COAL DUST PALIMPSEST

RECLAMATION- DUST ON THE LINES – The women of MICHEL

The raising of a coal miners daughter. The connection of women of the coal town of Michel, BC

THE WOMEN OF MICHEL, BC

The coal dust has never left us. It is in our souls, lungs and in the tattoos on our childhood scraped knees. Dr.Glascow told new bride Patricia Sanyshyn Kozler, “You can tell a coal miner’s daughter by an x-ray of her lungs and the black scars on her knees.”  

Women used party lines to call each other, distinct by the code number of rings for each household. The operator would put through calls about births, weddings, deaths, mine disasters, recipes, child rearing tips, gossip, groceries, medical help, town safety, taxi services, spiritual salutations, weather communication, marital support. All small town social connections and network. 

The party line was the small community connection, managed by the women of Michel. The party telephone lines, like the clothes lines that hung the family laundry, were dusted with coal and hard times.  The clothes soaked in buckets of sunlight soap, and scrubbed to release the very black fine pigment that settled on all that it touched. The brilliant whites would be uncovered as the layers of black was defeated with the soap, and stories of brightness and resilience would be revealed from under the layers of coal dust only to hang on the dusty lines again.

Rows of lilacs trees would perfume the dusty air in the spring as a feminine challenge and sign of hope, and pushed back at the the oily tinge in the air. Their roots profusely pushing up through the black earth, only for their blooms to be dusted with black. The  men went everyday to the blackness of the mines, some not to return. But always the black eyeliner reminder of the dark work.

The resiliency of the women of Michel is in homes they kept, the families the raised, the art they made and the stories on the line.

Loughery is exploring mix media coal as a pigment to add to her encaustic and oil contemporary pieces. Placing layers of medium as she reveals past stories of social women issues, and shares the threads of feminine cultures and stories from the women of her small coal mine town history.

Reclamation-Dust on the Line– is a PHYSICAL & DIGITAL collaborative ART IN COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT EXHIBITION with artists Gayle Gaskell Vallance, Elaine Gaskell Despoelberch, Monica Beranek, Patricia Kozler, Linda Marriott and more

Michelle Loughery…born in Michel, BC

Artist, storyteller and coal miner’s daughter.

PALIMPSEST ART PROJECT

RECLAMATION -Dust on the lines

….the women of Michel BC…………..Coal Miner’s Daughters


photo – Patricia Kozler & Michelle Kozler Loughery

Project -RECLAMATION DUST ON THE LINES

A collaborative show about the women of the Coal town of Michel, BC. Mixed media stories and art installations that showcase the culture of the forced relocated coal town of Michel BC. Canada

WOMEN OF MICHEL

DUST ON THE LINES

Michel – Natal – Middletown – a trio of coal mining communities erased.

Driving west on Highway 3, you reach the Alberta – British Columbia border and enter the Michel Creek Valley.  Just as you cross the first bridge over Michel Creek, you drive through where the town of Michel used to be. A little further was Middletown, and just beyond was the community of Natal, all three coal mining communities that have vanished.  The history of the region has been swept away – forgotten in a line of dust. For more than seven decades the communities were the heart of coal mining in B.C. and Canada; but more importantly, they were home to thousands of people of all nationalities, immigrants brought to work the coal and support the BC economy. Michel was the first, established after the Crow’s Nest Coal Company opened a mine site in 1899. The town, that had almost 500 residents by 1901, was considered the commercial centre in the valley. It was here that miners were offered company houses to live and raise their families. With the Canadian Pacific Railway eager to transport coal, the Michel mine was producing 11,000 tons by 1901. Three years later, Michel’s trio of mines were producing 235,250 tons of coal, and with the growing success of the mines, the town’s population mushroomed to 1,200 by 1907.

A 1967 mine tragedy was considered the final nail in the coffin for the communities of the Michel Creek Valley. By the 1950s, demand for coal had already decreased as oil and natural gas became the fuel of choice  for consumers. As well, the rise in tourism in southeast British Columbia had brought growing adverse attention to the dust-coated coal mining towns.  In 1964, the B.C. government, determined to beautify the entrance to BC, ordered the destruction of the buildings in the three communities, relocating the residents to nearby Sparwood, which had been established in 1939 to provide housing for mine managers. By the 1960s, Sparwood had become the centre for the burgeoning coal export industry,  and was considered much cleaner and more attractive to visitors than the Michel Creek Valley towns. The government had hoped relocation would be finalized by 1968, but many residents in Michel and Natal were dismayed with the loss of their homes and were firm in their decision to stay as long as they could. By 1978 the government had won, and the communities were bulldozed and erased from the landscape, if not from the memories of those who grew up and lived there. 

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