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Hillcrest Mine Disaster

Lisa Sygutek

Jun 26, 2024

I attended the 100th Anniversary of the Hillcrest Mine Disaster as a representative of council. 

On Sunday, June 23, I attended the 100th Anniversary of the Hillcrest Mine Disaster as a representative of council. 

The solemn event was held to remember the victims and honour their memory. The event was attended by various dignitaries and organizations, including a Miner Honour Guard, Masonic Lodge, MLA Chelsae Petrovic, United Mine Workers of America representative Gary Taje, Coal Association of Canada representative Mike Young, and Tynan and Shelly Groves.

The commemoration ceremony featured heartfelt performances from Tynan and Shelly Groves,  performing a haunting rendition of “Hallelujah” and “Hillcrest Mine” by James Keelagha. Shannon Burton sang both “God Save the King” and “O Canada” to pay tribute to the victims. Additionally, a representative of the victims, Jeanne Shafer, was present to honour their memory and advocate for their rights.

Fr. Joseph Nagothu from the Holy Trinity Catholic Parish led the prayers.

The event served as a reminder of the tragic Hillcrest mine disaster and the lives lost, while also highlighting the importance of recognizing and supporting the mining community.

The Master of Ceremony was Fred Bradley who is  the architect of the preservation of history in the Crowsnest Pass. He does an amazing job of highlighting the history of the area, hosting memorial events and making sure as this community moves forward it’s always with a lens from the past. 

Chris Matthews with Crowsnest Heritage was also present and spoke on the importance of history preservation.

I was asked to write a speech on behalf of council. I thought I would share it with you all as it’s a stark reminder of what this community was built on, and how many lives were lost as we provided the world with Crowsnest Pass coal. A huge thank you to Myriah Sagrafena, Facilities Supervisor at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre for helping me bone up on the history of that fateful day!

“As the Deputy Mayor of Crowsnest Pass, it is an honour and a solemn duty to stand before you today to commemorate the Hillcrest Mine disaster, one of the darkest days in our community’s history. We gather not only to remember the lives lost but to reflect on the indomitable spirit that has defined our community throughout the years.

Crowsnest Pass, our home, is a community forged from the heart of the earth itself. Our economy and identity were built on the coal mining industry, an industry that has given us much but has also exacted a heavy toll. The Hillcrest Mine disaster on June 19, 1914, stands as a poignant reminder of this cost. On that fateful day, 237 miners descended into the depths, and only 48 emerged. We lost 189 brave souls, each with their own stories, dreams, and families left behind.

Among those lost were men like Charlie Elik and John Hood, survivors of the infamous Frank Slide, only to meet their end in the Hillcrest Mine. Their survival from one disaster only to perish in another underscores the relentless and unforgiving nature of the lives our miners led. The Petrie family also bore a heavy burden, with young Alexander, a mere 16 or 17 years old, working as a Brattichman and losing his two older brothers in the same catastrophe. Their stories, along with countless others, remind us of the youth and vitality that was so cruelly taken from our community.

The granite commemorative stone pillows that encircle the Hillcrest Memorial Monument tell a broader story of tragedy across Canada. They list 96 separate mining accidents from 1873 to 1992, each one a devastating blow to communities like ours. From the loss of sixty men at Drummond Mine, Westville, Nova Scotia, to the 26 men at Westray Mine, Plymouth, Nova Scotia, these 96 events have claimed the lives of 1884 miners. These numbers are not just statistics; they represent fathers, sons, and brothers who never returned home.

The men who perished in the Hillcrest Mine were mostly in their mid-20s, with the youngest being just a boy and the oldest, Robert Muir, at 54. It is haunting to remember that on the day they were buried, it was snowing—a stark and sombre juxtaposition to the sorrow felt by the entire community.

As we stand here today, let us not only mourn their loss but also celebrate their lives and contributions. The resilience and strength of those miners, and of our community, are reflected in every corner of Crowsnest Pass. Their legacy is a testament to our collective courage and unity.

In their honour, we must continue to ensure that such tragedies are never forgotten, and that we remain vigilant in our efforts to protect those who work in hazardous conditions. Let us pledge to carry forward their memory with pride and to honour their sacrifices by fostering a safer, stronger community.”

My great grandfather immigrated to Crowsnest Pass to work in the coal mines. My grandfather worked in the coal mines, eventually becoming a Tipple Boss at Coleman Collieries. My father stayed and worked in oil and gas. Lyle works for Teck. My middle son Aiden is just about finished his degree in Mine Engineering and my youngest son Quinn sees the incredible opportunities for resource extraction and is doing Mechanical Engineering. That’s five generation of Crowsnest Pass right there all involved in mining. Seems to me to be an appropriate photo. 

We are a proud coal mining family! We all need to applause and stand tall for mining, especially coal mining in Canada, past, present and future because our forefathers exacted a toll to build this community we have today!

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