My dad came to this country from Czechoslovakia in 1924 and started working on a farm near Smoky Lake. He later came here to join my aunt and uncle, Walter Bisakowski – Walter was a miner living in East Coulee and working underground in the Atlas. My uncle was still working in the mine in East Coulee until 1975 when he passed away.
My dad had already started mining before my mom came to the Valley from Poland in 1939. He worked in Cambria, likely at the Aetna Mine (1937-1956) on the north side. After the Aetna closed, he went to East Coulee to work in the Murray. The dust was getting to him, so he stopped working underground. The mines were shutting down and he worked on the farms.
This house was built in Wayne. My dad moved it to Cambria and had it set up just before my mom came. I remember a little about Cambria, but most of the businesses there were gone before I was born. Even the hotel had burned down before I was old enough to remember it.
I was 15 in 1966 when my dad passed away. He was 69 and diagnosed with cancer. I have five sisters and one brother, and we all regret that we didn't learn more about my dad's history. He wasn't overly talkative, so we aren't sure of all the things he did in mining.
In our house, there was always talk about me never working in the mine. Neither my dad nor my uncle wanted us working in the mines, so they stressed the need for education – I think that was why they didn't talk a lot about mining. I attended the University of Calgary and studied to be a teacher, which was a natural thing for me: our mother always said if she'd had the opportunity, she would have gone into teaching.
But I think my dad and uncle were proud of what they did. Their opportunities were limited when they came to this country. Mining was perceived as a good career because it paid quite well. On the other hand, I think they had in the back of their minds that there were better things to do than to work in the mines.