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Matthew Raskevich and
Rita Belyea Raskevich

Our Treasured Heritage
A History of Coalhurst and District
Pages 488-490
by Mona (Raskevich) Murray

Matthew Raskevich immigrated from Lithuania in 1905, as a young man of seventeen. He arrived in Bankhead, Alberta (near Banff), as his older brother Joseph and his wife were already there. Dad obtained work in the mine at Bankhead, and subsequently at various coal mines in the Crowsnest Pass. He saved enough money to try his hand at farming in Saskatchewan - which proved to be an unsuccessful venture. It was then that he met and married my mother Rita Belyea of Winnipeg. They settled back in Bellevue, where dad went back to the coal mines. A daughter was born in 1926.

In 1926 our family of three moved to Coalhurst, where dad was employed as a miner. At first we lived in a rented home - but in a couple of years had saved enough to purchase a lot, and build a small house of our own. Then the depression years hit, when the mine was working just a couple of days a week. Dad (he was known as Matt), having come from a farm background in Lithuania, and being of an independent nature, again turned to the land, to attempt to supplement the family income. Potatoes were planted on ten acres of land, which dad rented from Jack White, a farmer just north of Coalhurst. The harvested crop was sold locally. It was then that a bit of financial luck came our way. Mother had inherited some money from an uncle in the East. They were able to purchase a used Ford Truck, which would be invaluable transporting the potato crop.

1935 was a year of both joy and sadness for the Raskevich family. On August 22, a son was born to Mom and Dad. What a happy day! This was also a memorable day for the Province of Alberta, as the election day when Social Credit went into power, under the leadership of William Aberhart. Coalhurst was quite a Social Credit stronghold. There had been political rallies that summer at Park Lake. Everyone was excited about the new party being elected. Many thought that an appropriate name for the new baby boy in our family would be William Aberhart. But no - he would have a name of his own.

On December 9, 1935, Dad went to work in the mine, being one of the so-called "lucky" ones to have work that day. His partner was our neighbor, John Olechow. It seemed like any other normal day. But tragedy struck - and the mine whistle let us know that there had been an accident. I will never forget the terror that struck my heart, when we were told there had been a terrible explosion at the mine. The fears were turned to joy when we looked out, and there was Dad - looking pale and shaken - but safe! He and his partner had finished work early that day, and rather than start in a new area, had decided to call it a day, and had started walking back to the main passage. It was there the force of the explosion knocked them down, and they were just able to scramble out. Mother and Dad both went to the mine shaft to wait with friends and neighbors. That day and many to follow were sad days for our mining village. Sixteen men lost their lives. We all sympathized with the bereaved, who had lost husbands, fathers, brothers or sons.

The explosion was a turning point in my father's life. Never again would he enter a mine to eke out his living. He turned to the land again, renting a larger acreage from Adam Walkingshaw, and acquiring some machinery. The mine closed, and gradually there was an exodus of people and houses from Coalhurst. It was rumored it would become a ghost town. But not so - it did indeed become much smaller - but a nucleus of people stayed to carry on their lives.

Dad had the opportunity to purchase a quarter section of land, east of Coalhurst, adjacent to the Picture Butte highway. The land belonged to the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District - there was a mortgage against it - but Dad took it on. He would have a farm of his own! The next few years he worked long hours. but they were happy ones. Potatoes, sugar beets and grain were his main crops. Before long he was able to buy a brand new truck, and began transporting his potato crop further from home, earning the title "Potato King". At this time Dad helped out the economy of Coalhurst by employing people to hoe potatoes and sugar beets, and to pick potatoes at harvest time. This brought in extra money for some hard-pressed families. Dad would leave in the wee hours of the morning, with a load of potatoes for the Crowsnest Pass, or to wholesalers in Calgary. Mother and Dad purchased one of the houses that had been vacated by the Joe Cash family, and moved to the east side of the town. The little house in which we had been living was moved onto the farm. It served as living quarters for the families hired to do the sugar beet work.

My school days in Coalhurst were happy ones. As children we made our own fun - swimming in the irrigation ditch, skating at the outdoor rink, playing baseball at the school grounds. Sometimes we played group games such as 'Run Sheep Run'. School sports days were always big events. Our classes at school dwindled in size as more families left. During my high school days we were fortunate to have Mr. Bill White as principal. A more devoted teacher you would not find. He put many hours into extra-curricular activities such as sports and social events. Many grateful students graduated from the Coalhurst school while he was there.

In July, 1944, tragedy struck our little family. My brother, (Bobby), then almost nine years old, was drowned in the dug-out on the farm. It was a great personal loss to all of us, - but especially to my father, to lose an only son. But life had to go on, however difficult. Over the next few years Dad's farming operation grew and prospered. The house from Coalhurst was moved to the farm which was much more convenient.

In 1960, due to ill health, Dad was forced to sell his beloved land, and move to Lethbridge. The purchaser was Adolph Proehl. In 1963 my father passed away, after a lengthy battle with cancer, with indomitable courage to the last, an inspiration to all of us.

Mother continued to live in Lethbridge at Golden Acres Lodge, and some of the time with our family at McNally, until her death in 1975.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup