causing him to lose his sense
of smell and almost dying of pneumonia.
Frank worked at Cattelli macaroni Factory when he first moved
to Lethbridge in 1917. Later he found work in the No. 6 shaft in
Hardieville as a trapper, then going to the No. 3 mine as a loader,
and afterwards The Grade Mine. Frank then went to The Federal
Mine, where he had to take turns rowing the boat across the Old
Man River. Once again he went back to the Michel Mine, back to
No. 3, and then off to the Pennsylvania coal fields at the time of
the Irish Rebels. Frank also worked in the West Virginia coal
fields, and while there, learned to play banjo from his fellow
negro crewmen. After seeing a burning cross across the valley,
he quickly sneaked through the hills where he was apprehended by
shotgun wielding moonshiners who thought he and his partner were
revenuers. After a week or so, he was back in the Pennsylvania
coal fields. He made a little money at mining and a little at
bare knuckle boxing. Frank worked his way across the U.S.
Work in Lethbridge mines was scarce so Frank went to Calgary
to help the Gresl family with their farming. Here he spent a few
months with his dying mother. Frank was working for the CPR at
the time his brother, Albert, told him of work available in the
Coalhurst pit, and he immediately sought employment. Having
miners' papers from B.C., Albert and Penn., and being an
experienced miner in all phases, there was work for him and also
many happy times.
Frank, then along with the Gresi brothers. John Blaskin and
Frank Prusik, rented a house from about 1926 to 1928. During his
stay in this house many jokes were played. Frank played mouth
organ, banjo, guitar and button accordion. A dead gopher was
placed in the bellows of the accordion as a joke. Frank, not
able to smell, drove everyone out with the odour. They said, "My
God, you play stinking music!". Another joke was played on Frank
Prusik. A fish head was nailed under the table and he could not
comprehend the abundance of flies. Another trick played on
Prusik was when he was cooking soup. Since he was a terrible
cook, the pot was dumped, and was replenished with coal, rocks,
wood and water. From that time on Frank did the main cooking
because he was the best cook. The Gresl boys were great nimrods
with Frank as camp cook and gun-bearer. Many excursions were
made up and down the Old Man River valley for large and small
game, including sturgeon. The sturgeon was taken home for
eating. The head and tail of the fish were sold to a Chinese
gentleman for more shells, fish hooks and line.
In 1928. Frank was injured by a spooked horse and was
hospitalized for much of that year in Coalhurst and Edmonton.
Late that year, while still limping, he met Nettie Nekarda at
Coaldale. and soon wed at St. Joseph's Church in Coalhurst by
Rev. Francis McKinnon on October 30, 1928. They rented a house
in Coalhurst. Frank and Nettie were in Lethbridge shopping at
the time of the Coalhurst mine explosion. Upon arrival home,
realizing they had forgotten potatoes, Frank went to Pavan's
General Store. The proprietor, Tony, said to Frank, "What are
you? A ghost? You're supposed to be in the mine". Frank said,
"No, I changed shifts with the machine man Prokop". When they
spoke further Tony mentioned a mine explosion, and Frank asked
if it was in B.C. He answered with a "no". Next he was told was
in his back yard. Frank headed straight for the mine where he
helped with rescue operations. Man miners were killed and many
families left Coalhurst after the explosion.
Frank, Nettie and Joey, (born February 25, 1930, died June 5,
1937) moved to Lethbridge where life was no bed of roses. They
moved from one bedbug-ridden house to another. Joey died at the
age of seven. During this time Frank at the Department of Public
Works working closely with Stan Robinson and Carl Fraser.
Spare time was taken up playing for dances with Albert
Ditrich and his old-timers. While playing a dance at Harmony
Hall on November 9, 1937, Frank's second son was born. Many
years of playing at the Trianon Ball Room followed. Things
continued to develop for Frank, he carried on with music and in
1939, when World War II broke out, he was automatically chained
to his job in the mine. He stayed with the No. 8 mine until it
closed. He then went to the Federal Mine at that time. He
finished mining at Shaughnessy about 1950. Frank got a job with
the City of Lethbridge as a ditch digger. While working for the
City. he helped dig the 16th Avenue South tunnel and the Pahulje
Coulee. After retiring from the City, he took a part-time job
with Fred King Motors.
Frank had relinquished his playing of music for only a short
time then joining his son's band for a year. He went back to his
gardening and "Mr. Fix It". He was active with the Fraternal
Order of Eagles until his demise in July, 1981. His wife Nettie
is still going strong with the Eagle's and her family.
SonVance Richard Ditrich.
BornGalt Hospital. November 10, 1937.
SchoolsGalbraith, Hamilton. Wilson and L.C.I.
Music education by the Ditrich Bros., Frank Hosek, Ernie Block
and Stan Warren.
Band Officer for ten years for the 18th Field Regiment R.C.A.
Had own dance band for many years.
Post Office for thirteen years.
Still teaching music.
This article titled "Ditrich Family"
by Vince Ditrich 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