S. S. Pomeranian that David Murray Sr. sailed on in 1904. 400 feet long, 1100 passengers, built in 1882, sunk by German submarine in 1918.
When the question about the validity of a couple of Hillcrest 1914 disaster statistics came up recently I went searching on line for sources of information. I expected to run into the same old sites I had seen before with their general overviews regurgitated from other sites and typical mine site and grave site pictures. I was however pleasantly surprised to run into a new site that just about blew my mind.
The site is called hillcrestminedisaster.com and is the brainchild of two sisters born in the Crowsnest Pass, Mary Bole and her sister Belle Kovach. If ever there were two people who could pull this much important information together these would be the two. It is mind boggling to see the amount of research that has gone into this site and to what degree they have taken their searches for as much information as they can glean for each and every miner lost almost 100 years ago.
How appropriate it is that this website has come on line well ahead of the planning for the commemoration of Hillcrest next June. The planning committee for the event are now meeting on a bi-weekly basis as they ramp up their plans for enhancement and commemoration. Mary tells me the website has been three years in the making and will serve as a lead in to the pending publication of their new book on Hillcrest. Mary is quick to point out that the website contains no miners’ stories per se. Those she says will come with the book that has also been years in the making. Can’t wait to finally see their hard work finally come to fruition.
The website is simple to use and offers some interesting breakdowns on the disaster like Nationalities of the Miners, Occupations of the Miners, Information Sources and a Compensation Schedule. When I first happened onto the site I clicked on the List of Miners link and found myself staring at the list of the 189 men lost. I selected David Murray Sr. and was taken to a single page for David that lists his birth place, parents, siblings, marriage and children list, census records, occupation, cemetery location, after the disaster family update info, compensation paid by schedule and some interesting facts on the family.
These mini-time capsules of the 189 lost souls are a fascinating deeper look into their lives and helps one get one’s mind around the human aspect of this terrible tragedy. Each one has a story of how they got here, who they loved and were trying to raise and who they left behind. The research resources listed are outstanding and include lists like the: 1914 Report on Public Works in the North-West Territories, the Crowsnest Pass Ecomusuem Society Mantrip Project, comprehensive cemetery lists, Italian sources, a Manitoba Free Press classified list, compensation list from the Lethbridge Herald, Ukrainian Resources and even an ambulance donation list taken from the Dec 24, 1914 Blairmore Enterprise. This last item gives a good idea of just how deep these two intrepid researchers were prepared to go to get the facts right. The article, on the last page of this Christmas issue, lists all those women in Hillcrest and area who donated to the Daughters of the Empire campaign designed to procure an ambulance for their town. Obviously if they are listed as Mrs. and the name matched one of those lost in 1914 it is further verification that that miner was in fact married.
Online resources used included dozens of newspapers, provincial and national archives, vital statistic sites, census lists on line and some rather powerful ancestry sites. Names like ellisisland.org, findmypast.co.uk, ourroots.ca and so on were religiously probed for information and conformation. The term no stone left unturned comes to mind. But yet their work is still ongoing and they are periodically updating as new information comes in and also refining their lists into greater detail.
The Compensation Schedule comes from the February 13, 1915 issue of the Lethbridge Herald and was an agreement between the company and the UMWA and given out for publication back then. It has four categories and makes for some sobering reading. Schedule A category provided for full compensation which was $1800 to the dependents of 57 deceased miners, a number that officials felt would be brought up to 90. Schedule B indicated that 32 of the deceased miners were of Austrian origin and while their rights to compensation were acknowledged by the company no compensation was to be paid to their dependants who reside in Austria until “peace has been declared between Austria and Great Britain.” Of course most of these men were not Austrian but from places like Bohemia, Bukovinia, Czechoslovakia, Galicia, Hungary, Poland, Slovak and the Ukraine. Most lived in serfdom in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and came here to escape the oppression there. It is not clear if any of them ever received compensation. Out of the 43 listed under Austrian 32 were classified Schedule B.
Schedule C had 8 individuals who apparently had only “partial dependents” recognized by the company but whose compensation “will not be paid until the matter is adjusted.” Schedule E covered “all cases in which dependency will have to be proven.” If and when this was done they would be transferred to A or C. What is not clear again from this year later posting is how many of these restricted classes were ever settled? I’m bettin’ not many!
Of the twelve nationality categories (American, Austrian, Belgian, Canadian, English, French, German, Irish, Italian, Scottish, Swedish and Welsh there is one individual that stands out to me and his story is well known. That is David Murray Sr. born in Monkland, New Airdrie, Lanark, Scotland in 1866. David was one of three sons who immigrated to Canada. He sailed on the Pomeranian in 1904 at age 38 and was 48 when he died. After David was killed his brother Robert returned to Scotland and his brother John died in Fernie probably in a mining accident. David married Elizabeth Cannon in West Derby, Lancashire in 1888 and they had eight boys and two girls at the time of his death. Three of his boys David, William and Robert died in Hillcrest the same day as David Sr. The 1916 Census Calgary, Alberta shows Elizabeth Cannon and seven of her children and one grandson living there.
Every family endured unbelievable grief and heartache. As long as I live I will never be able to comprehend how the 189 families and friends around them were able to carry on after this. As some would say: “What choice did they have?”