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Darkest chapter of World War I written in Munson railway

    When war was declared on Germany in 1914 and 1939, the first and second World Wars, Canadians went overseas and witnessed the horrors of war first hand.
    At home Canadians worked hard to support the war efforts. However, even those who stayed in Canada were not immune to the atrocities committed in the wars.
    On August 4, 1914, the Canadian parliament passed the War Measures Act. The legislation granted the government emergency powers that allowed them to suspend civil liberties. The War Measures Act has only been invoked three times: during World Wars I and II, and the October Crisis in 1970.
    In World War I those persons classified as “enemy aliens” were the target of the act. Those labelled as enemy aliens were persons of nationalities that Canada, and the Allies, had declared war upon, such as Austria, Germany, Hungary, and Ukraine.
    The nationalities mentioned were forced to register with local authorities. Enemy aliens were banned from carrying weapons, leaving the country without permission, reading or publishing material in languages other than English and French, and had to check in with local authorities on a regular basis. It is estimated that roughly 70,000 people, mostly Ukrainians, registered.
    The Drumheller area has records of such persecution taking place. A mine strike in early 1918 had some blame attributed to the enemy aliens who worked in the mines.
    In July of 1918 John Baluk was fined $50, a large sum during that time, for simply travelling to Calgary without permission. Mike Furnick was fined the same in July of 1919 for failing to report to authorities for his regular check in.
    Charles and John Marks, two Germans, were arrested and sent to jail in May of 1919 for the possession of firearms and for making “comments of a revolutionary nature”. There was some suspicion by the authorities and media that the two, who had recently arrived from Winnipeg, were sent to cause agitation and spread propaganda amongst the labour force here.
    Unfortunately the situation was even darker. Of the 70,000 who registered, it is estimated that nearly 9000 were sent to internment camps. Most were single males and generally poor. However, a few women and children went as well. The property of the internees was confiscated as well.
    Internees were not imprisoned for any treasonous activity, only for their nationality and as a source of cheap labour. Arrest records indicate that some were sent to internment camps for their skills. A Ukrainian carpenter who helped build one of the camps was arrested simply because the camp wanted a carpenter.
    Twenty six camps were spread throughout the country. Internees were generally forced to do hard labour. One of these camps briefly operated in Munson from October 13, 1918, to February 25, 1919. Roughly 65 internees were present.
    Unfortunately records are scarce as to what exactly took place in the Munson camp. Many of the records were deliberately destroyed afterwards. The only coverage in the papers during that time simply reported that enemy aliens were being held in Munson and were working on the C.N. railway, local agriculture, and mines.
    Conditions in the Munson camp were deplorable. During the long work day internees were forced to do hard labour and were later locked in railway cars during the night. It is doubtful that internees were remotely comfortable, as it is difficult to imagine that a steel railway car would provide much insulation from the frigid prairie winter.
    In late February the internment camp at Munson took to the rails and went to Eaton, Saskatchewan. It is ambiguous as to why the camp moved, but the flu pandemic and unrest amongst the internees are believed to have been the causes. Eventually the internees ended up in Nova Scotia where they were deported.
    The unjust internment of so many during World War I is now formally recognized by the Canadian government as of 2005. In 2008 and 2009 funding has been provided by the federal government to projects that commemorate the experiences of those who suffered internment during World War I.
    Internment and persecution of enemy aliens is one of the darkest chapters of Canada’s participation in World War I. Sadly, a small part of that chapter was written on the rails near Munson.


Memories of heroism live on in the Drumheller Valley

    The first half of the 20th century was rocked by two of the deadliest wars ever to have been fought.
    On July 28, 1914, the major powers in Europe and the world were drawn in to The Great War, later known as World War I. The catalyst for the war was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, but imperialistic foreign policies and a complex network of treaties in Europe were the underlying causes.
    World War II began on September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Resentment of the Treaty of Versailles and intense nationalism in Germany led to the Second World War.
    In both wars the United Kingdom swiftly declared war on Germany. Thus, Canada, a member of the British Commonwealth, was brought in to the massive conflicts.
    Men from the Drumheller Valley, a still young community, bravely enlisted to go overseas.
    The first volunteer in World War I was W. S. Cameron, who joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps in late 1914, and was drafted to the Eight Field Ambulance Unit in 1916.
    Willard Sandercock, a prominent lawyer in Drumheller for 49 years enlisted. In August of 1915, he journeyed to France as a Staff Sergeant the Cavalry Ambulance, and later as a Lieutenant in the 9th Field Battery, 10th Brigade.
    Lt. Sandercock returned home after being injured by a shell in October, 1918.  After the war, he enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow veterans and regaling anyone who would listen with tales from the war.
    Many miners enlisted as well and, because of their mining experience, were given the role of sappers. “They knew how to dig and knew about explosives,” said Linda Digby, Director of the Atlas Coal Mine.
    Sappers, otherwise known as combat engineers, have a wide variety of duties, but generally are known for being experts at demolishing enemy fortifications. In World War I, sappers had the hazardous job of digging a tunnel from their own trench to below the enemy, placing explosives, and detonating them.

    In World War II, Drumheller once again rose to aid the Allies, both on the field and off. Once again many men wished to go overseas to fight against the aggression of the Axis powers.
    “So many wanted to but weren’t allowed,” said Digby. “They were miners and that was considered important work.”
    Coal was vital to the war effort and the mines in the valley were producing record tonnage of coal. Mines were hiring new miners as fast as they arrived in town. Miners were able to work all they wanted and make the money they had dreamed of when they first came to the valley.
    Lorraine Patrick, son of Dr. Omar Patrick and owner of the Atlas Coal Mine at the time, was given the rank of Brigadier and was in Ottawa during the war as an advisor for industrial efficiency.
    The Ladies Auxiliary to the Royal Canadian Legion was also active during World War II. The ladies would visit wounded veterans and send care packages containing hand knitted garments and various other items to soldiers.
    Many of those who went overseas to fight in the wars were sadly never to return.
    Alfred James Briggs fought in World War I. He survived the fighting and moved from England to Drumheller in 1919. Briggs worked as a fireboss until March 1940 when he decided to journey out to Montreal and enlist in the Merchant Navy. A year later Briggs was lost at sea.
    The heroism of all those who fought and continue to fight will live on in the hearts of the nation. On Remembrance Day, November 11, we pause to respect their noble sacrifice.

Mine rescue teams have a history of heroism

    Most of the families that flocked to the Drumheller Valley during the early part of the 20th century came to make a living off the booming coal mining industry. Miners put on their equipment and were thrust in to the dark, cramped confines of the mines.
    However, the mines were filled with danger. Toxic gases  could silently subdue miners or flammable fumes and the coal itself could cause an explosion from the smallest of sparks.
    Unfortunately the mines were not completely safe, but to aid miners in trouble, the mine rescue teams bravely put their lives on the line to help those in need.
    There were many mine rescue teams present in the Drumheller Valley. To be a part of mine rescue there were a couple skills you needed. First, was being certified for first aid. Secondly, you had to give up an evening or Sunday  every week to attend mine rescue practice.
    One of the most famous and tragic instances of mine rescue occurred at the Monarch Mine on July 27, 1941, as detailed in the previous installment of Stories of the Century. While attempting to rescue three miners, Harry Crowder succumbed to toxic gases and perished in a valiant attempt to help the Monarch miners.
    Another of the biggest tragedies to befall mining in the Valley was the explosion at the Thomas Coal Mine in Nacmine on June 18, 1934.
    It was mine rescue, under the supervision of Jack Hooks, who undertook the grisly and dangerous task of investigating what had happened to the miners who were caught in the mine during the blast.
    The rescue team found the bodies of Ivor Jones, Alex McLeod, and Hugh McDougall. McDougall and McLeod were closest to the explosion along with William Thomas and Louis Auger who survived. Jones was furthest away.
    Jones is a paramount example of the heroism that it took to risk yourself to help your fellow miners.
    Jones rushed to the aid of the four others and was twice overcome by gas inhalation. J. Thomson and two other miners who heard the explosion and came to offer aid dragged Jones back to safety each time.
    The gas was slowly overtaking the three men who came down to help realized they could not hold out much longer and they retreated before it was too late. Jones persisted and perished in an effort to save his fellow miners.
    Not all rescue attempts ended in tragedy and many lives were saved as a result of the heroic efforts of the mine rescue teams.
    A bizarre incident occurred at the Atlas #3 in 1951.
    A rockfall buried Joseph Gyoerick, 37, who was a timberman at the mine. Rockfalls were not rare in the mining business and mine rescue was called to extricate Gyoerick from his earthen prison.
    When mine rescue reached Gyoerick they thought he had perished under the debris and subsequently sent him to the morgue.
    The next day was quite a shock to Gyoerick as he found himself in the morgue, alive and confused as to what happened. He did need several back surgeries as a result of the accident, but, thanks to mine rescue, lived until to the age of 76, which just over doubled his lifespan from his first “death”.
    Mine rescue could not always make it to the scene of an accident and to the average miner, the nearest co-worker was the closest aid to be found.
    Eric Houghton, a motorman at the Atlas Coal Mine was checking on the cars he was hauling, whilst walking on top of them, when he slipped on the hitch of the last car. He fell with his legs over the mine tracks.
    Houghton couldn’t move in time to avoid an incoming train and the coal cars ran over his legs and then pinned his legs to his chest which prevented him from breathing.
    Abe, the brakeman, and the Fireboss rushed to Houghton’s aid and were able to lift the coal cars away and pull Houghton to safety, although there was still a long road to recovery.
    The mines could be dangerous. The records are full of accounts of accidents, rockfalls, and the occasional explosion. It was a blessing that the miners had the heroic mine rescue teams and each other to watch their backs and help when lives were on the line.