It seems the Mining Centennial here in Drumheller has been grabbing attention across the province. A float in the Calgary Stampede Parade, stories appearing in a number of daily papers, and Lawrence Chrismas’ photo-book, Coal in the Valley spent two weeks of June in the Calgary Herald’s bestsellers list.
This is Lawrence’s fifth book about old time and contemporary coal miners.
“Drumheller, I’ve always maintained, has had a mystique about it for a number of reasons, but one is the history,” says Chrismas. “I think it’s a combination of the landscape, I think it’s the sense of history in the river valley. I would argue that it’s the people who are really the most interesting. It’s really hard to put your finger on it, but I’ve met so many people who are ordinary Joes who have worked their life farming or on the railway. But it’s the miners that are particularly special.”
Chrismas says the book captures that mystique through their words during extensive interviews. He’d condense it down to bring out favourable traits of his subjects.
“I wasn’t interested in exploring the negative side of it the Union problems or how the conditions were terrible. I didn’t draw it out. Quite often when I’m compiling their stories down to accompany the photographs, I avoid that.”
The left-behinds of the mining industry are the subject matter for his stunning black and white photos – the men and women have grown old and tired in the mining shacks they still cling to. Some of the conditions captured are comparable to scenes one would imagine being the Ozarks, yet their weathered faces appear strong and hopeful.
“I get a tremendous response from the cover photograph. You see him and it’s a neat old guy, but you read the story and think, ‘Wow, he was a professional baseball player in the summer, worked into his late 70s, and he loved mining.’ That’s where I come from.”
Chrismas says sales of Coal in the Valley have been good so far, but it takes a considerable amount of sales to break even in the book business.
He says it’s worth it to be able to contribute to this historical year for Drumheller.
“I really felt good about that. I’m very partial to the Drumheller valley.”
Coal in the Valley has led to a new coal mining project for Chrismas. He’s been asked to document Yale, B.C. and their mining history.