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Joseph and Mary Morrissey

Our Treasured Heritage
A History of Coalhurst and District
Pages 444-445
by K. Morrissey and Frances Thom

Our family arrived in Coalhurst about 1913, Joseph and Mary Morrissey and five children.

When first married our parents lived in Nelson, B.C. where their first child was born. They later moved back to Prince Edward Island where our father's people had lived and farmed the land for several generations. The next four children were born in Prince Edward Island.

In Coalhurst our father was employed as Weighman at the Coal Colliery. All his children went to school in Coalhurst. He was a man who was active and intensely interested in Community affairs. For several years he was a member of the Local School Board. He was also Treasurer of the Village Council and served for a time as Secretary-Treasurer of the Local Community Club. He died in 1935, having been preceded by his daughter Anna May, who had died in 1927.

When we were all still quite young; what comes vividly to mind was our water supply in Coalhurst. Each family owned a water barrel, and water was delivered about three times a week, at the cost of twenty-five cents per barrel; so water was carefully conserved. Later the Coal Company installed water lines along the alleys of the Company Houses. Each tap served groups of about three houses. As a result gardens began to appear, both vegetable and flower, which greatly improved the grounds around the little houses. The garden which Joe Cash had was a wonder to us all.

Coal mining in those early days was a very uncertain occupation, and for months at a time, usually in summer, the mine was silent because there was no market for coal. Many homes, at that time, accommodated boarders in order to stretch the family finances, our mother among them. Times were hard during the depression years of the thirties. Crops were poor and farmers often had to replant seed crops because of the high winds and shifting soil of the dry prairies. Work was just not available and all families had a real hard struggle to survive.

The only church in town was St. Matthews Presbyterian Church, and what good times we all had when that church held its picnics. Everyone was allowed to attend whether you belonged to the church congregation or not.

Later, a small building was bought and moved to a spot on the west side of town. This was the first Roman Catholic Church in Coalhurst. Previous to this time Catholic Services had been held in the various homes around town. Our home often had the Service there - also the homes of Mr. Jim McDermott, Mr. Stetz and several others. The important project of securing a building for a permanent Church was brought about by a small group of enterprising men - our father one of the prime movers among them. A church bell was obtained - all the way from France, and on it was inscribed the names of all who had contributed to the costs.

Is the bell still there, and does it still ring out the time for Service on Sundays?

Our mother donated the first organ. It was one we had for several years at home, and she was the church organist for many years. We also had quite a respectable church choir. At Christmas time Mr. Jim McDermott brought his violin and we were all thrilled at the combination of organ, violin and choir. Those were the days when Father McKinnon was our resident priest - also Father Violet and Father Foote. Our mother was also the first President of the C. W. L. in Coalhurst and was an active worker in church activities. She died in 1968, after having moved to Vancouver. Both she and our father and Anna May were buried in Lethbridge.

Of the early teachers in school, my sister remembers most Miss Irene Knowls, a sister of Mrs. J. Cash. She was; what we all came to realize later; a true teacher, and had a wonderful influence on the lives of her students. Another teacher who stands out in memory was George Watson from Lethbridge. When he became Principal our school had now expanded from an early two rooms into seven or eight rooms with all grades up to ten. Kay was his first student in grade ten. Under his guidance the school acquired stature. It was at this time that Kay was lucky enough after a few years to join the teaching staff, having finished Normal School Training in Calgary. George Watson later left Coalhurst to become Principal of the larger Coaldale School. He will long be remembered as an outstanding teacher by his many students.

When my sister came to teach in Coalhurst, there were several members on the staff who are well remembered - Nora Tennant, Tessie Rader, Jack Melling, Dorothy Doran, Cleota Crowe, Sid Oliver, Emily Rosewerne, Bill White and M. G. Merkley not all at the same time.

Both schools, Primary and Senior, were now located on the west side of town not far from where we lived - just across the street from the church in Mr. Percival's house. Our schools had always of course had such events as Concerts, Parties and later District Sports Days, which included all the schools in the surrounding district - a great time for school competitions. Now however, under M. G. Merkley, we also entered the Lethbridge and District Schools Musical Festivals. In these competitions our choral and dramatic groups did very well. What enterprising and enthusiastic children we had in the Coalhurst schools. Their memory remains clear over the years.

John Morrissey married and had two sons. John was a dispatcher at the CPR in Lethbridge for several years. He was later promoted to Supervisor of Customer Services in Calgary. They have two grandchildren. John died in 1969 and was buried in Lethbridge.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup