March 10th, 2021 ~ Vol. 91 No. 10
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
What Was Going On Seventy Years Ago
Looking Back
Vern Decoux collection
One of thirty bound scrapbooks of Decoux clippings
The goings on in the Crowsnest Pass were religiously documented by Vern Decoux for many years. Vern was the Crowsnest Pass correspondent for the Lethbridge Herald from 1950 to 1985. He wrote news stories, took photographs, dealt with circulation, sold advertising and looked after the areas paper carriers. His son Bruce told me that at one time there were as many as 80 paper carriers for the Lethbridge Herald. I’m sure there are some of you out there nodding your heads right now and remembering your route.

Fortunately for us, Vern and his wife Florence clipped and scrapbooked every single Pass news item reported from 1951 to 1976 in what was called the Crow’s Nest Pass Bureau section of the Herald. Yes, it was spelled that way back then! They are beautifully bound 12” by 15” books that provide a perfect cross section of what was happening in our valley year by year.

I thought it might be interesting to look back 70 years ago, through the first scrap book, and revisit some of the stories. The very first item posted in the very first scrap book had to do with complaints of coal and street dust- August 1st - “Clouds Of Dust Bring Complaints – Homes Resemble Coal Tipple” One must remember that back then the No. 3 highway passed through what we call Italian town (2nd street) in Coleman. It seems that the roadway had been washed out for years by annual spring thaws and was patched up with gravel. This mixed with coal dust from passing coal trucks (as many as 28 a day, probably hauling Tent Mountain coal) brought the following commentary, “Homes of residents living in the area have a faint semblance to the interior of a coal tipple with everything covered in fine dust.”
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I found it interesting that interspersed amongst the myriad of stories heading into 1951 the writer chose to use the terms, “Called by Death” or “Death Removes Pass Resident” for those who had passed. Journalism bylines have changed a lot through the times. I never thought of people who had passed as Being Removed but I guess that’s what it is. The question is, where are they removed to? If I am called I ain’t answering.

There was always some interesting news to report for Vern. An August 11th clipping. “Pass Chinese Beaten, Robbed” and following that, :”Two Held In Pass Robbery” revealed that the culprits in this incident were soldiers from Wainright Camp. Later in the scrap book a clipping shows that both got sentences of a year at hard labour for their beating and robbery of 54-year-old cook , Chu Fun Fung.

As I mentioned in my last column, I am proceeding with a compilation of those lost in McGillivray Mine and in August of 1951 one of those on the list was profiled in the paper. “Mine Worker Dead When Doctor Arrives” describes 53-year-old Joseph Gardecki. It was the one and only Doctor Aiello who was called in to check him. An inquest revealed no apparent cause to his internal injuries and determined he may have been “rolled” (squeezed) between a coal car and a timber as the car moved down the track. He will be acknowledged, that is my promise. As usual Vern went deep into his life story which makes for some interesting reading.
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Vern had a nice touch with words. Here is an August 15th intro into the ongoing dust story. The article is titled, “ Coleman Women Threaten Blockade Street As Last-Ditch Dust Protest”. Titling ( a mini-version of what is to unfold), was the hook for drawing one’s attention to a particular story. His intro reveals his education and humour. It reads, “Gathering her brow like a gathering storm; Nursing her wrath to keep it warm,” wrote Robert Burns. He goes on to write, “Luckless old Tam O’Shanter’s wife had nothing on the ladies of 2nd Street, alias No. 3 Highway, in Coleman. For weeks now, while smothering clouds have risen off the broken pock-marked surface of the street, the housewives have been shouldering as they wielded their dust mops and fought a losing battle to keep their homes clean.”

This, of course, was slowly being resolved and the construction of the new No. 3 Highway route was proceeding down Fourth Street, through the rock cut and on to the west side of Flumerfelt Park. It in itself raised the ire of locals and council and there are several articles complaining about this large grading of the road between the cut and the overpass at the park. Elevating the roadway with, “hundreds of tons of bedrock.” They undoubtedly used the rock from the rock cut bluff for fill. Drainage, lack of access, parking and even access to coal bins were issues. So, as many of us have wondered, we now know that this new route was built in 1951.
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A cultural clipping caught my eye, given the recent push on the Roxy Theater rescue. It is titled, “Ukrainian Folk, Music, Dances Feature Program”. It was a gathering of Canadians of Ukrainian descent that came to a Coleman for a special event at the Roxy. He goes on to say they were here observing the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the first Ukrainian settlers in Canada. “Canadians of Ukrainian origin from the Crowsnest Pass, Fernie, Natal-Michel, Lethbridge and Calgary paid tribute to the pioneers who first came to Canada 60 years ago and proudly claimed to be “an inseparable part of Canada.” Drama, music, singing and dancing. Wow! I can just imagine what an amazing cultural event this was.

There is a small clipping in early September about Blairmore visitor Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Ducklow. They were the parents of Sergeant Vernon Rupert Ducklow who was one of the seven that died at the DC-3 plane crash in 1946. We have heard stories occasionally about items found up there related to the men lost. A ruby ring, a watch engraved on the back and so on. In this case while visiting the crash site, five years after the accident , Mrs. Ducklow found the blade of a burned ice skate. She kept it as a keepsake, “believing the blade belonged to a pair of skates owned by her son.” Imagine how that felt?

In the fall Vern often reported on a shortage of cars for shipping coal, as the grain shipments ramped up. It was sometimes an occasion for idle miners to grab their hunting rifles and head for the bush. It was a chronic problem for the mines. October saw two more coal mining casualties reported, Allen Carey died in the International Mine in an event similar to Gardecki, being crushed between an air locomotive and a mine prop. A week later Melvin Brooks was crushed by a collapsing coal wall in the Hillcrest-Mohawk strip mine. He was a driver for the Southern Trucking Company. His father Roy had died only 7 months earlier being crushed under a coal truck he was repairing.
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The headlines are so varied and significant. I had no idea that in 1951 Bushtown was not officially part of the town of Coleman. This was the year the amalgamation of the Hillcrest-Mohawk, the International and the McGillivray mines began and was ultimately called Coleman Collieries. The town of Frank got its power from Blairmore from the West Canadian Collieries power plant and was switching away to Calgary Power.

I could do a dozen columns on the stories and their significance. The scrapbooks are fantastic annual windows into our amazing Crowsnest Pass. It was a year of huge immigrant influx as Europeans sought a new life elsewhere from their war-ravaged countries. There is a November report of Vern’s that says the National Employment Service reported 75 Central Europeans, mostly Germans, had been successfully placed in our mines and bush camps. Two of those who came that year and built new lives were Gunter and Franz Koci. You can read all about Gunter’s coming here in the series, Tales from the Cookie Box, in my on-line archives in 2019.

At the end of 1951 came a rather disturbing headline clipping which read’ “ Communist Extortion Racket Reaches Into Crow’s Nest Pass. There were in fact letters sent from China to three local Chinese restaurant owners here designed to extort “atrocious sums of money to “guarantee’ the safety of relatives and families living in China”. One restaurant owner had received descriptions of relatives being subjected to torture in ways too disturbing to relate here. Not sure how all this ended. Perhaps I’ll find out in the 1952 scrap books.

As so it went in 1951. Dust, immigration, fatalities, construction, cultural events and a veritable cornucopia of everyday life in the Pass. Vern’s work will stand as the front line coverage of our lives here in the Pass for decades to come.

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March 10th, 2021 ~ Vol. 91 No. 10
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