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Bob Kuzminski: ‘It holds a lot of us together still’

"Well, I was there for a couple of days and all of a sudden my dad hands the phone to me. It was the mine boss. ‘Would you like a job for a week or two?’ He asked. Well, I stayed for about six years.”
26 Mine Closing Portraits 0006
Bob Kuzminski.

Bob Kuzminski moved to Canada from Poland with his family when he was a young boy.

“I was born in Belgium and we came to Canada in the early 50s,” he said. “We worked our way across Canada. When my dad got to Coleman, that’s when he became a Miner. He worked there for a bit, then East Cooley, then we came here to Canmore.”

Kuzminski’s parents did not speak much English and he spoke none himself. Though his first schooling experience was very difficult when entering Grade 1, he soon found himself feeling at home within the little mining town of Canmore. Though he would never have guessed it growing up, Kuzminski would eventually take up work in the mine himself. 

After high school, Kuzminski spent a summer working at the Banff Center where he met some friends who were headed east. He joined them and spent some time living in Ottawa, Hamilton, and even Detroit before deciding to make the journey back west.

“I was coming back through Canmore on the way to Vancouver,” he said. “At that time, a lot of folks were headed to Vancouver. Good music, good vibes, you know.

“I stayed at my parents’ place with the intent to have a meal, get my clothes laundered, have a day or two of rest, then head to Vancouver. Well, I was there for a couple of days and all of a sudden my dad hands the phone to me. It was the mine boss. ‘Would you like a job for a week or two?’ He asked. Well, I stayed for about six years.”

Standing near the former Lamphouse and the opening of the No. 2 Mine, Kuzminski pointed to where there used to be a vehicle repair shop, train tracks, a horse graveyard, and a whole different world than what we see today. Though so much has changed, the energy is still palpable.

“I’ve been to Canmore, Coleman, East Cooley, Grand Cache, and other places like that,” he said. “There’s something about those communities. It might sound weird, but I have come to the understanding that there’s something that’s opened up and released when you go into the ground in a big way like that. It becomes part of the community.”

On top of the unique relationship with the earth that mining towns hold, the relationship between the people is also something truly special. The town was one collective “we,” and helping one another happened without a second thought.

“There was a really strong sense of camaraderie,” he said. “It extended from the people that worked together in the mine out into the community. When my dad was building his house, the people he worked with came, poured cement, built the basement. When the old arena was being built, everyone got together to do that. If they knew somebody was putting up a house, people would get together, they’d make a big meal.”

When the mine closed, Kuzminski and his fellow miners already knew a change was afoot.

“We expected it. At the time the mine closed, I was involved with the start of what would eventually become the first ambulance service in town. I wasn’t disturbed about it, I just knew it was a transition and it was time.”

Kuzminski spoke to the bond between the miners, their families, and the town as a whole. There’s something to be said for shared space and shared experience.

“There’s a bond between the Canmorites that have been here through generations and through the mining history. It holds a lot of us together still.”