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When Coal Was King
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The Ermacora Family
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by Anne Van Vreumingen

Page 1 | 2

Michel Negrello was born in Udine, northern Italy in 1895 and came to Canada in 1912 to Exshaw, Alberta, where he worked in the cement plant.  In 1917, he began to work in the mines where he spent the next 50 years until his retirement.  He worked in the Coalhurst, Shaughnessy and No. 8 mines in Lethbridge.  His work in mine rescue was important at the time of the Coalhurst Mine Disaster,in 1935.  He married Teresa Ermacora in 1919, whose Father, Angelo Ermacora, was killed in the disaster.My father Angelo came to Canada in the early 1900's from a little town in Northern Italy, called Arzene. It is a little farming town near Pordenone and is flat, just like the prairie land around Coalhurst. He and my mother were both raised and married there and their first five children were all born in Arzene. One son, Jackemo, passed away in infancy.

In those days there was not much future for poor peasant families, and father heard that the Canadian Government offered free passage and a little parcel of land to anyone that wanted to settle in Canada. He inquired about it, got all the necessary papers and left for Canada, leaving his wife and four children behind. He travelled by boat from Le Havre to Halifax, and then by train to Calgary, coming to a place called Lac La Biche, where he stayed for about one year. He built a cabin and cleared some land, working long days and missing his family. The winter was terribly cold, and the following year he decided to go to Southern Alberta, where he could make more money by working in the coal mines. He worked in all the gopher-hole type mines like the one in Royal View, north of Lethbridge. It was back breaking work and he lived with other bachelors in shacks. Soon thereafter he went to Commerce to work in a bigger mine, and finally he had enough money saved to send for my mother and their children.

In 1912, Mother came to Canada with Louis, Treasa and Bertha, leaving Yolanda behind with her grand-parents. This was a very traumatic experience for both, but mother had promised that they would all be back in Italy, as soon as they had made their fortune! Of course, neither parent ever went back to the homeland, and father never saw Yolanda or his parents again. Mother travelled with her children in the hull of an emigrant ship, landing in New York, where they had to get their shots and then on by train to Canada and Commerce, Alberta. When father met mother at the rail road station in Lethbridge, he was very upset and disappointed to learn that Yolanda had been left behind. The family went to live in Commerce, in a little one room shack, the walls covered with newspaper to keep the cold out. The following year, 1913, I was born. A year later we all moved to Coalhurst to live in a rented company house, and this was a much more comfortable place. My brother Hector was born there in 1914. However, father wanted a place of his own, where he could have livestock, and so he bought an old house in Wigan, not far from Coalhurst. Father renovated the house, worked in the mine, and also delivered coal and water to the neighbors. Louisa, Victoria and Sara were born here. There were now 11 of us and father started to look for a larger place for the family.

We were a busy family, the children all going to school and helping with the chores. The Coalhurst Collieries had a 60 acre piece of land, south of Wigan, and father bought this with a small down-payment. He and a carpenter built a five-room house and all the family moved in. Father bought more cows and pigs and worked 6 months of the year in the mine and all summer on the farm. Mother had her hands full with all her household duties such as looking after the animals, making bread and cheese, and always at the sewing machine making bedsheets, pillowcases, dishtowels and most of our under-clothing out of "Our best" flour sacks!

We had many good times there with all the surrounding young folk. They came on horse-back on Sundays, as this was the only time when we could play and have fun. We would get mad when milking time came, and our father used to say "You know when you are hungry, so are the animals!"

Our parents taught us how to dance. They took us to the Community dances and father danced with us all. Brother Louis always bought the latest records and we played them on the old "horn-type" gramophone and our friends would come and we had a whale of a time every Sunday, wearing out the pattern on the lino. One record I remember vividly was "Barney Google" with the Googo googo googley eyes, it got pretty scratchy in the end.

The word holiday was unknown to us, there was always much to be done. In the summer time it was planting, hoeing, stocking and what have you. One of my chores was milking the cows and cleaning the chicken-coop, and I sure batted those chickens around that got in my way! Sometimes, coyotes or weasels would get some of the flock.

My brothers, Louis and Hector built a large pigeon coop. It took two horses to pull it up and it could be seen for miles. Every body knew it was on the Ermacora farm. My mother made a lot of pigeon pies.

Our Coalhurst days were filled with fun and with such a large family there were always many friends coming and going. We played ball and other games. We had Community sports and picnics and we were all very active. Behind our house in Wigan, we had an old slough where we swam in the summertime, it was knee high with mud, pollywogs, broken bottles and tin cans. In the winter we skated on it and our house was then used to change skates, getting warm and to lend skates to the ones that had none.

Father had an old sleigh and he used to take us sleigh riding. The older members of the family went to dances in the sleigh. Mother would then warm rocks in the oven to keep their feet warm and they would snitch some of father's wine. My brother Louis was 11 years old when he left Italy, and he had difficulties understanding English when he went to school in Coalhurst. He stayed only 3 years, and at age 14 he quit school and went to work in the mine with Pa.

Yolanda stayed in Arzene and married Luigi Maniago. She came only once to Canada, when mother was already 70 years old, and it was the first time she met her Canadian-born brothers and sisters. She and mother had a good time reminiscing about the old Country.

Of all the family our sister Treasa was the main stay. Not having received too much schooling, she was Pa and Ma's "Girl Friday". From the young age of 12 she worked like a man. She helped father with the horses, filling the mangers, cleaning the barns and milking the cows, etc.. She took all of us younger ones to pick coal at the dump, for the coming cold winter. I don't think mother could have done without her, while we went to school. She also did all the chores in the house, like washing clothes, ironing, baking etc. She took care of all our needs and she was to all of us a sister, mother and friend! She never asked anything for herself. She married when she was quite young and had three children, but she still came to help mother in Wigan on the farm. I think she deserves the "Honor Medal" for the Ermacora family and I am sure the other sisters and brothers would agree. She passed away in December 1983 after a long illness, she is the first one to go of the 7 girls and she still will be sadly missed by all. She married Mike Negrello, Mike was also a miner and had come from Bassano in Italy to Canmore, Alta. and then to Bassano in Alberta. The wedding day I remember well, it lasted 3 days and Mrs. Berlando helped mother with all the cooking and preparations. Even after she was married and had 3 children, Treasa would come over to help us out in any way she could, and I remember the delicious puddings, cakes and doughnuts she used to make!

Sister Bertha was just a 5 year old girl when she came to Canada. Her stories about Coalhurst could fill a book by itself! She was a reader and burned much coal oil! Annie was the first-born child in Canada, born in 1913 in Commerce. In 1930 she left Coalhurst and went to Lethbridge to work. She met Roy Hopkins, married and had a son Gordon. Later she married Jack Doran and had one son Tommy who was killed in a freak accident in Kimberley.

My parents did not stay in Commerce for very long, but moved to Coalhurst in a Company house, where Hector was born, and then to Wigan.

I can remember many things that happened there from the time I was about four or five years old, such as the 1918 'flu epidemic and we were all so sick in bed. I was a real tom-boy, playing ball, running and always on the go. We played "Run Sheep Run" and "Duck on the Rock" and we made stilts and we had many falls. My brother Hector and I had many good times. Our ages were not too far apart, and we had a lot of fun and played together. At the age of 12 he was the receiver of the Gold Medal for 118lb in boxing. He would go to Cardston and other parts of the Province to boxing matches. He did farming with father. He also owned the best horse in Coalhurst. His name was "Sparky" and this horse was well known all over Southern Alberta, but Hector was the only one that could ride him. Later Hector went to Kimberley, B.C. where he worked in the hospital. He married Lillian Bremmer and had one son Garry. During the second world war he went overseas to serve with the Medicare Corps. If he were alive today, he would be able to tell stories and fill a book. He passed away at age 50 in Kimberley, B.C. of a heart condition.

Sister Louisa, born in Wigan, helped mother on the farm. She did not really like farm life and was afraid of cows. She left home quite early and went to Kimberley to work. In Trail, B.C. she met and married Russ Ivems and had one daughter Penny. Later she married Tom Hughes and they had a son Robert who now lives in Kamloops and is a teacher.

Victoria was born in Wigan in 1918. She loved farm life, rode horses like a boy, milked the cows and helped our father with fixing the machinery, plowing, gardening and stocking. She also could write her own story about her Coalhurst days.Our Treasured Heritage A History of Coalhurst and District

This article titled "Ermacora Family" by Anne Van Vreumingen 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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