Drumheller Heroes | DrumhellerMail - Page #3
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Jozsef Orosz builds life in the valley

    Fred Orosz shares the story of his father, Joe a man with a strong back and a will to work. He built a life for his family in the valley.

    Joe was born in a small mining village in Hungary, two weeks after his father was killed in a coal mine, April of 1906. Growing up without a breadwinner for the family was a struggle.
    Dropping out of school after Grade Three, his grandfather as much as sold him into an apprenticeship, to a shop where he was trained as a wheel maker. The term of the apprenticeship was 10 years. In 1925, at the age of 19, he was given his trade papers.
Three years later, in 1928, Joe borrowed $200 from his grandfather and bought a ticket from Canadian Pacific Ship Line to Canada, final stop, Lethbridge, Alberta.
    Joe was taken in by a farm family, where the father worked in a mine in Shaughnessy, just outside Lethbridge. He was taken down the mine and was taught the basics, so he was able to pass the oral and practical test, to obtain his mining certificate in 1930.
    Joe worked in mines around Lethbridge, and Nordegg before moving to Wayne in 1937. A group of miners’ wives determined that, at the age of 32, it was time Joe was married. To that end, one evening he was summoned to a house, where he was shown six pictures of available potential wives, and it was suggested he choose one. The choice resulted in a marriage in Rabbit Lake, Sask.
    They had only met each other three times before the wedding and Mary Balazsi was only 15. The union produced two sons, Albert in 1942, and Alfred in 1943. [Fact: Though, Father Joseph and Mother Mary had a son born Dec 24, Alfred is no holy man.]
    In 1945, Joe moved his family to Nacmine, where he was the 12th miner taken on at the Commander Mine. Joe bought a two room miner’s shack for $150.00, and began renovating the shack to accommodate his family: 1946, porch, 1954 living room, bedroom for the boys, and 1968 bathroom and laundry room. All materials for renovating came from Crown Lumber, or N.B. Vickers, on credit, or what ever could be used, or bought from the midnight C.P.R. box car store, [grain doors] was used in the house.
    1954 brought a family break up. Joe’s wife left in March. The resulting divorce forced the boys to be made Wards of the Court, and sent to St. Mary’s Home for boys in Edmonton. At the end of June, the boys came home, and never went back, as Joe was given sole custody.
    Life was hard for Joe, but his cooking skills kept everyone fed. A neighbour Mrs. Anderson stepped up to the task and gave as much mothering as she could, and her daughter was a sister to the boys.
    As long as the light came on atop the tipple, to call Joe to work, he worked hard, and raised his boys with a firm hand.
    In 1956, Joe bought a 1948 Fargo truck, and went five times to get his licence. In 1957, he upgraded to a 1956 Fargo, and in 1958, Joe bought the first new Rambler that Sparky’s Auto Service sold.
    Mining was slowing down, and the Commander closed. Joe worked in East Coulee, then Carbon, and finally had to go back to Lethbridge, where, in 1963 he was given a pension of $120 a month by the union, as there were no more mines to work in.
    Joe had to adjust his lifestyle to live on a very small income. With the boys now gone, Joe did the things he knew best: planting a great and productive garden.
    One of his best crops was poppy seeds, yes the opium poppy, as a great part of his diet included poppy seed buns, and poppy seed noodles.
    In 1969, Joe spotted a motorbike, for $400, at the Supper Shell, and he made a deal with Don Dart and Dick Smeal. With the help of his son Fred, he learned to ride, and rode the bike in the summer months for 20 years, until at the age of 86 he had an accident, running into a car.
    As luck would have it, instead of being charged with several offences, his driver’s licence was revoked. He now was a customer of the Handi Bus, as he had broken a leg in the accident.
    At the age of 89 Joe took a room in the Sunshine Lodge, where he enjoyed the rest of his time. Joe died from a stroke at the age of 92, March 1999.


Historian of the community

    The Drumheller Valley possesses a remarkable history. Whether you’re looking at millions of years written in the rocks or the towns that have grown in the last 100 years the stories are fascinating.
    The history of the towns in the valley is recorded in the minds of residents, in journals, diaries, The Drumheller Mail, and in the gigantic The Valley of the Dinosaurs: Its Families and Coal Mines, written by Ernest Hlady.
    Ernest John Hlady was born on April 17, 1922, in Edmonton. Soon after, in 1923, his parents, Bill and Rosey, moved to Aerial, then Willow Creek, and settled in East Coulee in 1927. Bill initially operated a coal cutting machine at the Star Coal Mine and then went into business as the owner of the Atlas Cash & Trading Store.
    Ernest went to school until 1939, when he dropped out. He had only reached Grade 11.
    After quitting school  Ernest worked in the Atlas Coal Mine. He initially was in the tipple dabbing red paint on the coal, quickly rose to a pusher, electrician and mechanics helper, and by 1949 was the youngest machine boss in Alberta.
    In 1942 Ernest wed Marion Clarke Armstrong, and had five children, Beverly Anne, Carol Janet, Alana Rose, Ronald Ernest, and Garry Robert.
    Ernest was in charge of a crew of eight and oversaw maintenance and the relocation of equipment from the Atlas Coal Mine to the new mine site on the prairies.
      When the coal mine let go of most of Ernest’s assistants, leaving him and one assistant to look after all maintenance, Ernest decided to look elsewhere for work.
    In 1956, the Hladys moved to Edmonton and Ernest attempted to find work as an electrician. However, a series of tragedies put the Hladys in a dire situation.
    In 1957, both of Ernest’s parents died within a month of each other, and Ernest was out of work for 10 months, recovering from a spinal injury. Ernest was unable to pay for the house and eviction was looming over the family.
    The generosity of a friend saved them and Ernest’s back recovered.
    Soon, Ernest was back to work supervising the wiring of residential construction in several neighbourhoods being developed at the time in Edmonton.
    In 1960 Ernest travelled north to aid in the construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, the series of radar stations that would warn of Soviet attack. When Beverly Anne was to be married, Ernest went home to Edmonton and remained there working at a steel mill.
    Arthritis began to plague Ernest’s knees in the 1970s and by 1979 he could no longer work. Surgery on his legs compounded the issue and guaranteed that Ernest was retired.
    This gave Ernest the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong passion. Ernest was always interested in anthropology, the study of man and culture.
    For eight years Ernest researched, wrote, and edited the material that would be published in The Valley of the Dinosaurs: Its Families and Coal Mines, perhaps one of the most significant chronicles of the history of the Drumheller Valley.
    The colossal book, published in 1988, is not necessarily a chronicle of what happened and when; it is rather an extraordinary collection of the stories of the families that made the area home and the coal mines that fueled the growth of the community.
    Ernest passed away in 1998. His passion for the history of the valley lives on.

Businessman, farmer, politician, and, most importantly, family man

    In 1911 it took considerable courage to leave home to settle in the harsh badlands of Alberta and like many of the intrepid settlers who came to call the Valley home, this man was no exception. 
    Born in 1884 near Kingsville, Ontario, Nels B. Vickers lived alongside his five brothers and four sisters at the family farm.
    At sixteen he began working at a hardware store, and then as a brakeman for Michigan Central railway.
    In 1910 his brother Howard moved to Verdant Valley and started a farm. He soon wrote to Nels insisting they should open a hardware store in what would become Drumheller.
    In 1911, with his wife Bertha and one month old daughter Margaret in tow, Nels made the journey out west. They took the train to Calgary and then proceeded by wagon the rest of the way. Upon arriving near the Greentree homestead Nels tore up his return ticket.
    Nels and Howard opened their store, Vickers Brothers, and it prospered. Nels was in charge of the store, while Howard continued farming. Two years later Howard sold his share in the store and it was renamed N.B. Vickers Ltd.
    The business supplied a wide variety of items, including groceries, hardware, crockery, sporting goods, furniture, and even coal oil.
    Business was primarily from local farmers, native Americans, and the miners as they began to pour into the Valley.
    The store became not just a place to purchase goods, but was one of the early social hubs. Friends and neighbours would huddle around the stove on a cold day or around the cookie barrel any other day. The radio would attract large crowds to the store during large events, such as championship fights.
    Nels was also keen on keeping current on the latest technologies. The first telephone was installed in 1912 and two years later the first switchboard.
    In response to the rise of the automobile Nels opened the first Ford dealership in Alberta. Store deliveries were made by a truck instead of horses. The dealership was eventually sold to Charlie Longmate in 1919.
    By the early 1940s the store had increased in size nearly tenfold, becoming the largest store between Calgary and Saskatoon.
    Nels’ determination to run his business was legendary.
    In 1913, as business was growing, farmers and miners began to have accounts with the store, because they could not afford to pay. This led to complications with suppliers, who demanded cash. A receiver from Calgary took the keys to the store and closed it up. Nels did not give up and rode on horseback to explain the situation and collect money from account holders. Soon after the store was his again.
    When the Great Depression struck the store soldiered on. Prices were reduced on goods and large amounts of credit were extended to customers. The store nearly went under.  
    Between 1937 and 1941 the store burned down twice. Each time the store was rebuilt.
    In 1946 Nels purchased a farm by the Horseshoe Canyon and became interested in full time farming. His time at his farm gradually increased and he developed a herd of Hereford cattle.
    In 1952 the grocery side of the business was separated. In 1961, its 50th anniversary, N.B. Vickers Ltd. was sold to Ashdown’s Hardware.
    Not only was Nels a prominent businessman in the Drumheller Valley, he was deeply involved in the community.
    When Drumheller officially became a town in 1916, Nels was one of the first councillors.
    He was one of the charter members of the Drumheller Rotary Club, which built the first swimming pool in town. He was also a member of both the Masons Symbol Lodge A.F. & A.M. and the Shriners Al Azhar Temple.
    Nels also was an avid hunter. He served as president of the Fish and Game Association and helped to introduce pheasants to the Drumheller Valley.
    As the business grew so did Nels’ family. Aside from his daughter Margaret who made the long trek with him, Nels had two sons with Bertha.
    Bruce was born in 1913 above the store. Bruce would take charge of the grocery store that split from N.B. Vickers Ltd. in 1952. Bruce and wife Sena Rodseth had four children, Don, Doug, Robert, and Richard.
    In 1920 Blake arrived in the family.  Blake would help his father in the hardware store until 1961 and would afterwards become a partner on the farm. Blake married Jenny Serkownak and they had five children, Billy, Nelson, Mary, Jack, and Joan.
    Bertha, who had been by Nels’ side since 1910, passed away in 1924. Six years later Nels married again to Nellie Whitacre from Iowa.
    Only a year after the business he had helmed for fifty years was sold, Nels passed away on September 3, 1962.
    Nels Vickers embodied the spirit that helped Drumheller  to grow and thrive. His charity, which saw many families through the hard times of the Great Depression, his love of the community, and his determination serve as an inspiration to those who inhabit the Valley today. 


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