BEAVER MINES’ RESOURCE HERITAGE: A SAMPLING OF THOSE PRE-FIRST WORLD WAR COAL MINERS

Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society

Coal mining was what made this settlement famous during its frontier history. Many of the miners who worked those two underground operations unfortunately have been lost from the pages of history. Although it is difficult to determine from the diverse written records as to which of the two Western Coal and Coke Company mines these early miners worked at, these industrious workers nevertheless did leave a rich historical legacy. This heritage bespeaks of the economic ups and downs of the coal mining industry as well as the cultural milieu which they represented.

Here is sample of a few of those hard working individuals.

COAL MINERS WHO HAILED FROM GREAT BRITAIN

One such Beaver Mines coal miner was that of Patrick Johnson. Born in Ireland in August 1878, he immigrated to Canada in 1907, when he was 29 years of age. Local folklore indicates that within a short time, he had settled in this new coal mining community where he found relatively steady work over the next several years. According to the Dominion census records of 1911, he secured 45 weeks of work in the mines the previous year. Given the economic uncertainties of coal mining, this amount of work during any year would have been the envy of most miners. Religiously, Johnson was a Roman Catholic and may have worshiped at St. Anthony’s Mission in Beaver Mines.

One of Johnson’s many colleagues that of Thorpe Sherman hailed from England. There he was born in July 1877, and he too immigrated to Canada in 1907. He worshiped in the Presbyterian Church and may have occasionally been seen at the Sunday services at the Mountain Mill Church. For 35 weeks during 1910, which amounted to two-thirds of the year, Sherman was able to secure work as a miner.

John Greson too was a pre-World War One Beaver Mines coal miner. English in terms of both his ancestry as well as birth, he was born overseas in January 1887. Immigration to Canada came at the age of 22 years in 1909. He also was a member of the Presbyterian faith. For Greson, the 1910 calendar year was particularly economically rewarding. He was one of the busiest miners, securing a full 52 weeks of work that year.

Another like minded pioneer was that of George Ross who hailed from Scotland. There he was born in July 1877; he immigrated to Canada in 1911 and immediately landed in Beaver Mines where he secured work as a coal miner.

NOVA SCOTIA HERITAGE

Three of the other miners hailed from Nova Scotia in terms of their own origins. Specifically, it is anticipated that they came from Cape Breton Island, a great coal mining area in its own right. The first of this trio was Kenneth McEllison who was born in May 1874. Scottish in ancestry, he worshiped within the Presbyterian Church. During 1910, the 36 year old coal miner secured 38 weeks of mining work at Beaver Mines. What likely was his younger brother was the second of these three miners. Daniel McEllison was nearly fourteen years Kenneth’s junior with his birth occurring in April 1888. He accumulated an incredible fifty weeks’ worth of coal mining work in 1910.

The third of these eastern Canadian colleagues was Angus McDowell who does not appear to be related to the William D. and Emma McDowell Family which began farming northeast of Beaver Mines as early as 1907. The Nova Scotia based McDowell was born November 1887. He too was Presbyterian in terms of religious views. Work wise, he secured forty weeks of coal mining employment during that pre-census year.

Accommodation that was secured for these eight Beaver Mines coal miners was in terms of a local boarding house. Such abodes were common place for workers employed in the mining industry of the western Canadian frontier, particularly for single men such as these individuals. These provided basic overnight bunks plus basic staple meals for the tired and hungry miners. The Beaver Mines boarding house from the pre-World War One era was a thriving business operated by Mrs. George Jarrad.

All of these coal miners employed at Beaver Mines represent the pioneer flavour of a frontier settlement. Their histories deserve to be remembered.

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