by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.
Page 4 | 5
The funeral was a significant event for the life of the
region both because of the economic implications of a mine
closure but also because of the impact of the deaths on the
close-knit community. A telegram was sent to the Acting
Premier, Ernest C. Manning, as follows:
At a special meeting of the
Coalhurst Miners' Union held here, it was unanimously
received that we request the government to order a public
investigation into the Coalhurst mine explosion and the
disaster which resulted in the loss of 16 miners' lives, and
further that we have the right to appoint our representatives
for this investigation work.6
The inquiry revealed inconclusive evidence. Miners
testified that no mine officials were in the pit at the time
of the explosion. As well, some noted that the air in the mine
had not been good and had reported this to officials but not
action had been taken. Samples of air taken 18 days after the
explosion showed large quantities of methane gas.
funeral was a major event in the community with city merchants
in Lethbridge closing their stores at the Mayor's request.
Three services were held: 9 am for A. Prokop at the Greek
Catholic Church in North Lethbridge; at 10 am at St. Patrick's
Roman Catholic Church for A. Gresl, L. Gresl, F. Gresl, M.
Kadilak, J. Sarog, L. Gossul, E. Rota, A. Simeone and A.
Ermacora. At 3 pm Protestant miners were buried in the city
cemetery. The funeral procession was the largest ever-held in
the city with an estimated 5,000 people walking in the
procession including virtually the entire population of
Coalhurst. Fellow Italians were the pallbearers for their
death comrades as follows: for A. Simeone-L. Celotti, P.
Lazzarotto, G. Chiste, S. Bacedo, E. Basso and G. Lizzi; for
E. Rota-C. Chiste, C. Bridorelli, A. Locatelli, G.
Joevenazzo, C. Moser and M. Santoni; for A. Ermacora: Joe
Pontarollo, M. Caron, Giov Pontarollo, A. Massaro, John
Pontarollo and F. Sorbora. Miners representatives from the
area mines including Lethbridge, Shaughnessy and the Crows
Nest Pass marched as did members of the R.C.M.P, Canadian
Legion, the Lethbridge Disabled Ex-Servicemen's Band and
Salvation Army Band. The band played the Mendelssohn funeral
march and a bugler sound the "Last Post."
Today, a small mountain of waste coal is all that remains
of the Imperial Mine where sixteen
miners were trapped and killed. Seeing "The
Dump" through her window at
Coalhurst High School, language arts and drama teacher
Arlene Purcell set out to "capture the essence of the
town that had existed here [and] to appeal to the old, who
remembered the past, and to the young, who needed to know
their history." So began the staging of a student drama
production based on the coal-mining heritage of
the town. In researching and developing
the play, Purcell and her students
visited people in their homes and taped their recollections.
Students saw photographs in family albums and read
newspaper clippings. They studied artifacts from the Galt
Museum in Lethbridge in order to recreate props and costumes
for the production. At the Provincial
Archives, Purcell studied the minutes of the
inquiry into the disaster. In the process, she and her students
steeped themselves in the national, international and
labour politics of the day, as well as the chemistry and
geology of coal mining and the history of
immigration and popular trends in the
The script turned into a production
with 22 actors and drew on the rest of the school and
entire community for help and support. On
opening night, the response was overwhelming. The production
connected with all the different generations of people
in the audience. Purcell realized, "that we had done
something more than just create a high school
play. we had come together with a
common vision and our audience had joined
us." The production, Firedamp, ran for eight full
house performances. But something else happened
after each performance. The student cast
came to a deeper understanding of the
lives, events and times they were portraying. Students
asked parents about grandparents and great grandparents.
Many of the students discovered they had family
connections with experiences similar to those brought to
life on stage. Arlene Purcell's article on the project
can be found at the Heritage Community Foundation's dedicated
youth site, www.albertasource.ca.
This site features student heritage projects as well as
teacher resources including the Purcell article.