The communities of the Drumheller Valley were built upon the industrious mines. However, mysterious events are abound in the history of mining in the valley.
One of the most tragic mine accidents occurred at the Monarch Mine #1573 on June 24, 1941.
While digging the initial tunnel for the mine, several workers, John Waters, Chris Bezenus, and Robert Taylor, were caught in a methane explosion.
A rescue party from he nearby Atlas Coal Mine #1484 fell victim to poisonous gases. Harry Crowder, Mine Manager, died as a result of breathing the toxic carbon monoxide fumes.
Recorded in the accident notes is something that defies explanation and happened right before the rescue team from the Atlas Mine left to aid the miners at the Monarch Mine.
A wife of one of the workers at the Monarch Mine was at home taking a nap in the afternoon and awoke to the sound of someone calling her name. She went to her neighbours and asked if anyone had been looking for her, but no one had.
“She had this terrible feeling that there had been an explosion,” said Jay Russell, Program Director at the Atlas Coal Mine. The wife ran down to Atlas Mine and swore to the Crowder that there had been an accident.
“Around that time the explosion was definitely heard,” said Russell. “I don’t know if she had heard an explosion and this was a secondary explosion, but at that point it was obvious that something had happened.
“What defies explanation is the wife, waking up from a nap, and having a premonition of an explosion,” added Russell.
Adding to the mysterious nature of the mines were several random discoveries of deceased miners.
“Any accident would have an inquiry to find out what happened,” explained Russell.
The official cause of death for the men was heart attack, although two of the men were in their early twenties, which is perhaps too early to suffer a cardiac arrest.
Not much else is known because the deaths occurred when the miners were working alone.
Not all of the bizarre events ended in tragedy. Lives were spared many times from the occasional cave in.
Animal intuition has a history of trumping the senses of humans and the lives of some coal miners were owed to the ponies they used to haul loads of coal.
One of the more famous ponies at the Atlas Coal Mine was named Strawberry. “She was often given to the new drivers because she knew more about the job than the new guys did,” explained Russell.
A new, young driver was given Strawberry for the day and given the task of taking a cart underground. They came to a doorway in the mine and Strawberry stopped dead in her tracks.
Coaxing, bribery using carrots, and pushing would not move Strawberry. “He finally had enough, he thought that the guys were pulling a prank on him giving him a difficult pony,” said Russell.
Dejected, the driver unhooked Strawberry, brought her to the other side of the cart, hooked her up, and began the ascent out.
No sooner than they had left, the area where Strawberry had stopped collapsed.
“The kid realized that the pony had sensed the danger before he had,” said Russell. “From that point on the kid wanted to use Strawberry.”
The mines could be dangerous and plenty of mysteries permeate their records. Most will unfortunately remain unsolved.