Book fills in family stories
“Of course I remember the Hillcrest Mine Disaster. My father was killed in it. It was June 19, 1914.”
So opens a new book that remembers the victims and survivors of the Hillcrest mine disaster and fills in many family history gaps.
Written by long-time resident Belle Kovach and her sister Mary Bole, the book is a tribute to the miners who lost their lives, the women left widowed and the children left fatherless. It lends a human side to so many who’ve become names on a marker, footnotes to a story.
Arranged by country or province of origin, “Snowing in June” chronicles the story of these men and their families.
Author Belle Kovach said she tried to find out as much as she could about all 189 men but came up short by about six or seven.
Using every means available, her research took years, she said, and often a piece of information would lead to many more. Using passenger lists, ancestry websites and census data, Kovach said hundreds of people answered online inquiries to fill in missing pieces about a person.
She then had to decide what was important and write the stories. Weeding it down to a manageable size was difficult, she admitted, but she learned so much about people in the Crowsnest Pass and their stories.
In one instance, someone had a small scrap of paper with just a mother’s name and her eight children written on it. Nothing more.
Kovach’s research pieced together the rest of the information and now the family has the full story, she said.
“There were so many stories and so many tragedies even without the mine disaster. It was so moving,” said Kovach. “The saddest part [for me] was the women and their aftermath.”
Kovach said the more she learned, the more she wanted to share and talk about it.
“It gave me the drive to keep going,” she said. “I didn’t realize the stories of the people here.”
Kovach said she’d always had a general interest in history and after her sister Mary took up genealogy, they learned that just days after their father was born, their grandfather was scheduled to work at the Bellevue Mine. Instead, his cousin took that shift and was killed in the Bellevue Mine explosion of 1910.
Research into the lives of the Hillcrest Mine Disaster victims and survivors to commemorate the 100th anniversary, led to “Snowing in June”, based on the opening story of Julia (Elick) Makin.
Many descendents and family members are coming to the Crowsnest Pass to take part in the Hillcrest 100 memorial events, said Kovach, armed now with knowledge about what happened to their relatives.
“People can fill in their family stories now.”