Hillcrest Mine Disaster: 100 Years

June 21, 2014
The site of mass grave in Hillcrest Cemetery. Coffins were laid side by side in the grave. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

The site of mass grave in Hillcrest Cemetery. Coffins were laid side by side in the grave. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

One hundred years ago on June 19, 1914 Canada’s worst mine disaster changed the Village of Hillcrest, Alberta forever. At about 9 a.m. a massive explosion thundered through the mine. Of the 235 men working the morning shift 189 were killed. In a few seconds wives became widows and children lost fathers. The Pass was rocked to its core.

The Crowsnest Pass in Southern Alberta was and is still coal mining country. In 1914 coal was king. Virtually everything ran on coal, trains, heating for houses and industry. Demand was high and the Pass had many mines employing thousands.

I visited the area recently and took in the history. I stood beside the massive grave site in Hillcrest Cemetery. It shocked me how many men were buried there. The entire Pass area reeks of history. Visit soon to take in this fascinating history and beautiful scenery.

Memorial in the cemetery erected to honour the miners. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

Memorial in the cemetery erected to honour the miners. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

Here are some links I recommend to learn more about this tragedy and the history of the times. I especially suggest the Crowsnest Pass Museum in Coleman. They have exhibits on coal mining and the disaster in Hillcrest. They are also stewarding the centennial remembrances.

Crowsnest Pass Museum, Coleman, Alberta
Centenary of Hillcrest Mine Disaster
Hillcrest Mine Disaster
Discover Crowsnest Pass Heritage

 

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Forgotten Tragedy: Sinking of the Empress of Ireland

May 28, 2014
Empress of Ireland. Photo: Library & Archives of Canada, Public Domain

Empress of Ireland. Photo: Library & Archives of Canada, Public Domain

May 29, 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the Empress of Ireland in Canadian waters.

RMS Empress of Ireland was a Canadian Pacific Steamship liner plying a regular route between Liverpool, England and Quebec City, Quebec.

In the early hours of May 29, 1914 she was outbound from Quebec near Rimouski on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. The pilot had just disembarked and the ship resumed her journey to Liverpool. The lights of a steam ship had been sighted nearby. Both ships became hidden in a heavy fog bank. Fog whistles on both ships began blowing regularly. Suddenly the SS Storstad, a Norwegian steamer, crashed into the side of the Empress causing severe damage below the waterline.

At the time of the collision the Empress carried 1,477 passengers and crew. Most of the passengers were asleep at the time of the accident. Within 14 minutes the ship sank. Only 465 persons survived. The death toll was 1,012 (840 passengers and 172 crew). Tragically 134 of those who perished were children.

Removing bodies of children from rescue/recovery ship at Quebec. Photo: Library of Congress, Public Domain

Removing bodies of children from rescue/recovery ship at Quebec. Photo: Library of Congress, Public Domain

The wreck lies at the relatively shallow depth of 130 feet (40 metres) and is accessible to skilled divers. Over the years many artifacts have been salvaged. Shortly after the accident salvage crews recovered 318 bags of mail and 212 bars of silver.

In 1999 the Canadian government designated the wreck a National Historic Site and it is now protected from further salvage.

On May 29, 2014 Canada Post  issued stamps to commemorate the sinking and loss of life. Numerous memorial services are planned to remember those who died in the sinking.

The Empress played a significant part in Canadian history. It made 95 trans-Atlantic crossing and carried over 120,000 immigrants to Canada. Many of these people settled in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba and contributed to the development of the West.

The sinking is still considered the worst maritime disaster in Canadian history.

References for more information:

Maritime Museum of Quebec

Library & Archives of Canada

The Empress of Ireland (Facebook)

Merseyside Maritime Museum (Liverpool, UK)

 

 


Extreme speed + extreme stupidity

July 16, 2013
Image

No problem with speeding in these days.

Speeding at extreme speeds, more than 30 km/h over the limit, has become a serious problem in the Province of Alberta. These individuals not only put their own lives at risk, but those of others. A couple of examples will serve to illustrate this stupidity.

In the first example police stopped a black Mercedes SUV (sport utility vehicle) for speeding. Nothing unusual about that you say. Well in this case they ticketed the individual for driving more than 50 km/h (30 mph) over the posted speed limit. They clocked the SUV at 152 km/h (94 mph) in a 100 km/h (60 mph) zone.

The road in question is paved, but runs through a farming area with lots of intersections. At the time of the infraction police cited poor weather conditions, heavy fog and light rain with snow on the road.

Taking all this into account it seems to me this driver was being extremely foolish. Being foolish with their own life would be bad enough, but in this case even more so. Riding in the vehicle at the time was a father, his wife, with three children of theirs, and another child. The children were between the ages of four and 11. The driver was the father.

Next we have a man ticketed for driving his car at 180 km/h (112 mph) in a 100 km/h (60 mph) zone. Again it was on a paved secondary highway, but with lots of intersections and hills. In this case no one else was in the vehicle except the male driver. His excuse? He had just washed his car and was drying it off. Needless to say police weren’t sympathic. For this he received a $800 fine and a 45-day driving suspension.

What will it take to pound some sense into the brains of these drivers? Right now the penalty for driving more than 50 km/h (30 mph) over the posted limit is a heavy fine, driving suspension and demerit points. The ticketed drivers also must appear in court before a judge. They are not allowed to plead and mail the fine in as with an ordinary speeding ticket. Hopefully, it won’t take a horrific accident with multiple innocent lives loss before action is taken.


Glenn Miller – Another Mysterious Disappearance

February 10, 2010

On December 15, 1944 Glenn Miller took off in a light plane from England to entertain troops in France. The weather at the time was atrocious and he was told to wait, but he said the troops needed him. He disappeared somewhere over the English Channel. No trace of him or his plane have ever been found. He was only 40 years old.

Glenn Miller was arguably the greatest Big Band leader of the era. His music was the anthem of the 1940’s. Girls swooned and men cheered his band’s sound. It was like rock and roll today.

During the Second World War he and his band volunteered to travel to the war zone and entertain the troops. They also traveled all over the United States building morale and selling War Bonds.

His story was told in the 1953 movie, “The Glenn Miller Story”, starring James Stewart.

On this day in 1942 he was awarded the first ever Gold Record for selling 1.2 million copies of “Chattanooga Choo Choo”. Other great songs include, “In the Mood”, “Moonlight Serenade”, and “Pennsylvania 6-5000”.

The United States Postal Service issued a stamp in 1996 honoring him. It is shown below.


Amelia Earhart – What Really Happened to Her?

January 29, 2010

1963 U.S. Airmail Stamp for Amelia

Amelia Earhart was the most famous female aviator of her time, and arguably one of the most famous people of her era as well. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and only the second person to do so. Amelia was the first person to fly across the Pacific from Hawaii to San Francisco. She also set many speed and distance record for flying during the 1930’s.

She was attempting to fly around the world in 1937 when she vanished in the Pacific Ocean around the Phoenix group of islands.

With a major motion picture coming out called “Amelia” starring Richard Gere and Hillary Swank (as Amelia), I thought it would be interesting to speculate on one of the world’s greatest mysteries.

Her plane, navigator Fred Noonan, and Amelia disappeared on July 2, 1937 while attempting to land on Howland Island for refueling. Radio contact was maintained, albeit one-sided until the end. Amelia’s signal could be heard, but she wasn’t receiving radio transmissions. An extensive ground and air search was undertaken by the US Navy at FDR’s request. No trace was ever found of her or her plane.

There are two main schools of thought on what happened to her. The first is that she landed on Gardner Island SSE of Howland. This is an uninhabited coral atoll well out of the shipping lands and with no source of fresh water. The theory is she and Fred survived the landing and lived for a couple of months, then succumbed. In 1940 traces of someone’s camp and bones were found. Further archeological digs have been done on the island, but no direct evidence or smoking gun have been found. This theory maintains the Lockheed Electra she was flying broke up and pieces washed out to sea or were scavaged by local natives. Again no direct evidence supports this.

The other theory and more likely one is that the plane and its passengers ran out of fuel and ditched at sea in 17.000 feet of deep Pacific water. Deep sidescan sonar searches are done yearly to cover an area the size of Rhode Island in trying to find the plane. These searchers believe that eventually they will be successful, and that it’s only a matter of time.

There was also a theory she and Fred were captured by the Japanese, tortured and killed. Research by American and Japanese experts have disproved this one. No partial or direct evidence exists to support this. It is pure speculation, and highly unlikely.

Will one of the world’s greatest mysteries ever be solved? Stay tuned.


Look Out For That Car!

February 6, 2008

walksignal.gifI read recently the very first “DON’T WALK” sign for pedestrians was installed February 5, 1952 in New York City. This was done because of the dramatic increase in pedestrian fatalities on the busy streets of the city. Today these are in widespread use throughout the world. The greatest chance for a pedestrian to get injured or killed is in a town or city. I can certainly attest to that as I live in one.

In Canada statistics compiled by Transport Canada for the 10-year period between 1992 and 2001 show some interesting things about accidents between pedestrians and motor vehicles. (These are the most recent statistics available.)

  • Pedestrian fatalities averaged 416 per year and decreased 24.1 percent over the 10-year period.
  • Pedestrian injuries averaged 14,252 per year and decreased 10.2 percent from 1992 to 2001.
  • Overall males represented 61 percent of pedestrian fatalities while females accounted for 39 percent of fatalities.
  • The 65+ age group accounted for 27 percent and 39 percent of male and female pedestrian fatalities, respectively. Over the period, male fatalities over 64 years old decreased 12.7 percent and over 64 year old female fatalities decreased 30.4 percent.
  • Pedestrian fatalities decreased 24.1 percent compared to a decrease of 20.7 percent for all road users including pedestrians.
  • Pedestrian fatalities were down 20 percent among males and down 30 percent among females. 
  • Pedestrian fatalities in urban areas represented 69.5 percent of all pedestrian fatalities over the 10 years. 
  • For pedestrians over 64 years of age, 85 percent of the fatalities occurred in an urban area.
  • Pedestrian injuries dropped 10 percent – decreases of 13 percent in male injuries and 7 percent in female injuries, while all road user injuries decreased 11.5 percent. 
  • An average of 95 percent of pedestrian injuries occurred in urban areas.
  • From 1992 to 2001, a total of 4,162 pedestrians died from injuries suffered in collisions with motor vehicles and 142,515 were injured.
  • The report finds that the 65+ age group accounts for the greatest number of fatalities. This is a cause for concern because that age group is rapidly increasing every year. A key finding of the report related to this group:
  • Most pedestrian fatalities in the 65+ age group occurred in urban areas (85 percent) and most occurred at intersections. The report doesn’t give a reason for more accidents within this age demographic.

Here are some pedestrians that I have noticed and wonder why more of them aren’t run over:

– iPOD listeners
– cell phone talkers
– skateboarders
– men eyeing pretty women oblivious to everything else
– women who like to put on make-up on the run
– avid readers who insist on turning pages on the run.

pedestrian-signal2-01.jpgSadly these pedestrian encounters with motor vehicles are preventable. So when walking in the city, keep your eyes open and your head up. Stop looking at that pretty girl, and for heavens sake pay attention to other things when you’re chattering away on that cell.

Statistics Source:
Transport Canada, Fact Sheet TP 2436E, RS-2004-01E, December 2004, Pedestrian Fatalities and Injuries, 1992-2001


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