Sylvia Heath (nee Latvala)

Gus, Siiri and Sylvia Latvala
Written by Canmore Museum

My father, Kusti (Gus) Latvala emigrated to Canmore from Finland in 1923, at the age of seventeen, following his brother Hans. The minimum age for working in the mine was eighteen, so Gus lived with his brother and family for a year. Later on, he joined hockey and ball teams. It seems his lack of English wasn’t much of a hindrance. So many things were strange to him, such as not knowing that the cone of an ice cream was edible!

My mother, Siiri Saatela, was born in Rossland, B.C. to Finnish parents. After finishing her schooling, she left behind her parents, brother, Oiva, and sister, Sylvia, and came to Calgary to attend a hairdressing school. Here she learned mostly finger waving and marcelling.

Later, she answered an ad for a hairdresser in Canmore. However, on arriving here, she found there was only a small space in Walker’s Drug Store with no equipment. In the meantime, she had met Gus who later followed her back to Kimberley and they both then returned to this area and were married in Calgary. 

Their first home was at John Niemi’s and then they moved to an apartment house, owned by the mine. It had previously been the hospital on the corner of 7th Avenue and 6th Street. This is where I was born in 1935. After two years, Dad built a two-room house on the corner of 7th Avenue and 4th Street. My brother, Jerry, was also born at home, four years later. Eddy, Anne, and Shirley were born at the hospital on the hill.

One of my first memories was of my dad opening his lunch bucket after arriving home from work – and handing me a tiny kitten which was my first pet. Other memories were family and friends getting together on trips to Lake Minnewanka. The men would go out in boats and fish and we children would play along the shore while the women would be cooking and preparing food in the shelters. Those times were great fun.

On Saturdays, we would go to Reinikka’s sauna – women and girls on one side and men and boys on the other. Afterwards, we were invited into their home for coffee and treats.

In the winter, my mom would cut old clothes into strips and then roll them into balls. Then there would be mat-making at Reinikka’s, Mackie’s or Reynolds’. The men, along with the women, made the rugs. I remember it as a big social event. My mom would also buy big bags of sheep’s wool, which would have to be picked by hand because it had a lot of “gunk” in it. Then the wool had to be washed and hung up on the fence to dry (all of this was a very smelly procedure and was done outdoors). Afterwards, the wool was carded by hand into batts. Later on, Mom invested in a carding machine. She made big quilts for all of us after we got married and then small baby ones for each of the grandchildren.

When the mine wasn’t working, Dad and his buddies would go by horseback to the Spray Lakes to fish. Sometimes they would stay overnight, sleeping on the ground, leaning against a tree and covered by a saddle blanket. Dad also fly-fished along the Bow River by himself, with friends, or with my brothers as they got older. His love for fishing extended to his retirement years. The last time was with Andy Chakowski on Lake Minnewanka.

Dad was known for his strength and his hard work ethic by all who knew and worked with him. The results of his years in the mine resulted in a condition called “black lung”, causing him to have a pacemaker and two artificial hips.

A 1924 Ford car was Gus’s first vehicle and the last one was a 1982 Ford which he drove until 1999, at the age of 93. Dad always kept his cars in mint condition and driving was a very important part of his life.

My best friend in the 30’s and 40’s was Jo Anne Dutka; her mom and mine were good friends, too. Having no telephones, we would have to pass notes from one mom to another. I lived on the corner of 4th Street and Jo Anne lived three doors from the other end. At that time, 4th Street was just a path in front of our houses and bushes and trees filled the rest. With no street lights and very few houses, it was quite scary coming home at nights from hockey games.

A very fond memory of mine was going to the convent with Jo Anne (she was Catholic; I was not). The Sisters taught a sewing class there for us and we also sang hymns (in Latin). I also sat with the choir upstairs in the tiny church. Father Holland was the priest at that time and the nuns that I remember were Sisters Anita, Leonard Marie and Superior.

The Y.M.C.A. by the Company Store was a central meeting place; some of my friends lived on Hospital Hill, some in the Horseshoe, some in Mineside and I lived in Townside. Beside the Y, there was a tennis court. Inside was a cafe; a large hall where we held bridal showers and teen dances, a small library; and also an area where I was taught gymnastics. The instructors were Phyllis Bobyk and Doreen Horodyski.

St. John’s Ambulance First Aid classes were taught in the Y.M.C.A. also. My instructors were Johnny Brown, Barney Bell and Joe Miskow. Besides basic first aid, we were taught artificial respiration, how to carry the injured, putting on splints and the various slings. Our examiner was Dr. Worthington and after our final test, we were given a small black St. John’s Ambulance book. The First Aid Association also organized a masquerade ball every year, held in the Union Hall.

Other memories come to mind: high school bonspiels between Banff and Canmore, track meets between the two schools, on a weekend, biking to Banff or Exshaw, tobogganing down Spray Road when the construction crews were not working, bowling at the Exshaw Hotel or in Banff, hiking and weiner roasts by the river or at Twin Lakes.

I graduated from high school in 1954 and married soon after to Marvyn Heath, son of George and Pearl Heath. We had five children: Dale, Brian, Tim, Rhonda and Maxine. Marvyn worked as a packer at Canada Cement for a few years but after a layoff at the plant, he went to the highway department as a machine operator for Parks Canada in Banff. From there, he joined George Biggy’s highway crew for the Provincial Government. He worked there until he passed away in 1987.

My oldest son, Dale, married Valerie Cardinal from Exshaw. He worked for LaFarge in Exshaw as a millwright and now is an electrician. Val has taught school in Banff. Brian married Anita Engler and they both own and operate Spiffy Janitorial. They have two daughters, Kaila and Kelsey. Tim and his partner Coochie also have a company (Willmar) in which they are developers. Rhonda received her nursing training in Calgary and now lives in Qualicum, B.C., with her husband, Michael Riva, and son Tyler. Maxine received her degree in education and is living in Calgary. 

Gus, Siiri and Sylvia Latvala

Gus Latvala

Gus Latvala

Gene Pringle (best man), Marvyn Heath (groom), Sylvia Latvala (bride), Winnie Rogers (bridesmaid), 1954

Sylvia Heath, her children and their families

In Canmore Seniors at the Summit, ed. Canmore Seniors Association, 2000, p. 131-133.

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