Tuesday, July 27, 2010  
   Volume 80 - Issue 30 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
“We didn’t inherit these problems overnight, so we don’t have to fix them overnight.”
- David McIntyre  
- on the C5 plan   
   

 

Looking Back - John KinnearFred Alderson was an underground draegerman who worked in the Hosmer Coal Mine in the Elk Valley and died in a rescue attempt at the deadly Bellevue Mine explosion of December 9, 1910. That explosion claimed the lives of 30 others besides Fred and went down in the history books as one of the major underground tragedies of Pass history.
To understand what kind of a man Fred Alderson was and why he would give up his life in a strange mine for men he did not know one must go back to his beginnings.
Fred Alderson was born on October 28, 1874 in Sunderland England, third in a family of four sons and a daughter. His father, a Second Mate in the merchant service was drowned at sea when Fred was quite young. When his mother remarried, the 3 eldest boys were put in the Sunderland Sailors Orphanage. William, the eldest, later went deep-sea fishing and was drowned on his very first voyage. His mother left Sunderland, taking John, her youngest with, her. She never returned for the other two boys, Fred and his younger, brother Bob. Against this background and his life during the succeeding 20 years, it is possible to obtain some idea of his attitude to life.
Ambition and a spirit of adventure showed in Fred Alderson at an early age but success always seemed to elude him. When he was old enough he left the orphanage, worked and saved and before he was 21, traveled to South Africa in 1895, where he took work at sinking wells. Two years later he returned to England and in 1898 he married and settled down to make a new career in coal mining, studying at evening classes in Newcastle-On-Tyne while he worked in a coal mine in Kimblesworth.
Despite all his hard-earned qualifications in the mining industry, advancement to higher positions came slowly for Fred. Determined to gain experience he signed, in early 1903, a 5-year contract with the Nerbudda Coal and Iron Company at Garrawarra in India.
After only a year the coal company changed owners and he was offered a new contract or a paid return to England; he chose the latter. He had little difficulty gaining employment in county Durham as a foreoverman at South Hetton Colliery. Again Fred's ambitious nature led him to gain a second and then first class manager’s ticket but again no advancement.
Disappointed in the lack of career improvements he headed off to Mexico to start his own coal mine in 1908. He was only there a few months when he was made subject to some irksome tax and after selling out, all his money was stolen from the safe in his hotel. So it was that Fred decided to join the thousands of highly qualified and experienced old country miners that had come to Canada to find a better life and opportunity.
He contacted his brother Bob, a tipple boss in Hosmer BC, and soon had employment there. His wife did not want to leave England with their children so he again settled down alone. Even though his certificates from England were not valid he quickly elevated himself to a first class competency level and became a well-known and popular man in this new coal-mining town.
Being an ambitious type Fred immediately volunteered to join the Draeger Mine Rescue Team that had formed in Hosmer as part of the BC Ministry of Mines decree that all large collieries be equipped with rescue devices and teams.
The Draeger breathing apparatus was described in the October 10, 1910 issue of the Hosmer Times as follows: "The draeger breathing apparatus is a device for enabling the wearer to respire with safety and to perform rescue work in a poisonous atmosphere.
 
Equipped to enable a man to live in chokedamp for two hours it weighs about 30 pound. Before the helmet is closed, the wearer takes a deep breath. The nitrogen in that breath he breathes over and over again for 2 hours. As the air is exhaled from the lungs it passes through a potash filter which absorbs the carbonic acid gas and leaves the pure nitrogen as a vehicle for a sufficient supply of oxygen escaping from the reservoir to fill the lungs again. Equipped with the oxygen helmet, a miner can penetrate an atmosphere that would be almost instant death to the unprotected man.”
Fred became a member of the Hosmer rescue team, the first of its type in the East Kootenay's. and it was not long before he and the draeger apparatus were tested in a real life disaster.
The 1910 Bellevue explosion shook the town violently and put the 47 men on shift that night in mortal danger. The dreaded alarm whistle sounded and the town braced itself for what must surely mean a loss of life and men trapped and in danger.
The new mine manager, John W. Powell, was summoned and knowing there was no rescue apparatus at the mine immediately contacted Hosmer. Mine manager Lewis Stockett quickly assembled a team and CPR responded with a special train made up in Fernie. Aboard were general managers, inspectors, mine managers, overmen and fire bosses including Fred Alderson. The train raced to Bellevue arriving there at around 2 A.M. By the time they had arrived, preliminary investigations inside had found 6 men alive, 22 dead or dying and 19 unaccounted for.
The tragedy that unfolded then is a story unto itself and one in which Fred lost his life.
The thirty that perished with Fred that day were of Italian, Finn and Slav origin and amongst them left 21 widows and 42 orphans. Of the thirty miners lost there were 4 pairs who, judging by their ages, were brothers and a fifth pair that were father and son.
Fred Alderson was buried on Tuesday, December 13, the same day as 21 other victims were buried at Blairmore. The Lethbridge Daily Herald of December 14th carried a long report on its front page under the heading, "Hosmer Hero Is Laid To Rest".
And so public accord was given that the tombstone of Fred Alderson should be inscribed with the moving tribute of the 13th verse from the 15th chapter of the gospel according to St. John which reads:
"Greater love hath no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends."
That beautiful rose colored marble monument and its inscription still stands tall today in the long since abandoned Hosmer graveyard, unblemished by 100 years of the Elk Valley's harsh weather. It is a symbol of one man’s unbending determination to be the best that he can possibly be.
Be sure to take in the Doors Open Festival special memorial event at the Bellevue Mine August 1st when Fred and the 30 others lost will be remembered in a unique actor recreation of the dialogue between those affected back then. Part of the days activities will include the Teck Coal Line Creek rescue team one of which will be using the latest version of a rescue apparatus made by the same company (Draeger) 100 years later.
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