Tuesday, March 29, 2011  
   Volume 81 - Issue 13 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
Return to Home Page
Quote of the Week
“We, as Elks, do many great things across this country.”
- Dave Hurley  
- Grand Exalted Ruler   
of the Elks of Canada   


Looking Back - John Kinnear

What say we look back in time to the post World War Two year of 1948 and see what was going on in the coal mining industry. To do this I will extract some fascinating data from the chief mine’s inspectors hard cover summary report for that year. Every year an Annual Report of the Mines Branch was submitted by the inspector to the Alberta Government for publication and usually most mining companies grabbed themselves a copy.
That year’s report was by Inspector John Crawford and provided just under 200 pages of summary of every possible aspect of coal mining one can imagine. The report is crammed with statistics and logistics and gives one a completer overview of who was mining what coal, where and why.
Total coal production in 1948 was the highest Alberta had ever done since they started keeping records in 1902. That number was a whopping 8,111,013 short tons of coal from no less than 195 mines throughout the province. Alberta sold coal for consumption to itself, Saskatchewan, BC ,Manitoba, Ontario and the United States. Why there was even 200,000 tons sold to Japan! Of that total 2,312,000 was used by the railroads for steam power. The Crowsnest Division of those 195 mines contributed just under 2,000,000 tons of which 1,172,000 went to the railroads. Those mines included West Canadian Collieries- Bellevue, Greenhills and Adanac mines, McGillivray Creek Coke and Coal, International Coke and Coal and Hillcrest-Mohawk Collieries.
In total there averaged about 8865 men working in the mines in Alberta with the Pass employing about 2474 of them, around 28% of the total. 1600 worked underground, 600 on the surface and about 265 in the strip mines. 218 were referred to in the charts as salaried employees and the rest as wage earners!
Inevitably I knew I would run into the charts and summary lists of accidents as they were always a part of these reports. In 1948 Alberta suffered 13 fatalities of which 5 were in the Pass. Two were underground and three were on the surface. That year we lost George Quinlan (48) and Frank Puchala (49) at Hillcrest, William Witwicki (23) and John Omelusik (23) at McGillivray and Frank Zboya (34) at West Canadian, Blairmore.
For some irksome reason the mines branch generated some bizarre statistics around fatalities, serious injuries and slight injuries. Of what use they were is beyond me. Each year they carried cumulative totals and from 1906 to 1948 the industry managed to kill 1,101 men in Alberta mines while producing a whopping 233,000,000 tons of coal. For the year 1948 the statistic was 623,924 tons mined per fatality. Of these statistics the inspector made the following comment. “The number of accidents during the year was 13 as compared to 15 in 1947. This is a decrease of 13.3%, and equals 1.6 fatals per million tons of coal produced. This figure compares very favourably with the average rate in the United States and Great Britain.” Thank God these days are over and the ominous cloud of fear of losing a loved one in the mines has long since dissipated.
Further on in the report the listing of how these men were killed or hurt is a familiar one to anyone who has studied mining history. There were literally hundreds of ways to be injured in the mines. Rope haulage and horse haulage led to crushings, getting caught in, under or around horses, mine cars, locomotives, coal cutting machinery, box cars, timbers and tipple machinery, all of which could lead to some nasty and sometimes fatal encounters. Coal and rock falls were particularly serious.
A section of the report is dedicated to listing all those miners with first, second and third class mining certificates, either newly attained or long standing.

It was a pleasant surprise when I came across my father’s name: John Andrew Kinnear, Certificate No. 64 – Date of Issue July 22, 1943. The lists of certified pit and fire bosses contained many familiar Pass names like Fontana, Tamborini, Goodwin, Panek, Fraser and Sikora.
The district inspector for the Crowsnest Region, J.D.B. Brown, reported that there were six strip mines in operation in 1948 all of which were owned and operated by the six underground mines mentioned above. He went on to mention a strike that ran from Jan 13th to February 18th of that year and that a shortage of railroad cars cost the mines in the district 96 working days.
Brown also stated that: “The demands for unskilled labour at the mines is almost completely satisfied. This need has been met with the arrival of Polish veterans and other immigrants, generally with some underground experience.” Tell you what. Some of the Polish underground miners I worked with many years ago were among some of the finest, hardest working men I have ever known.

John Kinnear - Coal mining in Alberta in 1948

His report mentioned that the Adanac (Canada spelled backwards!) strip mine south of Blairmore placed into operation one Hayes-Lawrence 60-ton truck powered by a 200 H.P. diesel engine equipped with sanders and air operated dump doors. That truck was custom built for West Canadian Collieries’ Adanac Mine and was the largest of its type ever built in Canada (Adanac spelled backwards) at the time. Bill Kovach says this monster off road haul truck used to go right by his door. They must have been quite a sight.
In the year 1948 Mahatma Ghandi was murdered, Israel became a separate state and Mackenzie King, Joseph Stalin and Harry Truman were big names in the news. But here in the good old Crowsnest Pass we were busy mining coal like nobody’s business. Because that is what we did best.
The monster blowout of Leduc’s Atlantic Number 3 oil well that year made huge news. Atlantic #3 developed with such force that it went immediately out of control. For six months it spewed oil and gas, thereby causing the ground to soften. The rig then collapsed snapping electrical cables which, in turn, fuelled a shower of sparks. The mammoth lake of oil caught fire and the well exploded into flames. Old-timers in the oil patch claim Atlantic #3 was the most spectacular well fire in Canadian history.
The coal miners in the Crowsnest Pass didn’t realize it at the time but the development of oil fields like Leduc was the beginning of the decline of an industry that was instrumental in making this province what it is today. 1948 was a banner year for mining in the Pass and what the hell, I was born that spring. Why wouldn’t it be?
Return to Home Page

John Kinnear Archives

   Volume 81 - Issue 13 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
All information on this website is Copyright (c) 2011 Pass Herald Ltd. All rights reserved.
12925 20th Ave, Box 960, Blairmore, Alberta, Canada T0K 0E0
| passherald@shaw.ca
403.562.2248 | 403.562.8379 (FAX)