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Nick and Lillian Rohovie

Our Treasured Heritage
A History of Coalhurst and District
Pages 493 - 497
by Dan Rohovie

Five children were born to Nick and Lillian Rohovie. All were born, raised and educated in Coalhurst. A daughter who was the youngest, was born in the Coalhurst Hospital on that fateful day of the mine explosion on December 9, 1935. My Grandfather John Rohovie and both of my parents were born in Voloca, a small village of Bucovina, Romania.

In 1903 my Grandfather immigrated to Canada and settled in North Lethbridge (No. 3, which is now Staffordville. He was not alone as others had immigrated before him from the same area of Romania, which may have induced him to come to a land of opportunities.

At the turn of the century, which was the peak of European immigration, immigration had to be resourceful and able to improvise in providing accommodations. Shanties were built into the coulee near No. 3 (Staffordville). Most of the immigrants worked in the area coal mines, others found employment with the railroad.

Employment for my Grandfather was obtained at the local mines. He had no intentions of settling in Canada permanently. His intention was to earn enough money to return to Romania and purchase more land there.

In 1906, my Grandfather returned to Romania. One can understand the loneliness immigrants endured, some went back to the old country while many others never returned.

Grandfather did return to Canada in 1909 bring with him his two sons, Ted and Nick. All three of them settled in north Lethbridge (Staffordville).

My Dad entered the mines at age sixteen. At the particular time, miners and immigrants of the same ethnic background, tended to share accommodations which were nothing more than clapboard shacks. Life was a real hardship during that point in time.

During the 'flu epidemic of 1918, my Dad recalled sharing a bed with a very sick miner. The next morning when he awoke, the miner was dead. He attributed his immunity to hard work, sweat, lots of whiskey and good food impregnated with garlic.

In 1911, my Grandfather's youngest son Ted, returned to Romania never to come back to Canada.

For the next seven or eight years, life consisted of hard work in the mines and a bachelor's existence. Being a boisterous people and causing mischief for the Mounties and police, special constables from the ethnic groups were employed to keep the area under surveillance.

Besides working the mines. Grandfather also operated a general store which he purchased from the previous owner as he was returning back to Italy. The store was then renamed "The Romanian General Store". A Mr. Toffy Osecki, recalls delivering groceries and general merchandise to Coalhurst from this store. As a result of Grandfather's trusting nature, credit was allowed and extended for long periods of time. Most of the money owing to him was impossible to collect which resulted in a loss and the eventual closing down of the store.

Meanwhile, the Coalhurst mine shaft was sunk and the mine commenced operation where he obtained work as a miner. Shortly thereafter, he rented and operated a hotel as well, in a place called Wigan located just east of Coalhurst.

Miners, many of whom were single and ethnically European, gathered at the hotel for good times. Entertainment consisted of drinking, gambling and on occasion girls from Lethbridge were part of the scene. This was a fact of life amongst the lonely and single miners.

My father Nick, worked at the mine and also helped with the running of the hotel. This arrangement proved too much for him so in 1920, he returned to Romania. While he was there, he met and married my mother Lillian.

My Dad returned to Coalhurst with my mother as a young bride, in 1921. They moved in with my Grandfather whose accommodation was not elaborate - a two room shack. Shortly thereafter, my Grandfather presented my Parents with a small four roomed house which he purchased in Diamond City for the sum of $150.00 and then moved it to Coalhurst.

The furnishings they bought were basic and included a sewing machine. It was constantly used by my mother in the ensuing years, becoming an excellent seamstress. She also became a very good barber and cut and trimmed hair for many boys who grew up in Coalhurst.

Grandfather returned to Romania in 1926, never to return, passing away there in 1935. 1 remember vividly, the letter notifying my father of his death, being edged in black. The original home is still occupied by my mother who, presently is the oldest, longest living resident of Coalhurst.

Shortly after my Grandfather's return to Romania, my Dad had a yearning to return also. Our house was put up for sale. A decision, not to return, was made but not before my brother John had the "For Sale" sign torn down with a garden rake.

The Coalhurst mine closed down shortly after the explosion of 1935. Dad, then obtained work at the Shaughnessy mine and at the No. 8 mine west of Lethbridge. It was while working in the No. 8 mine that he suffered a fatal heart attack in May, 1955. Mining all of those years, from a young lad of sixteen to the age of sixty-one, had taken its toll.

Sore backs, crushed toes and fingers were the common ailments that plagued the miners of those days.

The life style for many changed with the depression. Life became a real challenge. The mines slowed down and fewer miners were employed. These were the lost years for many people. This was an era when young and old men alike were compelled to tramp and also ride trains across the country looking for work. I can recall my parents feeding transients with what food they had to offer. None were ever turned away hungry.

Many people and families moved out of Coalhurst. Company houses were sold for approximately $100.00. One may be seen, to this day, located between Coalhurst and Monarch, just north of the railway.

Through hard work and much effort, a decent living was made possible, by keeping a cow, raising chickens and vegetables. Pigs were purchased and butchered from which hams, bacon and sausages were made, then cured in a smoke house. Small plots were rented from local farmers for gardens where one raised an abundance of vegetables. These were wintered in a root cellar located in the back yard. I recall, a wagon load of vegetables, delivered to Lethbridge, which sold for twenty dollars. Doug Adams made the delivery for five dollars a load. To further help ease a difficult situation, some work was obtained by thinning sugar beets, beet topping, potato picking and haying.

During the depression, people had to improvise. For example, Mother made bedding, tea towels, lunch cloths, curtains, petticoats, etc., from flour sacks (Ellison's Best). Such items as mentioned above, may be presently seen in the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.

A stall was rented in the Farmer's Market which was located in the Hudson Bay Building on First Avenue South between Fourth and Fifth Street. At this stall, my mother had a quick lunch counter where she served coffee, home made bread, cakes, pies, sandwiches, etc. at reasonable prices. This stall was operated on Saturdays only.

Memories and Nostalgia

When my parents first arrived in Canada and settled in Coalhurst, they took up residence next door to the Start family. Their young girl would come over and visit with my mother. They had difficulty understanding one another. Perhaps unknowingly, she contributed somewhat to my mother learning, speaking and understanding the English language.

Growing up during the depression and the thirties contributed to fond memories and nostalgia. Activities, such as tumbling down freshly threshed haystacks, fishing, hiking and swimming, were fun. Swimming in the secluded areas of the irrigation canal, provided for many hours of enjoyment and excitement, always on the lookout for the ditch rider and on many occasions, running to avoid being caught, often with our clothes in hand as swimming was done in the nude.

In the winter months, traps would be set for muskrats and weasels. Jack rabbit hunting would also provide many pelts which were sold in Lethbridge. During spring, after the river receded from the high muddy flow, we would use set lines to catch the many varieties of fish. When weather permitted, we would swim the deep back water holes, climb the tall trees, climb hills and cliffs bordering the river. Most of these activities were unknown to our parents.

Local and country dances were fun evenings. If a trip to a country dance required a gallon or two of gas, a farmer's tractor located in an isolated part of a field provided a small amount. Most often, the music was provided by Katie Nestoruk on the mandolin and Emil Wyrostok on the drums, occasionally accompanied by a piano player. At these dances, the women would congregate on one side of the hall and the men on the opposite side. When the music started, there would be somewhat of a stampede towards the women's side. A large container of coffee would be made at the Rohovie house on many occasions and brought over to the hall at midnight. Dancing would continue to one o clock in the morning and sometimes later.

Some of the young lads would secure a small bottle of whiskey, each contributing about twenty-five cents towards its purchase. It was surprising what a sense of well being one good swig would provide for the whole evening. Liquor was generally consumed outside as it was not allowed on the premises during that era.

Towards the late thirties and early forties, the economy began a slow upturn as a result of the war in Europe.

The station played an important part in our summer evening activities when we were young. After hanging around in the Billy Willis General Store, we would all walk to the station to wait for the arrival and departure of the night passenger train.

To relieve the tension of boredom, we would hop a freight train leaving Coalhurst heading for Lethbridge. We would spend a few hours in Lethbridge and getting back to Coalhurst posed no problem. We would hop on a night passenger train, grabbing on behind the steam locomotive, as it was leaving the Lethbridge station. The spot we chose to climb on, was approximately next to the C.P.R. ice house. At this particular spot, the train was moving rather briskly.

My Mother has seen Coalhurst as a vibrant mining town, then die after the explosion. In recent years, she has seen it come back to life and it is now a thriving community. As she partakes of the Miners' Days activities, a sadness comes over her recalling happy and sad days of the many years gone by.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup