The Coon Family
as told by Mrs. Coon and daughter, Iris
Mark Coon was born in Michigan and came to Saskatchewan in the early 1900's. Mrs. Coon was born Iris Pope, in Padstow Cornwall, England. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Pope, arrived in Swift Current in 1909, bringing with them ten children. They had lost three, one set of twins and one child of a second set of twins. They moved to Pen kill, Saskatchewan. They had two more children and adopted another. Iris was the middle child of fifteen.
They lived on a farm near Penkill where Iris met her husband-to-be when she was just six- teen.
In 1919, the Kimberley miners went on strike, so a number of farm boys from Saskatchewan were recruited. Mr. Coon was one of these, com- ing to Kimberley in the fall of that year. Young Iris missed her fiance and was deter- mined to marry him as soon as Mark could make arrangements for a place to live. She left Penkill by train on June 2, 1920, and arrived in Cranbrook on June the 4th. They were married that evening at Christ Anglican Church by Rev. Harrison. Mr. Frank Fortier, a shift boss at the Top Mine, took Mark's shift as motorman so he could be married.
They left Cranbrook on June 6th after shop- ping for a few essentials, and came to Kimberley in Mr. Hedley MacLeod's jitney. Mr. MacLeod did not trust the old bus on the hill to the Top Mine, so Mr. Lewis, who had an old McLaughlin- Buick, drove them the rest of the way. On arrival they were shivareed by all the kids in the area. Mark knew what to expect and had a box of forty-eight chocolate bars to hand out. Later that evening, the adults came to do the honors.
Still a bride, Mrs. Coon employed herself cleaning the shift-bosses' house two doors away. Her life proved very busy after her family of five children came. In the beginning there was no sewer system or hot water, the water for washing had to be heated in a copper boiler on top of a wood stove. Clothes were dried outside on a line. In summer this was fine, but mighty cold when hanging them out and bringing them in during the winter.
One early experience Mrs. Coon remembers was the birth of twins to a Mrs. Barnicoat. The babies were so tiny she could hold one on her hand. She offered to bathe and dress them as Mrs. Barnicoat was afraid to handle them. They had to be wrapped in blankets and kept near the stove for warmth, as there were no incubators in those days. There was no hospital either.
The milkman was Mr. Ben Keer from Marysville. When Mrs. Coon arrived from Cranbrook two weeks after baby, Iris, was born, she had no way of getting to the Top Mine except to walk. Mr. Keer offered to drive her up but was a bit worried, as he was driving a young horse and was just breaking it in. Mrs. Coon held the reins while Mr. Keer delivered milk along the route. Having lived on a farm, she knew horses and had no trouble at all.
The Warren Recreation Hall was built beside the tennis court at the Top Mine. Many parties and dances were held there, but everyone had to come down into town for other entertainment. Each Saturday they would walk into town for a picture show in Handley's Hall, which stood where the funeral home now stands.
Mr. Bill Philpot was postmaster and groceryman for all the residents at the Top Mine. Groceries were stored in the basement of the cookhouse and could be bought from there.
There was no school at the Top Mine until the fall of 1921, when Dr. Hannington pulled a few strings, resulting in a one-room school being built. The different teachers were: Frank Owen, 1922; Ralph Hall, 1923; Miss G. Puffer, (Bill Green's niece) 1924, 1925, 1926; Fred Martello, 1927-28; Don Knott, 1928-29; Wilfred Orchard, 1929-31, (married to Albert Oliver's sister); Miss Ethel Colthorp, 1931-32. Fred Martello also taught in Kimberley before moving to Creston and Miss Colthorp moved to the coast.
In 1920 Mr. Coon had a nasty experience as a motorman. The train coming out of the tunnel, ran to the rock house on a high trestle. One day the brakes failed on the motor and it jumped the safety blocks on the end of the line. The motor was hanging perpendicular to the rest of the train with only two bolts holding it. He had to climb up the motor onto the ore cars to keep from dropping the one hundred and fifty feet to the bottom.
Another episode was when the J. Siega house burned and their baby was asphyxiated. Mr. Coon managed to get it out before it was cremated.
Mrs. Coon recalls an amusing incident when she was baking bread. Her husband jokingly dared her to bake it all as one big loaf, so she did. It took three hours to bake in the pan in which it had risen. When it was done, they invited the Bennett family over for tea with bread and jam. It took a bit of slicing, but all eight of them only managed to consume three slices. Albert Bennett, although only a child, remembers this quite well.
Her son Edwin was born at the Top Mine and the midwife was Mrs. Burns. When her other three children were also born at the Top Mine, the midwife was a Mrs. Boletti, and she took care of the family each time.
Around Easter time in 1931, Mrs. Coon and the children moved to Cranbrook, leaving Mr. Coon in the house. The Company had issued orders that all families move from the Top Mine site as they were afraid of cave-ins. Young Iris can remember how the entire area would shake every time a blast went off in the mine. This area is now the open pit. Edwin was not quite nine years old when he died while they were still in Cranbrook.
The family moved back to Kimberley at the end of June to a small house on Bingay Street. They were here less than two months when a mine accident claimed the lives of Bill Hawks and Mark Coon. Mr. Hawks was killed instantly and Mr. Coon passed away the next day. This was August 28, 1931.
That winter was exceptionally cold and the house was drafty, with large cracks beneath the doors. Mrs. Coon had four children to dress, feed and keep warm op $50.00 a month. It took two tons of coal a month to partially warm the place. She recalls putting the children to bed, stoking up the fire, putting on her warmest coat to sit near the stove to knit or sew clothing for the children. She kept a baseball bat at her side to kill the mice that ran in through the cracks in the walls and under the door. Needless to say she moved from there as soon as she could. They lived for a few years in a house just below the Catholic Church on Ross Street, and in 1937 they moved to her present home on Wallinger Av- enue, where she has lived for forty years.
Iris worked in both the Townsite cookhouse with Mark Beduz and the Chapman Camp cookhouse with Jimmie Pittao and Harold George. She married Joe Clark in 1942. They had one son, Alex, before Joe was killed in the rockhouse in 1949. In 1950, Iris married Art Giles, son of Albert and Lillian Giles. Art had a three- year-old daughter by a previous marriage. He worked in the City Bakery with his father and when they moved the bakery to Marysville, also opened a general store. When this business was sold, Art went back to work for the Company and is a supervisor on the conveyor belts.
Alex Clark is married and living in Nelson, they have one son Michael. Art and Iris's three children are Elaine, now married to Richard Johnston and living in Orkney, near Drumheller, Alberta, and they have one son Robert. Bill married Colleen Loseth of Coleman and they reside in Lethbridge. Eric is still at home and graduated in 1978.
Gladys lives with her mother and has worked for the Kimberley Stationers for many years. Her son Edwin, and family live in Golden. They have three children, Sheri, Crista and Larry.
Edna married Lee Thompson of Chapman Camp. Lee works for the Company at the Concentrator. They have two girls, Caryl Lee still at home and Susanne. Susanne married Len Jacques and resides at Sparwood, with one daughter, Toby Rae.
Mrs. Coon has a friendly personality, very forthright and outspoken, and her infectious and hearty laugh is recognized by everyone.