John Dan White Collection
The documents linked to the right were sent to me by Sandra White and Linda Chorney. The collection consists mostly of newspaper articles, some complete and some partial. Many of the documents contain more than one article as they were scanned from the scrapbook their father started more than 75 years ago.
This letter explains their connection to the mine disaster which is through their Grandfather Harry White who was the Fire Boss. His testimony at the inquiry into the blast can also be found on the "Documents" page.
April 1, 2013
Dear Ms. Purcell, Ms. Pommen:
Enclosed are photocopies of news articles from the time of the Coalhurst Explosion, collected by our father, John Dan White. Dad was a seventeen year old student when he made his scrapbook, probably the same age as your actors. Our second/third cousin, Charles "Chuck" Gresl forwarded us the emails from Arlene. You mentioned it would be interesting to find out about the people involved, so here is some information.
John Dan was a son of Harry White and Rose (Gresl) White. Many names and events of that time were mentioned to my sister and me, but as children we were always confused about the family connection, as Harry White married a Gresl, Rose, and Charlie Gresl, Rose's brother, married Margaret White, Charlie's sister. Try to figure that out as a kid!
Three of Grandma Roses's beother, Anthony, Louie and Fritz, were killed in the explosion. One of Grandpa Harry's brothers, his youngest, Charlie, "Boccho" (Italian for Boy) had been killed earlier that year in the mine. (Thank you Arlene, for writing his story into your play.) The Gresl story appears on p. 351-2 and the White story on p. 596-7 of "Our Treasured Heritage." In reading these we learned of the early kindness of our grandmother. Her sister-in-law writes that after her husband, Louie, was killed, she was able "to pull through with the help of my sister-in-law, Rosie White. She was such a wonderful person. She was not only a sister but a second mother to us all. If we had any problems, she was the one we turned to, who solved them for us. Yes, she was very kind." Grandma White remained that way right to the day she died.
After the explosion, Grandpa Harry moved the family to his farm on the river near Pincher Creek, intending to make a life so his sons would not have to go into a coal mine. Then when the war started, the government deemed that the farm was too small to support both Harry and his eldest son, Alex. One would have to leave or be drafted into the army. Harry left so Alex could farm, a necessary occupation during war time. Harry and Rose moved to Bellevue where Harry again went into the mine, also a necessary occupation. Three other sons, Dan, Joe and Jim signed up to serve overseas. All three came home alive, even though they served in dangerous places. Uncle Jim was a paratrooper who was wounded after a jump during an invasion. Uncle Joe served in North Africa, Europe and Italy (where he went to the local priest to find some family history - "What is the name? Bianco? The whole cemetary is filled with Biancos," said the priest. So not much history of the White/Bianco family was learned from there.) Dad, John Dan, went to become a teacher, but joined the Calgary Tanks after just a short time at Normal School. He was at Dieppe and captured, spending three years as a P.O.W. Cousin Chuck has served a tour of Bosnia and a few of Afghanistan. For family concerned about his welfare, Chuck would always say, "Auntie Rosie sent three boys to way and they all came home. It will be the same for me."
We remember Harry White as a gruff-sounding man but who was a real softie. He would help anybody at any time. Although other family members liked the beer, Harry's favourite was banana splits. Back in the day he was a pretty fair baseball player. He liked to keep busy and when they retired to Pincher, he bagged groceries well past retirement age. Grandpa died after having Parkinson's for many years. There were many family gatherings for both happy and sad times, and even the gatherings at funerals held lots of laughter about tales of the old days.
I am sure that living in those times and dealing with the tragedy of the mine, brought a closeness and responsibility for our neighbors and friends that endured. It is certainly something for their children and grandchildren to live up to.
We are sending the service bulletins for both our dad and our mum, Allie, as she also was born in Coalhurst. Her dad was a coalminer too, but the Greaner family moved to Hillcrest Mines soon after Mum was born, a few years after the Hillcrest Mine Explosion. Maybe some local historian will be interested in these.
Thank you for all the effort you and your students are putting in to preserve this part of our history.
Break a leg with your production.
Sandra White Linda Chorney