Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Minto Mystery Miners

Minto Coal Mine

This is a rare actual film footage of an unknown coal miner in the Minto coal mine in 1954. 

My family would drive from Ontario to Nova Scotia every Summer to visit my mother's relatives, and my father's only brother and his family. We'd pass through Minto, New Brunswick, where my father's family all were from. Great grandfather Konrad Meyers and my great grandmother Amelia Kindel, like so many who first settled in Minto New Brunswick, when they arrived in Canada from the old country, Poland, Germany, and Belgium, came from a coal mining background, and my family was no different. Minto, New Brunswick being a coal mining town, was a reason to settle here, along with land grants, and a promise of a better life.

My father was estranged from most of his family, due to alcoholism, and abuse. Needless to say, my father had next to no relationship with the home, where he grew up, as there was too much heartache, and bad memories for him. He began working in the coal mine at the tender age of twelve years of age, which was not uncommon, as children were small enough to get into the small tunnels of the mine, and his family needed the money. It is very hard to imagine, but I am so grateful, and happy, that he was able to escape the 'rat holes' in order to make a life for himself, and for his familiy's future.

I remember very vividly, when my family would drive threw Minto as a kid, and I'd see from the car window, the tar paper shacks, that most of the residents of Minto lived in. There was extreme poverty, and it looked like a desolate, depressing place to live. We never stopped. My father drove in silence, deep in thought, driving staight through the dismal coal town, on auto pilot, heading for Nova Scotia. I could hardly believe this was where my relatives, my family was from, and it all seemed surreal to me.

Many years later, I finally came to know many of my relatives, and my cousins as an adult, after knowing next to nothing about my father's family, as he never spoke of them, nor would he hardly answer my questions about his family, when I asked.

Once I was older, I began to realize, and understand the inherited fabric of my family, the people of Minto, and how they lived their lives, during those coal mining days. They experienced such hard work in dangerous unhealthy conditions, extreme poverty, serious health issues, strong family bonds, and a deep connection to the land. These were all the things that were impressed upon me about Minto, the identity, and the deep roots of my family history.

My great aunt Melada Meyers, who was the matriarch of our family, once described to me the coal mines, as being " rat holes. " She ran the boarding house in the community for the miners, spoke about seven languages, and was the translator of the coal company. She was an amazing lady, who lived until she was 92, full of life, humour, strength, a loving and kind heart. I loved to listen to her tell her stories.

For me knowing my  personal family history, I think, helped me to become a better  artist. Coal mining is very much part of my family history, which makes me proud in many ways, for many reasons. My family inherited a love, and the gift of creativity through art, and music. Today I am grateful for and proud  of my heritage, and family history, regardless of how painful, and difficult, as this I believe makes for a greater depth of character and an ability to be an empathic person and artist.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I've been searching for information on my grandfather Lawson Flewelling, and came across this. He died on May 15 1954, at 33 years old in a fire. Born and raised in Minto. He too was a coal miner. As were most of the men there I guess. I really enjoyed the film footage. Thank you for sharing this.

Darlene Flewelling