“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
This past week marked one of the greatest tragedies in Canadian mining history. On June 19, 1914 a terrible explosion took place in the Hillcrest mine in the Crowsnest Pass killing 189 of the 237 coal miners who went down into the mine on that fateful morning. Ninety women became widows and hundreds of children lost their fathers in a matter of minutes, taking nearly 20 percent of the population of Hillcrest to their graves.
This is only one of many tragedies that have fallen on coal mining towns throughout Alberta and Canada. Less than four years previous the Pass had witnessed the loss of 31 miners in a similar explosion in the Bellevue mine and the loss of 90 residents in the Frank Slide in 1903 – all three tragedies took 310 lives within a radius of five miles, all within a period of a little over eleven years.
It is important for us to remember and commemorate the lives of those who just in doing their daily routines, making a living to support their families are sacrificed through no fault of their own. These tragic losses are only marginally different than those brave soldiers who are sacrificed in armed conflict or those members of our protective services who fall in the line of duty.
To commemorate these losses and the tragic events that have taken them from us is to learn from our history as well as to pay respect. Events of this nature, whether it be the Hillcrest Mine Disaster one hundred years ago, the First World War which incidentally commenced a mere two months after Hillcrest, or the three members of the RCMP who were recently gunned down in Moncton two weeks ago, are important, especially for our youth who have not had the misfortune to have lived through those times.
The Hillcrest events included a commemorative funeral procession led by horse drawn carriages and a solemn cemetery commemoration, book signings, unveiling of historic walking tour signs, the dedication of a memorial piece of artwork, a tour of the Hillcrest mine site and many other commemorative activities.
May we remember them.
Ken Allred is a former St. Albert alderman and MLA.