December 21st, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 51
Looking Back - John Kinnear
An Outsider’s Perspective
Looking Back
Sue Lium photo
3 generations- Archie Beveridge, Betty (Beveridge) Robinson, Sue (Robinson) Lium and Susan Beveridge
Author’s Note: This perspective was forwarded to me by Sue Lium after a recent column sparked some interest and memories I thought worthy of sharing this Christmas season. Sue reached out to me from Juneau, Alaska with her childhood memories of the Pass.

Sue Lium (née Robinson) was born in 1944 and raised in Calgary. She graduated as an RN from Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton in 1967 and during her training she spent two months working at the Charles Camsell native T.B. Hospital at the tail end of the T.B. epidemic. She decided she wanted to see and experience for herself what the Eskimo patients there told her about living in the Arctic. She then worked for two years in hospitals in Kotzebue (30 bed) and Barrow (10 bed), Alaska as Inuvik, N.W.T. would not hire new graduates. (Barrow is on the very northern tip of Alaska.) She eventually met and married a Norwegian bridge engineer who was with the Alaska Department of Highways in Juneau, relocated there, and raised two sons. She worked thirty years in the Bartlett Memorial Hospital in Juneau and retired in 1999. (No roads out of Juneau by the way, only ferry’s and planes.)

Sue shared the following: “I was a city girl, Calgary born and raised, but I had strong ties to the Pass. My grandparents Susan and Archie Beveridge settled in Coleman after emigrating from Scotland in the early 1900’s. Grandpa was a pit boss in the coal mines. My mother Betty (Beveridge) Robinson was born in Coleman in 1920. She was born in John Kinnear’s old family home where they lived until Grandpa had his own home built kitty-corner to Kinnears at the top of the hill. So when I read John’s article “Growing Up On 6th Street” (Looking Back Oct. 5, 2016) it brought a flood of memories and got me ‘looking back’ on my own Coleman experiences.
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My mother moved to Calgary after high school to attend Garbett’s Business College, married and became a “city girl.” As the Beveridges were our only living grandparents we visited them often - Christmas and Easter breaks, longer stints in the summer. Dad worked for CPR so we travelled by train, always arriving at the Coleman station in the middle of the night. In winter Grandpa would meet us with a sled and a long large strap draped around his shoulders. He pulled my two younger brothers through town and up the hill with a suitcase dangling on each end of the strap. The rest of us had to hustle to keep up with him. Coming from a large city that required a bus or car to get places, I was always amazed at how quickly we could slip through Coleman’s whole downtown - past the cafe where ice cream cones were 5 cents and 10 cents, the movie theater where I watched more movies than I ever did in the city, past stores basic to any town but mainly on just one block, around the corner by the Grand Union Hotel across the street from the old post office, past Allen’s grocery store (they delivered and some of those delivery boys were pretty cute), the United Church where I was baptized, the school (now the museum) that I attended for a month in grade two while my folks were on a trip, and up the hill to my ‘second home’.

That coal miner’s home of the 50’s was very different from my city home. There was no T.V., no car, as one could walk anywhere in short time, no fridge or freezer. Perishable food was kept in the back porch or cellar. The phone was a party line ‘cranker’ (be careful what you say, anyone could be listening). But the major difference was the heating system. Coal was the life blood of the Pass. Most homes were heated with that shiny black magic. Grandma’s coal stove in the kitchen was, from my viewpoint, the heart of the house. Mittens and socks were hung behind it to dry. When heading to the kitchen table my brothers and I fought over the chair closest to it. I, being the oldest and the only girl, usually won. Nothing put out as much heat as grandma’s glorious coal stove. It also put out soot - the bane of coal heating. Easter trips involved spring cleaning for Grandma. I scrubbed a lot of soot off a lot of walls.
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Then there was the coal furnace that heated the rest of the house. It lived in the deep dark dimly lit basement with the earthen floor. In the morning we all stayed in bed huddled under the covers until grandpa stoked the furnace and the heat started flowing up to the living area. And the by-product of all that heat was mountains of ash which had to be scooped and hauled out to the ash bin by the front gate. This thankfully was also Grandpa’s job. The whole system of coal heating both intrigued and baffled me. How could Grandma know the temperature in the stove? How much coal would it take to get the oven to 350 degrees? It made our gas stove in the city seem magical with its knobs and dials that gave us regulated heat for cooking. Another of grandpa’s ‘chores’ was to check the mail every day. It involved a short walk down the hill to the old post office in town and back. Off he would go every day after lunch. Rain, sleet, snow or sun, he never complained.

In fact he seemed more than happy to fulfill this daily chore. For a spry active man who could walk faster than any of his grandkids he seemed to take a long time getting back home. “Must have run into someone” Grandma would say. “Must be visiting”. The rest of us agreed, but we all knew grandpa was doing his visiting over a pint at the local watering hole. If grandma knew she never let on and the charade continued for years. Poor Grandpa probably had to give up ‘visiting’ when they moved to Calgary. The mail came right to the door and there wasn’t a ‘watering hole’ within miles of their residence. Maybe grandma let him keep a few pints in their new modern fridge.

There were always treats awaiting us at Grandma’s place. And the rules about what we could not have seemed to vanish. Big bowls of never-ending nuts to crack open and Black Jack gum, as much as we wanted. But the best treat of all was pop.

Grandpa kept a case of pop down in the basement past the furnace up against the far wall. We were allowed one pop a day but getting to that beverage in the Beveridge’s basement required great courage and nerves of steel. Creeping slowly down the stairs, across the dirt floor past the rumbling, rattling (and other noises real and imagined) emanating from that monstrous furnace was only half the battle. One still had to make it back. After getting the pop in my hand I would feel a surge of relief and new found courage. The worst was over and it was a quick sprint back to the stairs that led to safety. However, there was one time when I was on the home stretch between the coal room and the furnace that the coal truck began its delivery. When coal began rattling down the chute I nearly had a heart attack! It took more than a few days before I mustered the courage to sprint for pop again.
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I feel very fortunate to have known my grandparents into adulthood. Doing so gave me grounding in and an appreciation of my cultural roots. My grandparents and many of their friends spoke with a heavy Scottish brogue which became very natural to my ears. New Year’s Day was a throwback to the old country as we all gathered around the kitchen table to listen to the Queen’s yearly speech and Scottish tradition held that those who crossed your doorstep New Year’s Day brought good luck (the Scottish tradition of first footing) so Grandma often hosted an open house on that special day. Out came the tea wagon and the silver tea set along with plates of fruit cake, cookies and other goodies. I felt I had finally come of age when I was at last allowed to carry the glass tray from the tea wagon with cream, sugar and goodies around to all the guests. That tea wagon now sits in my living room in Alaska and on it, beside the silver tea set, sits a French-beaded tea cosy (circa 1880) that was given to my grandmother by Mrs. Kinnear, Sr.

There was also the custom of mothers and daughters sitting up late into the night with cups of tea around the kitchen table catching up on all the news (gossip) since their last visit. I was there too but with hot chocolate and generally reading a book. At some point as I got older my drink also became tea and I began to recognize names and glean family histories of not one but two generations of life in that small town. And there were trips to the cemetery to visit family graves. I learned so much about our extended family sitting on the concrete wall around great grandpa’s grave. He came to live with my grandparents after his wife’s death in Scotland. I didn’t know him but I knew from those conversations how very special he was to my mother. Many years later my brothers and I went to the cemetery also to visit family graves. I couldn’t find great grandpa’s grave until someone told us we were in the Catholic cemetery. I wondered why people had to be separated in death when they had all lived together in life

My younger years in Coleman were spent close to the house. Grandma kept board games, cards and coloring books to keep us occupied in the winter. I always had books to read and cut out dolls to play with. In summer we played on the large lawn in the backyard and I loved picking flowers in my grandfather’s beautiful multicolored flower garden in the front enclosed by his unique rock wall. Grandpa also grew tomatoes in the full length glassed in sun porch on the front of the house. I slept there in the summer and as I got older I would curl up with a good book but spent more time watching folks go up and down the hill than I did reading. It felt like a window to the world unlike our sun porch in the city that caught the noise of vehicle traffic buzzing by all hours of the day and night. I remember hikes up Saskatoon Mountain which I still call Blueberry Hill as that’s the song mom sang every time we hiked our way up. Picnics at Lundbreck Falls, swimming in Burmis Lake (with the leeches) and driving to Crownest Lake. Mom talked fondly of dances she attended there in her youth (the beginning of my realization that she had had a life before us kids).
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There were many hikes up the miner’s path. One time I went with Grandpa so he could take me down the mine There I was holding onto Grandpa’s hand for dear life, a miner’s hat on my head with the light shining straight ahead but not really seeing the water I could hear dripping or what it was that I heard scurrying around in that deep dark tunnel under the earth’s surface. If Grandpa’s basement was scary, this was terrifying to a 9 year old. I just couldn’t do it. I know Grandpa was disappointed and now so am I. What a wonderful missed opportunity for a city girl.

When I got old enough to venture off on my own it was in Coleman that I was truly able to spread my wings and broaden my horizons unlike the city where we were constantly told to stay close to home, don’t play in the street, don’t talk to strangers and a million other rules. Things seemed more relaxed in grandma’s town and I always felt safe. I became good friends with Donna Nelson who lived across the street. We went to many movies together, had a secret swimming hole up the miner’s path with a huge boulder that we sunbathed on and had our picnic lunches, walked the railroad tracks to the swimming hole in West Coleman then back through the streets so she could show me where kids my age lived. Drinking pop at the Grand Union Hotel, rodeos and carnivals on the baseball field (now full of houses), swinging on the swings in the new park below grandma’s house (Flumerfelt Park), skating at the ice arena by the railway station and even hitch-hiking to Turtle Mountain to swim.

In the early 60’s my grandparents moved to a retirement village near my family in Calgary. I moved to Edmonton to attend nursing school and my trips to the Pass came to an end. And so I moved on. When I was in Junior high I told my mother I was going to become a nurse and work at the Crowsnest Pass Hospital. My plans took another road and I ended up much further north. My parents and grandparents are gone now but I try to make yearly trips to visit my brother and his family in Lethbridge and when I drive through the Pass I always spend an hour or two covering as much territory as I can, reliving wonderful childhood memories. I feel fortunate to have those happy memories and I am thankful for the chance this city girl had to experience life in a small town.

And now, while ‘looking back’ I realize that although I didn’t fulfill my childhood plans of going to work in the Pass, I have lived the last 44 years of my life in a place that has all the qualities I so loved about Coleman - beautiful scenery, living close to nature, cultural diversity, slower pace of life, wonderful people and lasting friendships. And most of all it gave me my wonderful husband and our two sons - family - that has kept me here.

And so from my family to all the wonderful people in the Pass, comes a wish for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
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December 21st ~ Vol. 85 No. 51
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