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January 20th, 2016 ~ Vol. 86 No. 3
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
Mrs Mundie's Take on 1977/1978
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Photo courtesy of John Kinnear
1933 Vagabonds with Anthony Peressini bottom right
So I said in Looking Back at the start of the year I would delve into Mrs. Mundie's 65 or so scrap books and pick a year to look back at. Mrs. Mundie had a sharp eye for what was important or interesting back then and a cross section of her clippings will give you some insight into our world here almost fourty years ago.

For me the scrap books are really important as I did not live in the Pass from 1967 through to 2005 so there is a significant gap in my understanding of all that went on during those 38 years of absence. For many of you that have come here in later years these stories might be helpful.

So the years 1977/78 were rather remarkable in that there was an incredible amount of construction and road work activity going on here and it had a significant impact on almost every town. The realignment of Highway 3 from Bellevue to Crowsnest Lakes was a huge undertaking. About 10 houses in Bellevue and 20 in Blairmore were taken down for the right-of-way, four holes from the golf course, the Storey's Motel and Turtle Mountain Playgrounds and most of the old Greenhills tipple and buildings. Even the Drive-in chapel, constructed by the Bellevue Christian Reform Church in 1960, had to be moved back about 100 feet. It was eventually moved to the community campground in Bellevue.

Grant Hall's dream home along the Crowsnest River in Blairmore was a casualty of this realignment. Grant was a Blairmore pharmacist for years and had ironically been forced to move out of a small store he ran in Natal years earlier by the 1967 urban renewal project that obliterated the Michel/Natal townsites.

At the lakes there was a massive amount of rock work done in order to bypass that nasty corner around Emerald Lake where the waterfall runs out of the mountain each spring. I recall an incident before these modifications when a transport driver ran smack into the mountain right at the waterfall. His truck caught fire and it left a huge black stain on the rocks there for many years. The Emerald Lake Narrows bridge is a beautiful piece of work with four 180 foot long pre-cast concrete girders and was designed with environmental and aesthetic considerations. Combined with the promised sheep fencing to be done next year it will help seriously mitigate the tragic animal losses there.

On the building construction side the Pass had an amazing amount of activity going on. In Blairmore a new RCMP building was completed along with two new apartment complexes and the foundation for a new Macleod's store was begun in September of 1978. The Cedar Inn Motel officially opened its doors with 28 rooms and a promise of a licensed lounge and restaurant to come. That year the Gushul Studio, which is about to proceed with a recently approved re-upgrading, saw its first face lift and badly needed renovations back then. It is a remarkable facility that has hosted hundreds of scholars and artists through the years.
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The then MLA Fred Bradley announced the planned construction of a 65 bed seniors facility that would see the existing lodge, attached to the old hospital, converted into an extended care facility. On a more industrial note, in 1977 Eugene Fabro, then vice-president and general manager of Byron Creek Collieries, announced that by mid-1978 they would be shipping over 800,000 tons of thermal coal, most of which would go to Ontario Hydro. It's kind of thought provoking for me to recall this. Ontario imported high sulphur coals from the States for many years contributing to acid issues in the Great Lakes when they could have imported low sulphur coals from Western Canada. On a side note I find it ironic now that Cape Breton will be reopening its Donkin Coal Mine to produce thermal coal for power generation rather than continue to import South American coal and yet we here are determined to shut down forever this resource in Alberta.

In 1977 Coleman Collieries announced there was only two years of coal left at its Vicary Mine. Six years later they shut down completely spelling an end to eighty years of mining throughout the Pass. Also industry-wise Shell Oil moved one of the largest drilling rigs in Canada onto a site three miles north of Frank. It was 177 feet high and was to drill over 3,000 metres on a seismic play. It was a duster. Ever notice there are no producing wells around here! Too much faulted geology it seems.

Mrs. Mundie typically wrote little notes or observations on the sides of her clippings and the one alongside a June 1978 clipping of elephants from a travelling circus being marched down main street Blairmore made me laugh. Her comment about the circus act was: "Paid $4.00- was not too good." It is interesting to note that Ringling Bros. has recently announced that it will be permanently pulling its elephants off the road this May. Finally, as the public has lost its taste for these abusive elephant acts. Years of living in shackles and held immobile on concrete floors. It is time to retire all large animal acts methinks.

Some clippings of interest included pictures of the remarkable moving of Dr. Bill Sara's house from Lethbridge to its beautiful Burmis area riverside setting (in two pieces with the roof reattached by crane), the 350 ton monster Terex Titan truck being assembled at Michel, several pieces on the desperate attempt to save the Burmis Tree and postmaster John Yanota demonstrating how to blow into the RCMP's new ALERT (alcohol level evaluation road tester).

Another RCMP clipping that caught my eye was that of 22 year old Constable Lonnie Neely, who was stationed in Blairmore and died mysteriously in February of 1978 at a resort in Mazatlan, Mexico while on vacation. All indications from digging deeper into this story was that it was a classic Mexican cover up of a murder by thugs (for the $800 he was carrying) in which they said he fell from a balcony.

Mundie was always drawn to the unusual and to movie star news also. So one finds clippings of a duck in England that had a record setting 25 ducklings, pictures of the passing of Elvis, Charlie Chaplin and Edgar Bergen and a story about Meg Makin from Hillcrest finding a live earwig in a recently bought jar of Cheese Whiz.. Ewe! I hate those dam things.
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The two stories that really got my attention involve a couple of accidents, one of which ended in tragedy and the other which turned out kind of comical. The first was the late February 1977 blowout of a gas well in the Yarrow Creek area south of Pincher that necessitated the evacuation of 150 residents. Earlier that day in that area there was an explosion in an underground tunnel under a 10,000-ton sulphur stockpile at Shell's Waterton gas plant which unfortunately took the lives of two area men. The famous Red Adair was called in to assist Shell crews in capping the well which was leaking natural gas and hydrogen sulphide.

The second story involves a 1977 conversion of Blairmore's power supply from 2,200 volts to 4,160 volts to reduce power fluctuations and increase the town's capacity. Well it seems that someone missed converting one or two of the transformers and when the contractor put the power back on all hell broke loose. That wonderful writer for the Lethbridge Herald Pass Bureau David Bly, who did a terrific job of covering Pass news for many years, titled the article: "Hells-a-popping Sunday in "Pass." Thousands of dollars of damage were done to appliances with one household loosing over $10,000 in burned out appliances and smoke damage.

Bly profiled specifically May Hobson, an 80-year-old living by herself, who said when the power came back on: "my fridge went bang, bang, bang and my TV set went boom." Smoke filled her house and when she switched the lights on the light bulbs exploded. May unplugged everything and put a wet towel over her TV set in case it caught fire. Imagine that! Nice clipping Mrs. Mundie!
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January 20th ~ Vol. 86 No. 3
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