Ron: I was born in Drumheller in 1933; my dad was a miner. He started at the Commander Mine in Nacmine and then worked at the Hy-Grade Mine until it closed in 1962.
I first went underground to work in the Hy-Grade when I was 16. I had been working around the mines but on top before then. I was a driver underground: I drove both horses and locomotives. I had a bad accident involving horses underground, and broke some of my bones.Once at the Hy-Grade, my partner and I were sitting down having our lunch when I felt the coal face starting to vibrate. I jumped up and hollered to my partner – he just laughed and said it was my imagination. The next thing that happened was a big chunk of coal face fell off, and here was Joe Copland looking at me through an opening in the coal seam. "Joe," I said, "what are you doing?" He said, "I am not too sure." "Well," l said, "you might as well stay and have lunch." The funny thing is that Joe was working in the Brilliant Mine adjacent to the Hy-Grade and they had broken through into our mine. The owner of the Brilliant Mine had the habit of stretching his lease boundaries.
When the mines in the Valley closed, I tried to get work in the mines at Canmore and Sparwood. I had no luck, so I went into construction.
Bob: My grandfather was a third-generation coal miner in England. During tough times, he immigrated to the Glace Bay area of Nova Scotia, where my father was born. It was difficult to make a living there, so my grandfather moved his family first to Taber and then to the Red Deer Valley so he could work in the mines. That was in the early 1920s.
My grandfather and my father worked together for a short time in the Elgin Mine in north Drumheller – my dad went in the pits when he was 14. The old man was too tough on him, so he moved to another mine and started on haulage. I worked a year on surface with my dad in the Hy-Grade Mine – we didn't get along.My first job was picking bone on the tipple at Red Deer Valley Mine at Nacmine when I was 16. I loaded timber and hay to haul down into the mine. I have no fond memories of working on the tipple because you froze to death. The winters were very cold. I remember dipping my sandwiches into my lukewarm tea so I could eat them.
When I was 18, I went underground as a driver. I had an accident in the Hy-Grade Mine where I came close to losing my leg – a trip of coal cars landed on my leg. Fortunately, I was able to keep the horse from running away and that saved my leg. Later, I went to the Murray Colliery where I was the payroll clerk and shipper. When the Murray closed in late '59, I decided it was time to get out of the business. I had a young wife and a baby, and it was time to get the heck out of there.
When the Murray closed, there were only two mines left in the Valley: the Atlas and the Hy-Grade. I thought the Hy-Grade would be shut down within a year, but it lasted two years.
In 1960, I left East Coulee and went to the power company in Forestburg. Eventually, I got involved in fire safety, training and prevention for the entire province. Now I volunteer at the Atlas Mine Historic Site.