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Ed and Jackie Latvala: ‘I was born in a mining community – It was in our blood’

“When it happened, it was the end of an era, but it allowed everyone to get on with their lives.”
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Ed and Jackie Latvala in Canmore on Tuesday (June 18). ARYN TOOMBS/RMO PHOTO

Ed and Jackie Latvala are longtime Canmore residents, lovers of this special community, and some of the warmest individuals one may come across.

Ed was born in Canmore, Jackie came from Lethbridge, and Ed first took up work at the mine when he was 17 years old.

“Outside, at first. You have to be 18 to work underground,” he said. “I was born in a mining community. It was in our blood. I was about 10 years old when my dad took me up to Mine No. 5 above Quarry Lake there. He brought me into a fan trip to scare the hell out of me so I wouldn’t go work in the mine. My brother ran out of there, and I wanted to go down further. That’s where it started.”

Jackie came out to Banff for a summer after her first year of university. One of the first people she met was her future sister-in-law who introduced her and Ed.

“We traveled over the summer together, I decided I wasn’t going to go back to school, and we were a team from then on” Jackie recalled. “Three years later we got married, five years after we had our first, Jeff, two years after that we had Kirsten.”

During Ed’s time working in the Canmore coal mines, he had a variety of jobs.

“From motor helper to loader, to grease monkey, to pressman, to mixer man, to union foreman. Then, I went underground.”

He worked to get his mining ticket, once he did that, he worked on his fire boss ticket, which he soon received and made the transition.

“A jack of all trades, but master of none,” Jackie joked.

The boys and men working in the mines received hands-on instruction in countless areas, allowing them to gain remarkably versatile skillsets.

“If you showed one bit of interest, these guys took the time to take you aside and teach you. The carpenters, the pipe fitters, even the plumbers. That’s how we learned,” Ed said.

The miners didn’t just use their affinity for the trades in the mines.

“Everyone did everything together in Canmore,” Ed said. “Building churches, houses, the Legion burned and we all helped fix it up. Everyone was always on site. You had to have a tub full of water for mixing cement and a tub full of beer. That was the rule.”

The community and miners rallied when friends and neighbours needed help – a new house became a communal project with everyone helping out in some way.

“Even as young families, if someone was building a house, everyone was out there helping,” Jackie said. “The kids and families were out there making big lunches. You never hired anyone to do anything, it was all a labour exchange.”

When rumours began to spread about the mine’s closure, the miners grew anxious about their futures and sought out new opportunities. Many, including Ed, headed out to Kananaskis Country and or the industrial operations to the east of the community. 

“You knew when the last shift was before you even went on that shift. Everybody had different thoughts. It really bothered some of the older guys,” Ed said.

“They kept saying it was going to close, we just didn’t know when. Many guys had started making other plans, getting ready to go from black dust to white dust as they would say, which means going out to the plants in Exshaw.

“When it happened, it was the end of an era, but it allowed everyone to get on with their lives.”

Jackie said at the time they weren’t anxious to leave Canmore even though there was uncertainty around the future, because “it was home for us and home for the kids.” 

The two continue to reminisce and recall the different faces of Canmore they’ve seen come and go over the years.

From when Marra’s Grocery got its first shopping cart, where the town’s Grave Digger used to live, the single brick school in Canmore, and the unwavering strength of this little community, then and now.

“It’s the 40th anniversary of the closure – it’s monumental,” Jackie said. “No regrets at all about what has gone. It’s history, it’s great to recall. It’s fun to look back.”