December 16th, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 50
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Looking Back At Looking Back - Hindsight is 20/20
Looking Back
John Kinnear photo
Bluebird nest with four abandoned eggs and one tree swallows egg
I promise. No snide comments or hand wringing about 2020 and what a shit show of a year it has been. We all know that. How about I just wander through what little I had to offer column-wise in this apocalyptic year and try and keep it light. As many of you know my own personal catastrophe unfolded in this, a most unforgettable year. The only thing that keeps me sane these days in a different kind of light. Bud Light.

Let’s go back then to a year ago in January where I started off the year column-wise by recounting the story of the March 1964 Ostash tragedy. It is a tale of the terrible consequence of improper ventilation after the then on-going conversion of furnaces from coal to natural gas. I remember being struck by the fact that not four months before it unfolded, on Christmas Day, the Ostash’s had a baby girl come into their lives which they appropriately named Noella Joy Eve. If not for a stomach ailment that had put her in hospital prior to that Tuesday tragedy she likely would have perished in that carbon monoxide nightmare. See the on line archives “Remembering the Ostash Tragedy” – Jan 15th for the full story.

I wonder (that) if back then any of us had any idea the terrible road we as a country and as a world were about to go down. For me, things seemed to spin completely out of control that January. Lorraine’s left leg blew up on January 2nd, her 81st birthday, with cancer-induced blood clots from her ankle to her waist. It was a terrifying time. It got worse, as I revealed in part three of her life story that I chose to share with you the readers entitled, “A Moment in Time – A Perfect Storm”.
continued below ...
In February as things settled down a bit I reworked a story I had done about cabooses and their demise. “The End of the End of the Train”. I still miss watching that iconic conductor motel going down the tracks with someone’s elbow hanging out the cupola window. After that story I waded into the early history of disastrous flooding of the Crowsnest River. (Altered Courses – The Embattled Crowsnest River). It is kind of sad that these early spring runoff catastrophes precipitated the eventual total alteration of the Crowsnest River from West Coleman to East Blairmore. It is now not much more than a straight channel designed to speed water through our communities.

In March, as the terrible news of the failure of Lorraine’s cancer immunotherapy sank in, I tried to keep you the readers in the game by exploring the story of Torindo John Bisaro and the subsequent naming of a spectacular cave and a mountain after this young Italian man who died for this country. I love the Italian history of the Pass and have tried to imagine what it must have been like to leave that beautiful country and come here, mostly with nothing, to start all over again.

Look for me to follow that immigration legacy next year with a multi-part series on Ricardo Petrone. He landed here in Hillcrest in December of 1928 with his parents and 4 siblings in -38 below. Some were wearing shorts. In the process I will try to acknowledge, through his story, the badly overlooked legacy of the private coal haulers here in the Pass. It is one helluva story that needs to be told.
continued below ...
The details of the Blairmore South Mine tragedy story in late March struck a note with many readers and there was some interesting feedback from family members recalling just how horrific this event impacted the Knight and Rinke families.

April Fools landed on a publishing Wednesday this year so I didn’t hold back. It doesn’t happen very often that a questionable story can come out on that day. It is a refreshing change for a historian and researcher to just lie his ass off about something and see where it goes. (See my archives- “The Winter of the Century and Revisiting All Fools Day”).

I don’t know how I managed to write five columns in April. I normally write every other week. Perhaps it was a distraction to watching the heartbreaking decline of the love of my life. During that time I finally shared the story of Hershey, a Volkswagen microbus that was such a part of our early lives and then stepped into the world of mountain bluebirds. A remarkable bit of feedback came to me after this in-depth look at those special people determined to see this member of the genus Sialia thrive here. A former bluebird box volunteer by the name of Roxanne Reiter-McKenzie shared a story with me by email that reveals a level of bluebird care and maintenance unheard of.
continued below ...
It goes like this. In the fall when she cleaned out nest boxes (part of the maintenance process) she would deliberately save bluebird nests that were in good shape. Bluebirds can weave a really nice nest. Roxanne told me that Pizza 73 extra large double pizza boxes were perfect for storing them in and that she could get 9 in a box. She knew that each spring it could happen that there would be three days or so of non-stop rain and as the bluebird mother came and went continuously feeding the babies her soaking wet feathers would drench the nest.

The babies would become soaked also and usually die of hypothermia in a cold spring spell. The solution that worked for her sometimes was to check the nests during this time and remove any wet nestlings into a dry warmer banding box. She would activate a hand warmer and cover the nestlings with soft clothes then remove the wet nest and replace it with one of her pizza box specials. Then she would replace the surviving nestlings and hope that it was enough to keep the brood going. How’s that for commitment?

There was only one more column forthcoming that spring before Lorraine’s condition became a mind-numbing 24/7 gut-wrenching commitment. After I lost her I realized that with the Covid situation acknowledgement of this remarkable woman would not come by traditional means. Her story needed to be told and somehow I summoned the wherewithal to put it all together in a four-part column series. To say it was cathartic is an understatement.
continued below ...
In September I finally reconnected to you the reader with some mining stories but my mind was preoccupied, as it had been for months, with a desperate search for my sweet Lorraine. It took me everywhere and nowhere. “Looking for My Lorraine” in November was my offering of how grief can leave you feeling desolate and hopeless. It turns out that I was, in fact, being driven by her heart and her memory to be in all those amazing places. To revisit and commune in those places with her, a woman whose immense respect for nature had transformed my soul a long time ago.

Many readers assured me, over and over again, that she was in fact right there with me all along. Right beside me as the crocuses bloomed and later as the Lilac and Dames Rocket aromas permeated the air around me. There, where the mists of the many waterfalls I hiked to swept around me, and there as the spectacular fall colours transformed our beloved Crowsnest valley into an artist’s palate of red and gold. I know I said I would never stop looking for her but perhaps therein lies the solution to my desperate search. It’s the journey, not the destination.

In early December I decided to finally weigh in on the convoluted current coal mine review process and share my personal journey in coal. To say that this permit review has been onerous is an understatement. It has its parallel in the Covid situation in that everyone and I mean everyone, has an opinion and most are unmovable in their stance. Since when did we all be become so intransigent in our views? I see the other side clearly and do admit there are concerns. But others dismiss opposing views summarily and having nothing but scorn for those looking to sustain our community with this proposed mine.

All that aside, as I said, it has been one helluva year but we, as a community, have managed to make it through so far with a pretty stellar record. We must not be complacent or let our guard down now. Today I picked up my latest batch of specially modified Sandi Knight masks, ten inchers designed to fit my big old face. They are Christmas themed and I will wear them proudly and consistently as we strive to shove that curve down again.

We have not been robbed of our Christmas. We are being given the chance to ensure through sacrifice that our Christmas’ in the future will be as they should be. For everyone!
Digital issues of the Pass Herald are now available:

Subscribe and read the FULL Pass Herald online.

or read just this issue of the Pass Herald online.
December 16th, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 50
All information on this website is Copyright (c) 2019 Pass Herald Ltd. All rights reserved.
12925 20th Ave, Box 960, Blairmore, Alberta, Canada T0K 0E0 | | 403.562.2248 | 403.562.8379 (FAX)