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John Charles Brenton and
Minnie Ollwen Roberts Brenton

Our Treasured Heritage-
A History of Coalhurst and District
Pages 273 - 275
by Betty Brenton

Father Time always plays havoc with the memories of sixty years ago. In addition to information on the
Brenton Family, I will ramble on and add bits and pieces of our life in Coalhurst which I hope you will find interesting.

The Brenton Family:
Dad..... John Charles, born in Edmonton in 1889.
Mother..... Minnie Ollwen Roberts, born in London, England in 1890, died 1954.
Brother . . . David John, born 1914 and died in 1959.
Sister . . . Edith Gwedoline, born 1915 died in 1977.
Two other living daughters.

Dad was working for inadequate wages in Edmonton when he was offered the job as engineer at the Coal Producers mine at Coalhurst. He arrived by train only to find that the Union was on strike and if he worked he would be looked upon as a scab. However, he had no money, so had no choice but to work. As soon as a company house was available, Mom brought us down on the train, along with her brother, in May of 1922.

Early Memories:
The first four room house; the smell of homemade bread, clothes being scrubbed on a board in the wash tub; bath taken in same; coal and wood burning in the cook stove and heater; the wind up gramophone; uncles playing their mouth organs; John pulling my sister and I in a wagon, or apple box on a sleigh, up to the post office for the mail; spending our Saturday nickel for candy at Willis's; or, ice cream cones and sandwiches as a treat; paddling in the slough of water that gathered between the houses and the outhouses. Later, a ditch was dug to drain the water away east of the dump. When a three bedroom house was available, we moved into it. At one time there was a skating rink between us and the dump and a change room.

The school was east of us and the west wind blew fumes and smoke from the dump in through the windows often making people sick. The old school was cut in half and moved west and north of the last row of houses. They built a school east of it when it started in 1926. The teachers were dedicated and hard working. There were parties in each room at Christmas, Valentine's, etc. and sports day on July 1. There were weeks of work after school hours preparing for the Christmas concerts in the Community Hall. (This hall was also used for 'movies' brought out on Monday nights by A. W. Shackleford and "D" the tailor from Lethbridge.) Our school years were happy ones for us, but one awful day we had a blinding, whiteout blizzard. The blizzard was so severe that one of the high school boys lost his life trying to get to school. That was a sad day for us.

We were fortunate that Dad always had work as the machines were kept working to make electricity for the town whether coal was being mined or not. He bought a model T ford and took us to Victoria in it in 1925. The roads and bridges were primitive because the car couldn't quite make the hill without help. The trip took six days with the car in a garage for repairs every night. Later we had an open Buick and went to Portland, Oregon in 1928. We had a 'closed in' Buick when we went to Seattle in 1930. We visited every power house on the way! Dad loved fishing and picnic's; we went to river bottoms or mountains nearly every Sunday that it didn't rain or snow. Our good friends, the Mellings, often came with us, as did the Langstons and others. Dr. lnkrote was the town doctor and a wonderful person. John contracted scarlet fever and the rest of us four followed, one at a time. Dr. Inkrote quarantined us; groceries were ordered and left on the front step. Dad and our uncles had to move in with the neighbours, the Pikes. The doctor was more than relieved that no one else caught the disease. Later, John had rheumatic fever with all its aches and pains. Dr. Inkrote later married and I remember the chivaree when all the kids would gather outside the home beating pans with sticks until the bridegroom would come out and give everyone a nickel to go away! He had no children. He lived across the street from us and kept bloodhounds. When the mine whistle blew at twelve noon, one P.M. and even P.M. etc. these dogs would howl and our cat would scurry under the couch.

There were large wooden boxes in the back lanes where the water pipes came up out of the ground. Inside the box was straw to keep the pipes from freezing in the cold weather. The tap came out on the south side and you could reach through a hole in the box and push down a lever to get water. When you attached the garden hose, you would put a stick up against the top of the box to hold down the lever and keep the water running. With this arrangement, we could fill a large wooden barrel in the house. The barrel was kept in John's room as it was the only place available for it. John developed an awful cough, the doctor figured it was caused from the dampness and prescribed that John sleep in the tent outside from spring until autumn. I think we had water piped into the house then.

John was a born engineer, always taking things apart. He worked hard, delivering morning and evening papers, selling magazines and Gold medal Seeds, etc. He chopped wood for the lady teachers, greased and washed cars for the doctor and policeman. He cleaned and recharged car batteries, using the motor from our mother's washing machine and not always replacing it for the Monday morning wash. He took pictures and developed and printed them. He collected stamps and Mr. Percival at the hotel used to save stamps for him. It was his job to clean out the cow barn and chicken house. We had a cow, Violet, who was let loose in the morning and usually walked around to the pastures east and south of the dump. Sometimes she wandered elsewhere and we'd have to climb the dump to look over the area for her. People placed their ashes and other garbage at the base of the dump and sometimes Violet would come home with her hoof stuck in a tin can. If Dad wasn't home we'd ask Mr. Kendrick to cut the can off for us. Violet had a long sticky tongue and learned how to lick at a gate lock until she opened it, ours and other people's. After she got into too many gardens, a law was made banning cows in town; so Dad sold her to the milk man. We kept chickens and a constant supply of kittens.

Mom had a 'green thumb' and kept a large garden. She belonged to a Ladies Sewing club which became a Bridge Club when husbands were invited. We had house parties and many socials and concerts at the Presbyterian Church Hall. As the depression set in, people stopped going to church until finally they could no longer support the minister. There were also a Pentecostal Church and a Catholic Church. The Penticostal was run by Mr. Kendrick and his daughter, played for the singing. I think they held some meetings in the Presbyterian.

We had to make our own fun. Wesselman's had a farm north of the town and were kind enough to let us swim in their reservoir. We played scrub with the neighbours, and had long and short ropes for skipping, played hop-scotch, kick the can, hide and seek and anti-l-over when we could find a free-standing garage. We played house in the remnants of the old school basement, visited friends in Wigan, or the Langstons up near the station after it had been moved from Kipp. Mr. Cook had a girls softball team. His daughter and our Gwen were good friends and played on it. They wore red bloomers and were called the 'Red Aces'. At one game Gwen got sun stroke which, I think, affected her nerves for the rest of her life. She was a gifted artist and writer with hands that could do anything she wished. She loved animals and horse back riding. Dad, Gwen and John and the Mellings were good skaters and mountain climbers. My weak lungs held me back so that I became the baby sitter and had time to study plant life, flowers, trees and rocks. I liked sewing and dolls but my youngest sister loved to dress up in Mom's clothes and go visiting people, even when they didn't have children. Always the actress entertainer sales lady and hostess, she still loves to be on a stage as much as I loathe it. John bought a Model T Ford and completely over-hauled and painted it. On a Friday night he would load us girls and friends in the back seat, boys in front, and take us to a show in Lethbridge. One night we took eighteen in and brought twenty-one home. Needless to say, those on the running boards and fenders had to get off and walk up the coulee hill! We learned songs from records, and later from the radio, and we sang! On Saturdays, I was allowed to take Dad's lunch over to the mine and to play in those buildings, tagging after Dad. I loved watching as he sat in a large chair, moving big levers and switches to bring the cages, one full of coal up and another empty down at the same time.

There were different grades of coal and the better grade was loaded into train cars at the tipple. Any orders by truck were filled there to. Lower grades burned slowly and formed clinkers and what wasn't sold was put into cars and pulled up on tracks by pulley and ropes to the top of the dump. The cars were tipped and emptied over the edge of the dump. There were some men who lived in the grey houses in the row closest to the mine and they worked in the boiler room. It was a hot, dusty and horrible place and I wouldn't go in there unless Dad was with me. These men shovelled the ashes, with burning coals still in them, into big metal cars. These, too, were pulled up and emptied over the side of the dump. This meant that there was always patches of coal burning, very visible at night in strange patterns but a very dangerous problem by day. John and I went to the dump on Saturdays to fill the wheel barrow, as did lots of people. One would be up on the dump, tag a lump of coal as it came bounding past. His helper below would pick it up and put onto his pile. If he worked alone, he had to drag a sack along, always having to watch for burning patches and coal flying down from the cars. As the depression worsened, someone bought the dump, put a fence around it an charged people who came to pick the coal. The mine wasn't working much of the year and it was decided to put the Calgary Power into the town. Dad and all the other engineers were laid off as a consequence. However, after only one day, an ad came in the paper seeking an engineer in Lethbridge. Dad applied for it and got the position. It was so sad to see family after family and my friends move away, as we did in June of 1933. It was our house, our school, our town, and I've never felt quite like that in any other place since.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup