Thursday, 16 June 2016

Coal Mining, Rum Running and a natural disaster. Southern Alberta 1900s

Break down your brick walls!

This post does ultimately highlight one mining community in Southern Alberta, but this short preamble is about an overlooked resource for finding information about families in many Canadian communities. 'Crowsnest and its people' is highlighted below. 

To celebrate Canada's centennial 1867-1967, towns, hamlets and municipalities were encouraged to publish their histories. A large portion of rural communities in Canada are represented, and this is the key to breaking down your brick walls. 

© Penny Allen

Copies of the Alberta histories are available online at Our Future Our Past, provided by the University of Calgary Press along with numerous partners. Many public libraries have print copies as well, especially of those in their local area. Our Roots Nos Racines is titled Canada's Local Histories Online.

The stories really are a capture of time and place as families recount their personal stories, alongside the histories of their towns. These histories were often provided by a family member who recounted names of senior family members, life in the old country, why they came to Canada and memories of their early days as settlers.

Often each volume has a very helpful family name index where you can immediately jump to the family and find out details, which may name children and grandchildren, and siblings who lived in England or Europe. Highlights might include: a description of the area; the founding of their town; histories of churches; banks; schools; grocers; businesses and the names of the families who settled there. In recounts of the school histories for example, some books provide the teachers' names, their students, and the relationships between the students (ie: often students later married other students).

example of addresses in the 
'Crowsnest and its people'  approx 1979
This resource will help you to start your research and break down brick walls and is particularly good for finding living relatives from family accounts. However, from a historian's perspective, some of the details may be inaccurate and possibly convoluted truth, so please keep that in mind as you peruse the information.

The Crowsnest and its people published by the Crowsnest Pass Historical Society in 1979, gives many highlights of families who lived in the Crowsnest communities of Bellevue, Blairmore, Coleman, Crowsnest, Frank, Passburg and Sentinel. (Link provided is the entire digitized book.)

Some families found their way to the Crowsnest to work in the coal mines from Wales, Newcastle and Yorkshire. Also Italy, Lebanon, Norway, Poland and Sweden.

Names of some of the families in the book:

AMATTO, Frank from San Giovanni-in-Fiore, Italy in 1904. (worked for Emilio Picariello as a rum-runner).

ASCHACHER, Peter Anthony b.1893 Domodossola, Province of Novara, Northern Italy. To Alberta 1920.

HAGGARTY, Peter from British Columbia

HAGGLUND, Otto from Sweden in 1913

GODMUNDSON, Eric from Sweden in 1923

GRAMACCI, Joseph from Italy, July 1906

GREENHALGH, Richard b. Tyldesley, Lancashire, England (1888).

NELSON, Einar b. Oslo, Norway (1882) lived in Utah (1893) came to Canada (1900)

NERATKO, Victor Antoni b.1903 in Poland. Came to Canada 1924. After he passed away 1968, in 1973 his widow changed her name to Mrs. Joseph Amatto.

NICHOLAS, Charles from Toola, Lebanon in 1907.

The Crowsnest Pass and the Frank Slide:

The devastation of Frank [Alberta], taken 
from Turtle Mountain in 1911
Library and Archives Canada
Geological Survey of Canada collection
Bellevue Mine -  history and tours of the mine

Blairmore - local land owner (Joe Little) donated 50 acres to the village for use as a cemetery on the strict provision that miners were to have free burials. (Source: University of Lethbridge page)

Crowsnest Museum and Archives - includes pictures of families in the communities of the Crowsnest.
         Gushul Photography collection : Gushul, Thomas. 'Our father was a highly respected photographer and citizen of the Crowsnest Pass for over fifty years. He was born in Rozniw, Western Ukraine (1889). He immigrated to Canada in 1906.'

Driving Tour of the Crowsnest

Frank Slide Interpretative Centre - The town of Frank is the site of one of the biggest mountain rock slides in Canada's history. 

Greenhill Mine - Blairmore (closed 1958) Company: West Canadian Collieres 1913, now a historic site. [Wikipedia Greenhill_mine accessed 14/06/2016]

Hillcrest Mine - located in The Pass and site of Canada's worst mine disaster, was considered to be the safest mine in the area at the time of it's operation. (Source: University of Lethbridge page)

Please see this book that was published to recognize the 100th anniversary of the disaster in 2014.

Snowing in June: Remembering the Victims and Survivors of the Hillcrest Mine Disaster by Belle Kovach and Mary Boye. Published by the Crowsnest Pass Historical Society. 2014 ISBN: 9781895137132
Google Books shows this content from the back cover.
"On June 19, 1914, a methane explosion tore through a coal mine in the town of Hillcrest, Alberta. The blast and the toxic gases released by it killed 189 miners, making it the deadliest mine disaster in Canadian history. Snowing in June tells the individual stories of every victim and many of the survivors of the disaster."


  1. In 2014 Hillcrest, AB held a remembrance weekend to recognise the 100 years of the Hillcrest mine disaster. Belle Kovach and her sister, Mary Bole, wrote a book about the disaster including genealogies about as many of the lost miners as possible. Book is called Snowing in June. Excellent work!

    1. Hi, I've added the title to the article and also note that a copy is available in the Crowsnest Pass Municipal Library and the Pincher Creek Municipal Library. If you have a TAL (The Alberta Library) card you can borrow this book from them. Or request it through inter-library loan! Tx for the tip!

  2. I also checked on WorldCat - the world's largest library catalogue - and it only shows the two copies I mentioned above in the Chinook Arch Regional Library System!