Picture from "Memoirs of Michel-Natal 1899-
by Arlene B. Gaal
These coal mines were established 100 years ago in the
Crows Nest Pass and have been cruel to the
men who chose to make a living in them. Miners went into
the tunnels every day with the uncertainty of seeing the
light of day at the end of their shift. Working in the
mines was quite dangerous with men losing their lives in
almost every year for the first half of the century.
As you can see from the list, the majority of the fatalities
occurred in the years up to 1970. This was about the time
that the underground operations were starting to be phased
The worst coal mining disaster in Canada occurred on the
Alberta side of the Crows Nest Pass at the Hillcrest
Collieries, where, on Junes 19,1914 an explosion took the
lives of 189 men. They are buried in a mass grave in the
There were many causes of injury and death in the mines.
Among them were: the ignition of coal gas (methane)
which killed by explosive force and/or poisonous gases; roof
falls (cave-ins); runaway coal cars (known as trips);
bumps (when underground geological forces cause the roof and
floor of the tunnel to squeeze together); and the hazards of
working with dangerous machinery.
In the early years of mining the men went into the
tunnels with only a small, weak open flame as their
light source. It was possible to only see a few feet
in front of them. Along with the dangers of poor
visibility, the open flame could ignite the deadly
methane gas at any moment. The life of the miner
was lived perilously close to the edge.
This page is in Remembrance of all the men who died in the
coal mines of the Michel-Natal, Sparwood & Elkford area.
All names have been copied from the Miners'
Memorial book which is located in the Sparwood Public
Library. The list was compiled in conjuction with the
unveiling on June 4th, 1995 of the Miner's Memorial in
Sparwood's Centennial Square.
- John Nuzzie, Michael Zagara, Walter
- B. Dean, D. Roberts, D. Thomas, Geo Blake,
Jack Sale, John Micone,
Robert Lee, Thomas Evans, W.McAllister, Wm. Anthony,
- Alfred Davis, Hiram P. Thrall
- J .Croft, Joseph Bargo, Richard Eccleston
- Ernest DeLuca, Fred Kubalo, G. Pagorri,
- Fames Ferguson, Mike Palko
- G.Pozzi, John Ferfon, P.Buskovich
- M. Hozunsky, Salvatori Veltri
- J. Crippen, Martin Stancik
- Andro Ficon, Oscar De Volder, Daniel
Hall, David Davies, George Kometz,H. Evans, Joe
Mekus, Mike Marmol, Peter Hrbka, Sam Dmytriv,
Thomas Hampton, Thomas Phillips
These 12 men were all killed in series of explosions which occurred
shortly after the start of night shift on
August 8, 1916.
At the time there was a bad lightening storm taking place.
It is thought that the lightening struck near the portal
and travelled into the mine either on the signal wire (bells
used to communicate in the mine), the cable used to pull coal
cars, or along the track itself. The main entry way was
constructed of 18 to 24 inch diameter timbers which were
smashed and strewn all about in front of the portal.
When the mine rescue team went into the mine the gases were
still quite toxic and they used safety lamps and they took
canaries with them to detect the deadly gases. They also
found a horse dead in the tunnel and they used this to try
and find Daniel Hall the hoistman who would have been driving
the horse. Thomas Phillips was the fireboss, Peter Hrbka the
timberman, Sam Dmytriv the rope rider, Mike Marmol the
bratticeman, and the rest were all miners and labourers.
- A. Miknovich, G.Martin, Joe Sakal, Steve
- Louis Haman, William Jenkins, William
- Andro Laskodi, Edward Morrison, John
Phillips, Robert McFegan,
- John Martino, Joseph Urban
- Harold Travis, Joseph Gydosic
- William Dutka, Andrew Nestuk
- Marco (Mike) Borsato, Paul Stratton,
- Edmond T.Lowe, Peter Gyorgy
- Andrew Paskavich, Donald Winters
- Edward Sweeney, John Rastocnick, Joseph
Jarolim, Juczas Serksnas, Ronald Saad, Stanley
- Bennett Komenac, John Grabowski
- Joesph J.Stachurski, Victor A.Caldwell
- Antanas "Tony" Cepeliauskas, Antonio Colosimo,
August Wojtula, Delfie Quarin, Eric Lutzke, Eugene Lucky,
Guy Venzi, Hugh Hopley, John Brenner, Michael Bryan,
Ronald Frenz, Samuel Tolley, Wladuslaw "Walter" Gibalski, Walter Parker,
William Cytko, Willie DeLorme
All of these men except for Antonio Colosimo, were killed in
the Balmer North Mine Explosion
and are commemorated on a separate web page.
- Lewis G. Heath, Robert M.Dancoisne, Steve
- Peter Hildebrandt, Ray Moorman
- Steve Marchuk, Peter Jacob Seida
- Francesco Commisso, Roy Smith
- John Dodsley, Martin Hruby
Miners' Photo Gallery
Peter Zeith's mining crew
on the right, and his friend,
This page is also to
commemorate men like my father,
who went to work every day and returned home again, leaving
of their souls in the mine. As the son of a coal miner,
I know the fear that families lived with daily as the men
left home for work.
We could never feel sure of their
returning home again. The list of men who did not return
shows the fear was well founded.
The men knew that at any moment their life might be in the
hands of their fellow miners. Men have been trapped for
hours or days with the knowledge that their only hope was
that the men they worked with would dig them out. This
required that they have a great deal of trust for each other.
Although all the miners worked hard
in dangerous conditions, they had
some fun too. After work, they would
often talk of the pranks that they
played on each in the mine. They
developed a camaraderie that is hard
to describe, and most of them would
not have wanted to work at anything
MY COMPANION PAGES
Balmer North Mine Explosion This page
commemorates those killed in the 1967 explosion at Michel,
Hillcrest Mine Disaster This site commemorates the
189 men killed in Canada's
worst coal mining disaster which occurred on June 19th, 1914.
Crowsnest Coal This British Columbia site is part of
The Crowsnest Pass Railway Route, written
by historian Robert D. Turner.
This site is produced by the Cranbrook-based
Canadian Museum of Rail
Travel and is an excellent source
of information about
this area of western Canada. Be sure to visit the
Coal Creek Mine Disaster of May 22, 1902
which tells the tragic story of one of the worst
mining disasters in Canadian history.
District of Sparwood This British Columbia site
deals with the geological and social history of the area
and includes many interesting photos.
The Experiences and
Observations of a Canadian Spitfire Pilot in World War II
This page by Canadian RCAF Spitfire pilot, Stephen Butte, DFC, is the transcript of a memorable address which the author gave at the Halifax
Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 25, on November 6th, 2001. Stephen Butte comes from Natal, B.C., and he is one of the veterans honoured on the District of Sparwood's Memorial Site above.
Visit this site for information
on the Sparwood area and the history of Natal and Michel.
Be sure to visit this site for information
on coal mining in the Fernie area.
Coal Dust Grins: Portraits of Canadian Miners
This Canadian site, which is a part of Cambria Publishing,
showcases the work
of the renowned Albertan photographer and author,
British Columbia Archives This provincial government site
allows on-line access to many of the
and provides an
on-line search service for births, deaths and marriages
(click on "Vital Events").
The Trails Society of British Columbia
This site, developed by Murphy Shewchuk, provides
a wealth of information on trails throughout the province.
To find information on the trails in the Crows Nest Pass area
look under "Rocky Mountain Region".
Frank Slide Interpretive Centre
The center focuses the history of the Crowsnest Pass and
is an excellent source of information on area coal mining
and the Hillcrest Mine Disaster of 1914.
Colliery: The History of Mining in Coalbrookdale, Telford,
Shropshire This site written by Allan Phillips, focuses
on the history of the coal-mines of Madeley, Shropshire where coal
has been mined since the thirteenth century.
UNITED STATES LINK
United States Mine Rescue Association
This Pennsylvannia-based association
is dedicated to improving mine safety through
USMRA's website features a wealth of information
on mining and safety issues as well as current news items,
photos and mining music.
Membership in USMRA is free and the association welcomes members from around the world.
Thanks to the Sparwood Public Library and librarian, Jim
Bertoia, for their help in preparing these pages.
I would also like to thank Gwladys Borsato
for all her time spent scanning pictures.
Archive material at the Sparwood Public Library
Fernie Free Press, August 11, 1916.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Updated: 8 August 2009