Leon Dyrgas and Bill Pasemko

Year: 2005
Location: Canmore
Profile (Leon Dyrgas): Leon Dyrgas was born and raised in Canmore. He worked in the mines for 19 years after high school, first as a labourer, then as a first-class welder. When the last of the Canmore mines was shuttered, he worked as a welder at the Exshaw Cement Plant. He recalls the tough conditions for the miners who were paid by the ton, not the hour. But the United Mine Workers negotiated contracts that compared quite favourably with the miserable wages and working conditions of the inter-war years when the companies used armed thugs to suppress unionization. The Canmore miners and their union created a close-knit community which sponsored a hospital, an arena, a curling rink, and the union hall. When the mines closed and Canmore became a tourist mecca, four million dollar homes replaced modest miners’ homes. The miners were forced to move elsewhere. Dyrgas received neither a severance nor a pension.

Profile (Bill Pasemko): Bill Pasemko was born and raised in Carval, just west of Edmonton. He worked as a miner in various parts of Alberta from 1945 to 1993, including 33 years in mines in the Canmore area. His many mining jobs included packing timber and loading cars for miners, digging coal, and then serving as a “utility man.” While he regarded his workplaces as safe, he mentions deaths from rock falls and from industrial accidents. Pasemko believed that the union had negotiated better pay and working conditions for the miners while maintaining good relations with the coal companies. But in the declining years of the mines, the owners, in Pasemko’s view, were predatory. After a lifetime of mining, he ended up with a pension of only $88 per month.
Keywords: Canmore area mines; Canmore in transition from mining to tourism; Mineowners and workers in mines awaiting shutdown; Occupations in mining companies;Pensions for miners; Piecework and mining; Recreation in mining communities; Severance for miners; United Mine Workers; Working conditions in mines.
Transcript: Download PDF

See also: Coal Mining; Health and Safety