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Angelo Ermacora
and Mariana Pavan Ermacora

Treasured Heritage-
A History of Coalhurst and District
Pages 309 - 312
by Anne Van Vreumingen

The Ermacora Family
Mother Mariana Pavan - Born 1878 - Died 1960
Louis Born 1900 - Died 1977
Treasa Born 1904 - Died 1983
Hector 1914 - Died 1964
Jackemo Born 1906 - Died 1906
Father - Angelo Ermacora - Born 1873 - Died 1935
Plus five living daughters and one living son

My father Angelo came to Canada in the early 1900's from a little town in Northern Italy, called Arzene. It is a little farming town near Pordenone and is flat, just like the prairie land around Coalhurst. He and my mother were both raised and married there and their first five children were all born in Arzene. One son, Jackemo, passed away in infancy.

In those days there was not much future for poor peasant families, and father heard that the Canadian Government offered free passage and a little parcel of land to anyone that wanted to settle in Canada. He inquired about it, got all the necessary papers and left for Canada, leaving his wife and four children behind. He travelled by boat from Le Havre to Halifax, and then by train to Calgary, coming to a place called Lac La Biche, where he stayed for about one year. He built a cabin and cleared some land, working long days and missing his family. The winter was terribly cold, and the following year he decided to go to Southern Alberta, where he could make more money by working in the coal mines. He worked in all the gopher-hole type mines like the one in Royal View, north of Lethbridge. It was back breaking work and he lived with other bachelors in shacks. Soon thereafter he went to Commerce to work in a bigger mine, and finally he had enough money saved to send for my mother and their children.

In 1912, Mother came to Canada with one son and two daughters, leaving one daughter behind with her grand-parents. This was a very traumatic experience for both, but mother had promised that they would all be back in Italy, as soon as they had made their fortune! Of course, neither parent ever went back to the homeland, and father never saw Yolanda or his parents again. Mother travelled with her children in the hull of an emigrant ship, landing in New York, where they had to get their shots and then on by train to Canada and Commerce, Alberta. When father met mother at the rail road station in Lethbridge, he was very upset and disappointed to learn that one daughter had been left behind. The family went to live in Commerce, in a little one room shack, the walls covered with newspaper to keep the cold out. In 1913 a daughter was born. A year later we all moved to Coalhurst to live in a rented company house, and this was a much more comfortable place. My brother Hector was born there in 1914. However, father wanted a place of his own, where he could have livestock, and so he bought an old house in Wigan, not far from Coalhurst. Father renovated the house, worked in the mine, and also delivered coal and water to the neighbors. Three daughters were born here. There were now 11 of us and father started to look for a larger place for the family.

We were a busy family, the children all going to school and helping with the chores. The Coalhurst Collieries had a 60 acre piece of land, south of Wigan, and father bought this with a small downpayment. He and a carpenter built a five-room house and all the family moved in. Father bought more cows and pigs and worked 6 months of the year in the mine and all summer on the farm. Mother had her hands full with all her household duties such as looking after the animals, making bread and cheese, and always at the sewing machine making bedsheets, pillowcases, dishtowels and most of our underclothing out of "Our best" flour sacks!

We had many good times there with all the surrounding young folk. They came on horse-back on Sundays, as this was the only time when we could play and have fun. We would get mad when milking time came, and our father used to say "You know when you are hungry, so are the animals!"

Our parents taught us how to dance. They took us to the Community dances and father danced with us all. Our brother always bought the latest records and we played them on the old "horn-type" gramophone and our friends would come and we had a whale of a time every Sunday, wearing out the pattern on the lino. One record I remember vividly was "Barney Google" with the Googo googo googley eyes, it got pretty scratchy in the end.

The word holiday was unknown to us, there was always much to be done. In the summer time it was planting, hoeing, stocking and what have you. One of my chores was milking the cows and cleaning the chicken-coop, and I sure batted those chickens around that got in my way! Sometimes, coyotes or weasels would get some of the flock.

My brothers built a large pigeon coop. It took two horses to pull it up and it could be seen for miles. Every body knew it was on the Ermacora farm. My mother made a lot of pigeon pies.

Our Coalhurst days were filled with fun and with such a large family there were always many friends coming and going. We played ball and other games. We had Community sports and picnics and we were all very active. Behind our house in Wigan, we had an old slough where we swam in the summertime, it was knee high with mud, pollywogs, broken bottles and tin cans. In the winter we skated on it and our house was then used to change skates, getting warm and to lend skates to the ones that had none.

Father had an old sleigh and he used to take us sleigh riding. The older members of the family went to dances in the sleigh. Mother would then warm rocks in the oven to keep their feet warm and they would snitch some of father's wine. My brother was 11 years old when he left Italy, and he had difficulties understanding English when he went to school in Coalhurst. He stayed only 3 years, and at age 14 he quit school and went to work in the mine with Pa.

Our sister stayed in Arzene and married. She came only once to Canada, when mother was already 70 years old, and it was the first time she met her Canadian-born brothers and sisters. She and mother had a good time reminiscing about the old Country.

Of all the family our sister Treasa was the main stay. Not having received too much schooling, she was Pa and Ma's "Girl Friday". From the young age of 12 she worked like a man. She helped father with the horses, filling the mangers, cleaning the barns and milking the cows, etc.. She took all of us younger ones to pick coal at the dump, for the coming cold winter. I don't think mother could have done without her, while we went to school. She also did all the chores in the house, like washing clothes, ironing, baking etc. She took care of all our needs and she was to all of us a sister, mother and friend! She never asked anything for herself. She married when she was quite young and had three children, but she still came to help mother in Wigan on the farm. I think she deserves the "Honor Medal" for the Ermacora family and I am sure the other sisters and brothers could agree. She passed away in December 1983 after a long illness, she is the first one to go of the 7 girls and she still will be sadly missed by all. She married Mike Negrello, Mike was also a miner and had come from Bassano in Italy to Canmore, Alta. and then to Bassano in Alberta. The wedding day I member well, it lasted 3 days and Mrs. Berlando helped mother with all the cooking and preparations. Even after she was married and had 3 children, Treasa would come over to help us out in any way she could, and I remember the delicious puddings, cakes and doughnuts she used to make!

Another sister was just a 5 year old girl when she came to Canada. Her stories about Coalhurst could fill a book by itself! She was a reader and burned much coal oil! Another sister was the first-born child in Canada, born in 1913 in Commerce. In 1930 she left Coalhurst and went to Lethbridge to work. She married and had a son. Later she married a second time and had one son Tommy who was killed in a freak accident in Kimberley.

My parents did not stay in Commerce for very long, but moved to Coalhurst in a Company house, where Hector was born, and then to Wigan.

I can remember many things that happened there from the time I was about four or five years old, such as the 1918 'flu epidemic and we were all so sick in bed. I was a real tom-boy, playing ball, running and always on the go. We played "Run Sheep Run" and "Duck on the Rock" and we made stilts and we had many falls. My brother Hector and I had many good times. Our ages were not too far apart, and we had a lot of fun and played together. At the age of 12 he was the receiver of the Gold Medal for 118 lb. in boxing. He would go to Cardston and other parts of the Province to boxing matches. He did farming with father. He also owned the best horse in Coalhurst. His name was "Sparky" and this horse was well known all over Southern Alberta, but Hector was the only one that could ride him. Later Hector went to Kimberley, B.C. where he worked in the hospital. He married and had one son. During the second world war he went overseas to serve with the Medicare Corps. If he were alive today, he would be able to tell stories and fill a book. He passed away at age 50 in Kimberley, B.C. of a heart condition.

Another sister, born in Wigan, helped mother on the farm. She did not really like farm life and was afraid of cows. She left home quite early and went to Kimberley to work. In Trail, B.C. she married and had one daughter. Later she married a second time and they had a son.

Another sister was born in Wigan in 1918. She loved farm life, rode horses like a boy, milked the cows and helped our father with fixing the machinery, plowing, gardening and stooking. She also could write her own story about her Coalhurst days.

"Written by Victoria Ermacora"

She later married and had three children.

The youngest sister, was the last one to be born. She also helped with all the chores, and we have many happy memories. She is married and had 3 daughters and one son.

The coalmines, of course, played an important part in our lives, and there are many stories and anecdotes to tell about those early days. My father worked in the Coalhurst Mine from approximately 1914 to 1935, and was killed during the big explosion when 16 miners were killed. It was hard on all those families, most of them our friends. It was not like today, where the Companies make provisions for the widows. However, the Mining Company offered to buy clothing for the families that lost their breadwinners. They sent us to the Hudson Bay Company in Lethbridge, where we were fitted with black funeral clothing. The write-up in the "Lethbridge Herald" tells only part of the story! We all suffered deeply, there were only 2 girls left on the farm and poor mother was not able to keep it. It was all too much for her and she sold the farm, for very little money, to the Wesselman family. Mother and the 2 girls moved to Kimberley, where Hector and her daughter lived. She received a widow's pension of 35 dollars per month, hardly enough to live on. Mother was 57 years old by then and was plagued by arthritis. We all helped her a little bit and we managed to come through the ordeal.

Right now there is a story shown on T. V. called "The Citadel" and this shows in every aspect how life in the mines was in father's day. The whistle was blowing when the accident occurred and mothers and children were running to the mine to see if it was one of their people. The doctor we had for many years was Dr. Inkrote, and anyone reading this article and watching The Citadel on T.V. will agree that it was much like in our days!

Lots of things come back to me while I am writing this. For example, Christmas was always a highlite. We had lots to eat and father cooked a turkey, duck or chicken that we had raised ourselves. Even in hard times we would hang our stockings, and the next morning we would find a Japanese orange, peanuts, a striped candy cane or a story book that we would either colour or read. I can't remember having a Christmas tree, not until I got married. Other things that come to mind is the memory of my mother and my oldest sister Treasa cleaning and cooking,the fish that the menfolk had caught in the "Old Man River". They put them in sealers and we had fish all winter. We were pretty lucky to be on the farm with our family, there was always plenty to eat and we never went hungry.

We had a dog called "Spotty". Once he had a large growth on his neck, he was deadly ill and would have died, but father and my brother Hector decided to operate! My father took his straight razor, clipped the hair on the neck, cut the skin and took out the tumor. Mother put Spotty in a warm blanket with a hot water bottle and after a few days he came around. But he could never bark again and us kids used to say "Pa, you cut his "barker" out!"

Father had a dray and two horses "Mabel" and "Browny". He would go to Coalhurst to try and sell some vegetables and eggs, so we could buy other staples. The Community Miners Hall was one of his favorite spots and he would stop for a few beers and a visit with his friends. Often he would come home empty handed and all the produce gone. He would often give it away to people that were less fortunate than us. With the mine closed all summer and no work, people would have no money and would promise father that they would pay sometime later. Once in awhile dad would come home with sugar, coffee and other things. Mother would ask where he got the money and he would tell us that some lady had stopped him in the street and paid him the money she promised to pay him years ago. He would give to other people sometimes not even knowing their names. He was a very generous man and we loved him dearly. He made home-made wine from chokecherries, which we trampled in a barrel, barefooted and we had pink feet for many days! Dad had a way with kids! He would tell us that the Government Inspector was coming to see if we had cleaned the weeds in front of the farm, and of course we believed him. Maybe it was true in those days! He was a very proud man and wanted us to live truthful and respectable. That, he said, was all he asked from us.

Coalhurst Community days were exciting and we all looked forward to them and marked them on our calendar. I remember the McDermotts, Bublicks, McDonalds and the Chinese store. On sports days there would be races, baseball, high jumping and we all entered. Our fathers and mothers would come to watch us. The prizes were usually 25 - 15 or 10 cents.

Also in school we had many games we played. I belonged to a girls' soft-ball team and we had summer picnics and also the Christmas concerts were fun. My brother and I sneaked once in awhile behind the barn and smoked! There was some very dry manure and we put that in a corn-cob pipe and we took matches from the kitchen. But our mother had eyes in the back of her head and she would catch us and we would be sick for days. That is probably the reason why I don't smoke today.

Ialso remember from my younger days in Wigan, how the Indians would come to scrounge for anything they could use. Mother would always give them some eggs, a chicken or odds and ends she knew they could use. We were always afraid of them and stayed pretty close to mother. But, when we were naughty, mother would threaten us, saying that when the Indians came again she would give us away! I don't know if that helped but I do remember that when those Indians came again we would hide under the bed and we would be very quiet until they had gone.

Oh! I could go on for ages! But this book would get too thick and we have to leave room for other oldtimers to write their stories. We hope that some of our dear friends whom we haven't seen in years, will read these lines and maybe get in touch with us!

The Ermacora family had a Re-Union in Trail, B.C. last summer. There were hundreds of off-spring from my father and my uncle Giuseppe. We had a wonderful time and ate lots of spaghetti gallons of beer and wine and danced our feet off.

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Mary Tollestrup