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When Coal Was King
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Ditrich Family

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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. plains.

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.

Son—Vance Richard Ditrich.
Born—Galt Hospital. November 10, 1937.
Lived—North Lethbridge.
Schools—Galbraith, Hamilton. Wilson and L.C.I.
Graduated—1957
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. Band.
Had own dance band for many years.
Post Office for thirteen years.
Still teaching music.Our Treasured Heritage A History of Coalhurst and District

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 this material.
 

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