The village of Coalhurst played a large part in the life of the Lewis family. Our father, William Edgar Lewis and mother, Catherine Lewis, had a family of six children. Our home was the "Research Station", now known as the "Animal Disease Research Station". It originated in the year 1904 to research a disease in animals which broke out on the ranch of T. W. McCaugherty.
The Veterinary Research Station was located on the river bottom about four miles from Coalhurst and ten miles directly west of Lethbridge on the Oldman river. Our neighbours on one side were the Dickie family, and later the Burroughs family who ran the pumping station for Coalhurst. On the other side of us and around the bend of the river were the Grisack family and next to them the McCaugherty ranch.
My father started work at the Research Station in about 1912 as an outside foreman, after coming from Monmouth, Wales and homesteading at Iron Springs for a few years. He worked at the Research for forty three years. He married my mother who came from Llandovery, Wales, in Lethbridge in 1913 and lived at the Research all their married life until they retired to Lethbridge in 1955. My father passed away in 1966 and my mother in 1973.
The Research Station was located in the West Lethbridge school district and the West Lethbridge school was about the same distance away as Coalhurst. My father decided when schooling time came that Coalhurst would be more convenient. He bought a house in Coalhurst and in our younger years we lived in Coalhurst with mother to go to school. My father bought the house from my uncle who moved to the United States. We would live in Coalhurst during the week, going to the Research on weekends.
As time went on and we got older, I do not remember the year we started driving to school by horse and buggy, but we did it every day for many years, except in the severe winter weather when the four of us lived in the house in Coalhurst by ourselves, so all our school memories are of our years in Coalhurst. Coalhurst school only went to Grade eleven.
I first remember Coalhurst for the mine and the huge dump with the burning coals, which to me was quite a sight. There was one main street with business places on either side and wooden sidewalks. The Community Hall in the centre of the street, and the centre of activities, was the largest building. Mr. Gammon ran a blacksmith shop at the end of the business section. The McDonald and Bublick department stores were there, Tedesco's Meat Market and Willis' Ice Cream Parlor and Candy Store, where we got our ice cream and candy.
The school was a four room school, later another four rooms were built alongside, but separate from the original school. There were rows of company houses for the mine workers. We lived two doors from the Catholic church. Down the street a little farther was the United Church with the Pentecostal church across from it. While we lived in Coalhurst, we went to the United Church Sunday school. I remember the Locatelli flour mill and when it burnt down, Coalhurst had irrigation ditches. There was a skating rink there, where we went skating and a dressing room to put on our skates, all crowded around the heater. We had a movie at the Community Hall, usually once a week. The equipment was all brought from Lethbridge for it. The school held a concert every year at Christmas. It was real fun for all the children that took part. My teacher for four years in Elementary school was Miss Catherine Morrissey, so I felt very lucky. We had field days at the school every year, another fun time. Mr. Merkley, Mr. White, Jack Melling and Sid Oliver were the high school teachers when I attended.
Coalhurst was a lively place until the explosion in the mine which killed sixteen miners and closed the mine. I remember it well as our neighbour Mr. Eban Williams lost his life. Coalhurst gradually died after that, people moved away and the houses were sold and they moved to other communities.
We had many years of driving to school by horse and buggy. My brother was in charge of the horse, harnessing and driving. We had a steep coulee to climb just to leave the Research, so we all walked up the hill and climbed into the buggy at the top. We had to get up early in the morning, but we did enjoy some of the trips in the good weather. We also ran into some very inclement weather and very bad storms. Many the time my father would meet us on horseback to make sure we were making our way home safely.
When it got too cold to drive back and forth to school, the four of us lived in the Coalhurst house by ourselves. My father would drive us to Coalhurst on Sunday night by sleigh and a team of horses and enough groceries for the week, returning on Friday night to take us back to the Research for the weekend. One Sunday in the deep snow, we could not find the road up the hill and the sleigh dumped, along with all of us, and the groceries. That week of school we missed.
It was very cold living in Coalhurst in the winter as there were no conveniences in our house. We had a stove and a heater and it was a steady job keeping coal on the fire to keep warm. Our water was delivered by the barrel and it seemed we were always chopping ice and heating it for our water for household chores. I remember Bob McCullough delivered the water. The fires all went out when we were at school and the house had to be warmed up all over again. It had its advantages as we liked taking part in the community activities and seeing more of our friends. We did not miss the drive in the cold weather and it was very dangerous as blizzards came up with no warning.
The last few years of high school, my father had a car and we had it to drive now and again. That was a real luxury. During the government departmental exams, we would ride horseback to school or walk, as we did not all go at the same time.
After high school, I did not see much of Coalhurst as I then went to Lethbridge for a business course. Two of our family finished high school there and one had three years in Coalhurst school, but by this time many more families were working at the Research and a government car was provided for business back and forth to Lethbridge and they finally started driving the children to school in Lethbridge.
Gerwyn, the oldest of us, went to work for the Lethbridge Memorial Works after school until World War 11 broke out, when he joined the air force. He was sent overseas in 1942 and was shot down over the sea shortly after going to England. The body was never recovered.
After two of our family finished grade eleven in Coalhurst my father sold the house, and as I recall, it was moved to Picture Butte. I have since lost track of Coalhurst, being so far away all the time, but have great memories of the school and all the friends I made there.
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