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George Rollingson and
Isabel Dobby Rollingson

Water Works Wonders
A History of the White, Wilson, McMahon,
River Junction School Districts
Pages 419 - 420

George Rollingson was born in Northumberland, England, on April 10, 1881. He went to work in the coal pits there as a boy of ten.

In the summer of 1903 George Rollingson and his brother John, together with two friends, Dan Gill and Bill Carr, all miners, decided to try their fortunes in Canada. They were allowed to take one box per passenger, free, so they put their clothes in one and loaded the others with tools and machines of their trade. Saying goodbye to parents and relatives, they proceeded to the local railway station, where they were agreeably surprised to find many of their acquaintances, who had come to give them a hearty send-off.

At Newcastle it was necessary to change trains; while waiting for the one leaving at midnight for Liverpool they visited a cousin of Bill Carr's where they were provided with supper. At Liverpool a conveyance was obtained to take them with their boxes to the dock, stopping on the way at a money exchange, where they got their funds changed to Canadian money. The boat they were booked to sail on was anchored a mile out from shore. It had arrived with a cargo of eight hundred cattle and it was being cleaned to accommodate the immigrants. While waiting to embark the four friends went up into the city for breakfast. To board ship the passengers and luggage were taken out by tender, and when they sailed a training ship band played them off.

For a short while after sailing the two brothers and their companions were assigned accommodation with people who could not speak English, but following a complaint to the captain they were transferred to quarters occupied by Englishmen. The ocean voyage from Liverpool to Quebec City required thirteen days. The third day out they experienced heavy winds and torrential rain; George became very seasick. John had been afflicted previously, so both brothers were confined to their bunks until it was time to be examined for vaccination, two days before landing.

After debarkation the four adventurers had breakfast in a restaurant before boarding a Canadian Pacific train for the west. Their accommodation was not a passenger coach, but a car in which the seats were arranged for four people on each side, sitting two facing two. An night the space between the two seats was filled to make a bed for two, while the other two got up on a shelf above the seats. To retire the passengers just removed their boots and slept fully dressed. Arrangements were such that one could walk through the cars from the engine to the van at the rear. they had a few hours stop-over in Montreal and an hour in Winnipeg. At other stations where the train stopped long enough for purchases to be made, food was obtained to sustain them for their journey.

On a Friday morning, approximately seventeen days and almost five thousand miles from Liverpool, they attained their destination - Lethbridge, Northwest Territories. Immediately following their arrival the four lads from England went over to the pit head to have a look and watched a lot of men going down the shaft. During this observation the opportunity arose to have conversation with an English speaking workman who apparently was quitting the job; he advised them not to hire on. Following receipt of this disheartening news, George and his companions went to a boarding house and arranged for accommodation for a day or two, then returned to the station for their possessions.

At the station they took a job unloading timbers which netted them six dollars each. While thus occupied they heard of a farmer, living twelve miles out on the prairie, who wanted a few men to start a pit mine for him, so they went to a store and told one of the men there that when the farmer came for his provisions he was to be directed to their boarding house where four young miners would like to see him. The farmer came on Saturday night and the young men agreed to work for him. He provided them with directions and the following day they set out with their luggage to walk to his farm.

This was quite an experience for anyone fresh from Englands countryside. There were no trees or hedges, only a little bush here and there with berries which prairie chicken fed on. There were yellow ground squirrels popping up all over and the boys shot at them with their revolvers just for practice. They had covered about seven miles of their journey when they saw the farmer coming to meet them with a wagon and team. George noted that it was not a cart, but a wagon with four wheels and that the horses were unshod., On arrival at the farm their employer took them into his house for tea, and arranged for them to sleep there for two or three nights until a shack could be made habitable for them Their bed at the farm house was on the wooden floor upstairs with a large skin rug spread over the four of them. Before going to bed that first night they all took a short walk to where they were going to start the pit, and on the way made the acquaintance of a Mormon who was living in a dugout, and whose only light was a Scotch pit lamp. He seemed quite content with his rough abode.

The shack the new employees were going to live in had been used as a shelter for cattle, and there were mushrooms growing around the inside of it. While cleaning it out they disturbed a grass snake about three feet long, which escaped through a broken window, George commented that it would be unpleasant to wake up in the morning with something like that wrapped around your neck, but the farmer assured him that it was harmless and that once they had moved in the snake would not come back. A wooden floor was put in the shack and bunks were installed. Gill and Carr were to have the lower bunk, about two feet from the floor, and George and John would take the upper one, which was about three feet higher and had a clearance of one or two feet imder the roof. This lack of clearance provided the brothers with many a bump on the head when rising in the morning and in one incident George suffered from striking his head on a nail protruding through the roof. Their stove was large enough to hold eight or nine pans all boiling together, contrasting greatly to the open fireplace cooking at home. The shanty was ten yards from the pit mouth, and a half mile from the St. Mary River, the source of their water. Beyond the river was Indian territory. The farmer's name was Russell, and he lived about a mile from the shack. A trip into the village was made once a week to get their mail and provisions; meat and bread were supplied by Russell. Their bedding and utensils were obtained on their first trip into town.

Bill Carr and George bought a double barreled gun between them, and George would often bring in a couple of prairie chickens. Bill would skin them, Dan would cut them up and clean them and John would make the pie crust. Generally they took turns cooking, one of their favorites being rice pudding with currants, which Dan called black and white pudding.

The weather was fine for the first six weeks, then winter set in. It was necessary then to take an axe when going for water because the ice on the river was a foot thick. The coal seam they worked was about three and a half feet thick and the boys earned a dollar and a quarter per ton - five shillings two and a half pence in English currency. In addition to actually mining the coal, they were required to make their own props out of trees supplied by Russell, and do all their own custodian work around the work space. After working ten weeks a grievance with their employer developed, and one day John, Dan, and George walked to a place called Raymond to see about going home with a shipment of cattle. On arrival they found that the cattle had been shipped out the previous day. The walk back to the shack is one which George will never forget. By the time they had covered seven miles it was too dark to follow any landmarks. A stop was made at a farm to enquire how much farther it was to Russell's mine. The farmhands who were loading corn by lamplight didn't have an answer, and suggested that the three wanderers should find a shack somewhere and wait until morning. The three young miners continued on, crossing a small river and walking another five miles, only to find that they were back at the same river. Dan and John lay down and said they were going to stay there until daylight, but George warned them they could freeze to death if they didn't keep moving. Dan stated that he was sure the small river flowed into the St. Mary about two miles below their shack. George went to the river, put his finger in to find which way it was flowing, then the three walked three miles down stream until they saw a light. This light turned out to be a lamp on their shack that Bill Carr had hung up to guide them. It was eleven thirty and Bill said he sure thought they were never going to arrive.

After working an additional ten weeks John and George had words with Russell, demanded their pay and left, returning to England and home.

George Rollingson, continued to work in the coal mines in the Old Country but found time to marry, Isabel Dobby in 1904, and start a family with the birth of his son in 1906. In 1913, probably sensing the opportunity for a better life, he returned to Canada and to Lethbridge. Another son was born in 1923.

He got a job as overman at the Malloy Mine near Picture Butte, but he spent much of his time trying to get started in a mine of his own. He secured a coal lease on a tract of land in the Pothole district from rancher Wm. D. (Curly) Whitney, paying him 50 cents per ton of coal mined. And whenever he was able, he put in time trying to develop the property. As soon as it looked as if the new mine might be a commercial success, Rollingson left the Malloy brothers and started on his own.

The new mine was located near the junction of the St. Mary and Oldman Rivers. Rollingson registered the name of the mine as "rhe Twin River Coulee Mine"and the brand name "Whoop-Up Coal " for the product. The mines branch assigned a number, Mine No. 738 to the property. Although occasionally leased to others, this was Rollingson's most important holding over many years. He opened at least four entries along the length of the outcrop on this lease.

Rollingson was involved with other mines over the years. They included: Mine No. 55, which he and John had worked from 1902 to 1904; Mine No. 977, held briefly by Rollingson in 1922; and Mine No. 889, leased by Rollingson and his son in 1950-56.

By the late 1950's, Rollingson had become a legend in the Lethbridge coal fields. Mine inspectors pointed out that he continued to operate low-producing mines because he had always mined and it had become "force of habit". They marvelled that, even when well into his seventies, he could handle a miner's pick with the best of them.

When he finally retired in 1955 at age 74, George Rollingson had put in 64 years in the coal mines, about 20 of those years in England and 44 in the mines of the Lethbridge area.

In 1963, the Lethbridge Historical Society and the Lethbridge Miners'Library Club unveiled a marker, called the "Miner's Cairn"in the riverbottom. George Rollingson, along with oldtimers Matt and Mike Homulos and J.A. (Jack) Foster, played a prominent part in the ceremony. In 1988, the cairn still stood in front of the Coalbanks Kiosk, the latter a later tribute to the coal miners of the region.

George Rollingson died in Lethbridge on July 7, 1967.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup