Possibly coffeed at the Inn on the Border between Alberta and British Columbia at Crowsnest, travellers eastbound turn right out of that establishments access road to retake the Crowsnest Highway, the No. 3. Welcome to Sunny Alberta reads the first sign. Hopefully the cyclist doesnt make out this greeting through a curtain of wind-whipped rain. Or snow. For as much as Albertans tend to deny it, the fact is that their province does see some precipitation, although, truthfully, down here in the southern reaches, not an excessive amount.
Not a hundred metres on, the No. 3 overpasses the CPRs tracks. From the middle of the westbound lanes rail of this narrowish 1964 span, the photographers eye is drawn off north-easterly down the Railways alignment as it commences to curl itself along the northern shores of Island and, beyond it, Crowsnest, Lake. Until CP hacked its roadbed into the latters edge late in 1897 and the Alberta Department of Public Works bull-dozed the proto-No. 3 through here in 1917, these Waters completely blocked the Pass to terrestrial traffic. Above the Lakes to the north, seemingly squat at 6200 feet, Crowsnest Ridge rises protectively. Crowned since 1950 with a 175 foot-tall Alberta Government Telephones now Telus micro-wave transmission tower, the Ridge marks the south-east corner of the High Rock Range and separates the Highway from the Phillipps Pass and Mount Tecumseh. On the right, across the narrowed throat of the Crowsnest Pass,Sentinel Mountain, point-guard for the south stretching Flathead Range, fills the viewers south-east quadrant as it rises to 8,000 feet behind nearby Island Ridge. Invisible in the trees, an old path winds away to the south-west, passing the base of the highest mountain in the region, Ptolemy, into whose 9,234 foot-high crags an RCAF Dakota slammed on January 23rd, 1946, killing all seven aboard. Beyond Gargantua Cave, one of the largest spelunking attractions in Canada, the trail eventually crosses the Tent Pass to get into the Coal Creeks valley above Fernie, only some twenty miles as-the-crow-flies south-west from here.
The scenery is awesome in the truest sense of the word. Lower slopes carpeted in sweet-smelling pine and spruce, the upper slopes of barren rock sheltering drifts of snow in shady defiles even at the height of summer. In Alberta, writes Chester B. Beaty in The Landscapes of Southern Alberta - A Regional Geomorphology (University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, 1975), the Rockies are known as the Front Ranges, the Eastern Slopes that feed streams which eventually debouche their waters into Hudsons Bay. Adds Beaty, Rocky Mountain geomorphology is a reflection of the extensive alpine glaciation operating in a tectonically-produced structural landscape the generally linear, tilted masses of sedimentary rocks and the intervening valleys [being] created, in the main, by thrust-faulting from the west and southwest on a massive scale[,] sculpted over the millennia by glacial ice, running water, extremes in temperature causing stress fracturing, and gravity pulling down slides, slumps and scree.
Running Rails into the Pass
Since the head of the Government Railway Exploration Survey, Sanford Fleming, pronounced it so in 1872, engineers had appreciated that the Crowsnest Pass was the ideal railway corridor through the Canadian Rockies. Low in elevation, fairly open, with gentle grades, the Pass begged a railroad. However, mutterings of U.S. President James Monroes old doctrine of manifest destiny still rumbled from the United States, and only 55 miles as the crow flies up the Great Divide from the Boundary, the Crowsnest Pass was judged too vulnerable to host Canadas major east-west artery. Flemings second favourite, the Yellowhead Pass, was chosen for the Mainline. Ultimately, when William Cornelius Van Horne came to finalize the route in May of 1882, he ran it through the Kicking Horse Pass, half way between Flemings two choices. It was not until the rich Kootenay district of B.C. was in danger of being stripped of its metallic wealth by American industry that Canada was willing to risk pushing a line of railroad through the Crowsnest.
In February of 1896, the Alberta Railway and Coal Company (AR&C) announced that it had the finances in place to extend its line west from Lethbridge through the Crowsnest Pass and on to Kootenay Lake. The news surprised no-one. Both the AR&C and its antecedent, the North Western Coal & Navigation Company (NWC&N), had periodically declared intent to fulfill their railroads chartered mandate to lay steel into the Kootenays, but, having in 1885 completed its three-foot gauge line, the Turkey Track, from the CPR Mainline near Medicine Hat to Coal Banks, as Lethbridge was then known, the outfit had laid aside its hammers and seemed content to concentrate on mining coal. Besides, even though Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt and son Elliott Torrance Galt, directors of the AR&C, were tight with the Conservative party then ensconced on the federal seat of power, the opinion in Ottawa was that such a nationally important project as a railway to the raw wealth of southern British Columbia should not be left to what was, after all, a small company.
In 1892, alarmed that the rich ores of B.C.s Kootenay and Boundary districts were leaking away into the United States at an ever increasing rate, CP announced to its shareholders that management was seriously considering building a line through the Crows Nest Pass. Cattlemen on the Prairies, mountain resource owners and lumbermen rejoiced; finally, after years of badgering their elected representatives, they would get reliable, speedy access to Eastern markets. In July of 1893, reports J.A. Eagle in The Canadian Pacific Railway and the Development of Western Canada, 18961914 (McGill-Queens University Press, Montréal, 1989), the Company leased the Turkey Track for a millennium less a year. Having supervised the Tracks conversion to standard gauge, in December of 1896 CP agreed to purchase the line and its charter and began negotiations with the newly-elected federal Liberal government of Wilfrid Laurier for a subsidy to extend trackage from Lethbridge to Nelson, B.C. Willing to spend public money to spur resource development and secure Canadas future, on June 29, 1897 the new government proclaimed Victoria 60-61 chapter 36 which, wrote P.A. Robertson in Fernie The Early Years 1897-1908 (Ghostrider Productions, Fernie, 1997), ... enacted the statute of Canada clause in the British North America Act which allows it to appropriate jurisdiction for itself over provincial railways by declaring that a proposed railroad would be to the nations benefit. By invoking the statute Ottawa extended the charter of the proposed British Columbia Southern Railway from the Great Divide eastward into the District of Alberta to the CPs Calgary and Macleod Railway and onward to Lethbridge, permitted the CPR to lease it and gifted the line with an $11,000 per mile subsidy. However, in the time-honoured tradition of quid pro quo, Ottawa required concessions from the Railway. In exchange for the subsidy the CPR had signed the Crows Nest Agreement on June 10th promising to forever haul grain and flour from the Prairies to Eastern consumers at 4¢ per ton, and reduce rates on Ontario manufactured farm equipment delivered to the West. Having already purchased the charter of the BCS and its attendant provincial grants from The British Columbia Coal, Petroleum and Mineral Company, the CPR broke ground on this, the Crows Nest Line (CNL), at Lethbridge on July 14th, 1897. Past this point, sometime in the spring of 1898, the Companys Gandy dancers spiked down their rails.
The completion of the CNL opened southern Alberta and B.C. for Canadian industry, and though the CPR was responsible for the resultant prosperity, it was resented both for its wealth and its apparent disregard for the little guy. Being a business, and a large, Eastern-owned one at that, it was naturally more concerned with its bottom line than with the convenience of the folks living along its right-of-way. It was not too interested in ferrying people; it wanted to haul freight, for thats where the money was. By 1907 the denizens of the Alberta side of the Pass were exasperated enough with CP that several local businessmen provincially incorporated the Crows Nest and Prairie Electric Railway Company which they envisioned as running a fifty-kilometre-long inter-urban streetcar system from Sentinel, at the eastern end of Crowsnest Lake, to Pincher Creek, the Prairie end. It was a wonderful topic for discussion, though no-one was quite sure how the estimated $150,000 necessary could be raised. All the palaver finally attracted the Winnipeg transportation expert, A.D. McPherson, who came out in 1909 to size-up the situation. For a five-cent fare and a twenty-year franchise exempted from taxation, he and his backers proposed to provide 18 hours a day of 30-minute end-to-end service. Talk, however, is cheap, and no agreement could be reached before Labours big strike of 1911 scuttled the plans. In 1912, though, the project was resuscitated by the locally-influential W.A. Beebe. He priced the project at a quarter-million dollars, with shops, offices and power generating facilities to be built in Blairmore, the areas biggest town. This scheme attracted the backing of Blairmores major employer, West Canadian Collieries, Limited, and with rumours of English capital drifting through conversations, minor merchants from up and down the eastern pass hurried to subscribe. On February 16th, 1912 the Crows Nest Pass Street Railway Company was provincially incorporated, but the flight of capital back to Europe postponed plans, and World War One and its attendant economic decline shredded them. The electric railway was, as wags had long predicted, simply another air line, a pipedream.
Immediately beyond the rail overpass, the Highway slips down a few metres and out across little Island Lake on a partly natural causeway. Climbing onto the low interlacustrine ridge the No. 3 bangs across a small 1964 concrete decked bridge over little Crowsnest Creek. Downstream, northward, is the bridge carrying a remnant of the old highway on up a kilometre or so to Island Lake Campground. With no facilities or potable water, it is lucky to collect the $9.00 or so that the absentee operator expects campers to deposit in the honour box. Still, the vibrations of a midnight freight rumbling along not 50 metres from some of the tent sites has an allure for select campers.
Beyond the new bridge a left-looking traveller sees the planar sculpting that Industry is wrought upon Crowsnest Ridge at Hazell (Hazel). Not 200 yards north, Hazell has been a scene of activity since, the story goes, the 1880s when two Italian plasterers from Toronto discovered that the sites limestone was ideal for making the main ingredient of that mixture which was so near and dear to their hearts. Never mind what they were doing in what was a pretty remote neck-of-the-woods back then, they supposedly built a little kiln and began production, laboriously hauling their lime down the crude waggon road to the railhead at Lethbridge. In 1903 the operation was bought by a Welshman, E.G. Peter Hazell, who created Summit Lime Works. On December 12th, 1905, write the anonymous authors of Hazell Siding (home of Continental Lime Ltd.) in Crowsnest and Its PeopleMillennium Edition (Crowsnest Historical Society, Coleman, 2000), Hazell purchased a nearby 63-acre plot from Archibald Macmolt McVittie and moved his operation thereto, centred on two kilns. In 1915 Hazell added a further 50 or so acres to his holding. With Chinese labourers through WWI and with Japanese internees during WWII, Hazell and his family worked the deposit reaching a peak production of 50,000 tons in 1950. Tonnage declined through the 60s and 70s and in 1991 the family sold their business to Continental Lime Limited, a subsidiary of the Graymont Limited of Vancouver. The Summit Lime Works is the smallest of Continentals Canadian plants, capable of delivering 250 tons per day from its four vertical kilns, as well as limestone gravel. Although there was a substantial settlement here during the early part of the Hazells tenure, now only a couple of the cabins are occupied, the majority of the crew choosing to live in Coleman.
Just beyond the road to Hazell, the Triple KKosy Knest KabinsMotel shelters beneath the evergreens on the north side of the Highway. Some cyclists, having perhaps ridden all day in a chilly drizzle, might feel the attractions of Coleman arent worth the effort of another 15 or so kilometres and, supper covered by the victuals in their packs and a few basic food items available at the store in the motels office, surrender thirty-three 1995 Canadian dollars to enjoy the rustic charms of this old style auto court, begun by the Huffmans in 1947 as Glacier Cabins. On the tiny side of small, these duplex cabins nonetheless boast fully equipped kitchenettes, hot showers and big ol propane-fired space heaters to keep the cool mountain air at bay. Cozy? they are, with a nearby shop in which to lock away bicycles snug and dry.
Just across the No. 3 from the Triple K are the fine clay deposits that the Medicine Hat Clay Products agreed to help develop if a rail spur could be run in to the best material. Unable to interest the CPR in the undertaking, the principals had abandoned their idea by 1907 and a whole bank of excellent potting clay, minus a few hundred truck loads, still rests in the shadows of Sentinel Mountain. About a mile west, just on the other side of Crowsnest Creek, begins the old waggon road which wound some 20 miles up through the Ptolemy Pass to get to the North Fork of the Montana-bound Flathead River. In 1922-23, the Grant, Smith and McDonnell Company graded a railbed for the Crowsnest and Tent Mountain Railway which the Spokane and Alberta Coal and Coke Company had incorporated in Alberta in 1917. The line was to run from the CPRs Crows Nest Line (CNL) to the coal deposit at the base of Tent Mountain, an extension of the fabled Coal Mountain measures some 10 or 12 kilometres straight south across the B.C. border at Corbin. Before the steel was laid, however, the companys directors concluded that the post-War recession was more than an economic hiccup, and that their markets had vanished. The venture was abandoned. WWII, however, changed the economics of the situation. Fred Mannix and Company, Limited, of Calgary, converted the old grade into a haul road and pushed it through to the old Corbin Coal and Coke roadbed, stripped the overburden from part of the measures and began removing coal from Tent Mountain properties on both sides of the border. In September of 1946 Mannix transferred the operation to an outfit called Hillcrest-Mohawk Collieries, Limited, (H-MC) who within a year was trucking 1,000 tons a day down to its tipple at Bellevue, 25 miles east down the Highway. In 1952 H-MC joined Coleman Collieries, Limited (CCL), a consortium of Pass coal companies controlled by CPs Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company, Limited, (CM&S) and began delivering Tents bounty to the consortiums new washery and tipple in Coleman. The last mention of the operation in the annual reports of B.C.s Minister of Mines was in 1968 when only rock work was being carried on the BC portion of the property. Norcen Energy acquired control of CCL and H-MC in 1971 and shut down operations at Tent Mountain on June 30th, 1972. The following year CCL contracted Mannixs subsidiary, the Loram Group, to mine Tent Mountain. With a pair of 15-yard bucket-capacity P&H shovels, three 10-yard Caterpillar 992 loaders and a fleet of 85- and 110-ton diesel-electric trucks, Loram attacked the measures, sending 1,000 tons per day down to the CCL plant at Coleman. In the late 1970s CCL began to loose its Japanese markets to Kaiser Resources in the west Pass. With no buyer for its produce, reports John Kinnear in Crowsnest and Its PeopleMillennium Edition, CCL suspended operations at the Tent Mountain deposits in 1980.
Judging by the deformation of the Limber pines (Pinaceae Pinus flexilis) and White spruce (Pinaceae Picea glauca) bordering the Highway, air will soon be raging easterly through the Pass as an early morning cyclist drifts away from the Triple K down to the shore of Crowsnest Lake. It is a beautiful scene; the Lake clean and deep green in the mountain shadows, azure in the hard sunlight reflected from the naked calcareous cliffs. This is the south-western extremity of the Hudson Bay drainage basinRuperts Landand the cold spring-waters up-welling from a cave beneath the Ridge to create this triumvirate of lakes is on its way to the North Atlantic. Off the No. 3s northern marge, a huge parking lot attests to the Lakes long popularity with those folks of piscatorial persuasion. Had I my rod and a licence, I do believe I would have trolled the depths a few times with a Killr Kannuck Jiggly-Wiggly or gently settle a Royal Coachman out on the crests to test the Lakes famed Dolly Varden and Cut-throat trout.
Rolling along the Lakes shore in Sentinels shadow, the thin air thick with cool pine, the Highway crosses the causeway and a 1978 bridge that separates diminutive Emerald Lake from Crowsnest. Pretty Intermittent Falls is hidden from view nearby. A solitary red-necked grebe hunts, cutting ripples into the glassine waters upon which shimmering light paints perfect reflections of the green-weathered limestone Mountains.
This is a beautiful stretch of the Crowsnest Highway, smooth with shoulders so wide that thoughtless motorists sometimes illegally use them as driving lanes. Alberta does build fine roads, and this one is a far cry from the first rough trail that early Natives broke through the Pass and out onto the Prairies so many centuries ago. Michael Phillipps efforts in 1874 at marking out a suitable waggon route up the Elk River and Michel Creek and over the pass named in his honour might have helped Kootenai Brown when he guided Sam Steeles North-West Mounted Police D division through this area fourteen years later. Appreciating the routes utility to smugglers and rustlers, the N-WM Police had built a crude outpost on the shore of Crowsnest Lake in 1886, improving the facility when the Railway came through in 1897 and posting a six-man detachment under an inspector until 1900. Police waggoneers improved the track out from Fort Macleod, making such a road of it that T. Clarke, the diarist in the group of four constables who travelled from the Fort to Crowsnest Lake by democrat buggy just to fish in August of 1896, described the trip as comfortable. By 1910 the track had been well enough beaten that a cyclist could probably have made it from Lethbridge to Creston, and by 1912 was carrying enough traffic to be called a trunk road, at least from Lethbridge to Fernie. The great impediment in the route was the Crowsnest Lake itself, filling the throat of the valley, necessitating the Trunk to clamber over Phillipps Pass. Pressure from local motoring clubs was at least partially responsible for inducing the Alberta Department of Public Works to hack a roadbed along the current alignment of the No. 3 on the south shore of the lake. Though the official opening was stalled for several weeks by the CPRs reluctance to allow its right-of-way to be crossed, according to clippings from the September 21st, 28th, and October 12th, 1917, editions of the Blairmore Enterprise sent to the author by interested reader Ian McKenzie, on Thanksgiving Day, Monday, October 8th, 1917, the Hnble. Chas. Stewart, Minister of Public Works, at a gathering of autoists and government functionaries in front of Spence Lyons Summit Hotel at Crowsnest Station, declared the route open, regretting that its rough condition was …owing to the stress of the times[,] the Dominion having been three years embroiled in the expensive carnage of the Great War. Nineteen-21 was a banner year for road building in Alberta, with extensive work carried out on what had been designated the Red Route in 1920, the proto No. 3. It was a real highway built for automotive travel. Gravel-surfaced where necessary and graced with an endless series of right-angled corners as the engineers sought to follow the road allowances designed into Prairie survey system, it was a 200 mile-long ribbon of dust running from Medicine Hat up into the Rockies where it connected with B.C.s Black Route. (It must have been a relief when B.C. finally embraced the North American norm of driving on the right.) In 1932, in concert with B.C., the Red finally became the No. 3, Interprovincial Highway, remaining for years the main road connection between the two Western provinces, a vital link in Canadas coast-to-coast auto route. With B.C.s completion of the section over the Cascade Mountains in November of 1949, the Highway was designated the Crowsnest. The section along the Lake, overseen by Crowsnest Mountain itself soaring into the Sky azure depths to the north-west, was re-aligned and finally paved in 1952.
From here in 1900, the traveller would have seen on the far shore the settlement of Crows Nest Lake. It had started life a couple of years earlier as a tent camp serving the labourers who were carving the CPRs rail bed into the rock of Crowsnest Ridge. When the work was completed and the crews moved on, only a tiny portion of the settlement, anchored by the Lake View Hotel, stayed. Throwing off its canvas, the Hotel built itself in wood and confidently awaited the deluge of tourists that were sure to pause a few days at this perfect paradise. The CPR never did build a station there, and few travellers stopped. By 1905 the Hotel stood alone, hoping that enough fishermen would book rooms to make another season worthwhile. By the 1920s, its hopes betrayed, the Hotel gave itself over to act as headquarters to Douglas Allisons horse ranch for a few years before time claimed its due.
Cresting the gentle rise at the east end of the Lakes rocky basin, travellers eastbound can look back over their left shoulders to see the forlorn red brick shell of the old thermal generating station crouching on the Lakes eastern tip. In their early days, Pass towns relied on the excess electricity from mine companies generators. Come the 20s demand was outstripping supply. Recognizing a ready market, the East Kootenay Power and Light Company, Limited, (EKP) strung transmission lines from its little hydro-electric plant on Bull River and at 11:25 in the morning of June the 2nd, 1922, closed the switch that completed the circuit and began offering power to the people of the east Pass. So well did its product sell that the Company built another plant at Elko and added its output to the grid in March, 1924. That same month EKP opened negotiations with the Town of Coleman to buy 2.9 acres of Crowsnest Lake waterfront upon which to construct a steam-powered generation plant. The deal was finally approved by Colemans council on July 19th of 1926 and work continued. With a single 5,000 kW Parsons alternator powered by steam delivered at 240 pounds per square inch from a pair of boilers fired by coal powdered by Riley pulverizers, the Sentinel Plant was put on-stream in 1927. It was the first time in Alberta that pulverized coal had been thusly employed. Refurbished with a doubled capacity in 1929 and completely re-equipped in 1946, the old station was said to consume 10,000 gallons of water a day and puked the residue from 20,000 tons of powdered coal annually from its 60 foot-tall stack. When BC Hydro took over EKP in September, 1966, its mandate disallowed it to operate generating facilities outside the its home province. Calgary Power, with which EKP had interconnected on February 16th of 1930, took over the Sentinel plant which continued to power the Pass until, worn out and redundant, it was stripped and abandoned by its owners in February of 1969. The stack, likely for insurance purposes, was demolished in the 1990s.
Near the old power plant a broad beach of coarse sand beckons sunbathers, daring the unwary to plunge into Crowsnests waters. Mistake! Barely rising above the point of freezing even in July, the Lake is nice to look at. Nearby a tiny settlement is hanging on, the Inn on the Lake and the Lakes End Enterprises confectionary being recent additions. Loosely associated with the CPR siding of Sentinel not too far away, this breezy little nook has long been a recreational area. The Town of Coleman acquired the property sometime in the 1910s, and soon after R. Wesley Johnston, a local builder, crafted a nifty little power boat and made pocket money taking day-trippers for cruises. About 1930 Alex Morency opened the Crowsnest Lake Dance Pavilion, a popular hot-spot which closed in the early 1970s and sat decaying in 1999. Mornecys cabins served well those too tuckered out to drive home after an evening of hi-jinx. At one time there may have been a Lake Hotel, too.
Across the Highway from the settlements access road is a large Travel Alberta outpost chock full of maps and pamphlets.
Coming off the low swales which dam Crowsnest Lake into its basin, the No. 3 glides down onto Savanna flats to cross the infant Crowsnest River (called the Oldman River, Middle Fork in the early years) on a concrete-decked 1979 bridge and almost immediately over flies the Railway on a span of the same date. From the rise of the Railways overpass travellers are presented with a wide vista of the eastern Crowsnest Pass. Six kilometres away to the north-north-east, isolated by the Allison Creek valley on its west, the McGillivray valley on its east and accompanied by only its Seven Sisters shyly peeking out from behind it, Crowsnest Mountain dramatically erupts to 9100 feet. Reports Chester B. Beaty in his The Landscapes of Southern Alberta …, the mountain owes its unique appearance to the ancient strata of limestones rode the Lewis Thrust Fault to perch upon younger sedimentaries. White History maintains that Natives named this prominent peak to commemorate a long-ago battle. The Natives arent so sure. The famous Crow Chief of the PiikaniPeiganNation maintained that his Tribe defeated their ApsarokeCrow Nationenemy near Turtle Mountain, farther on down the Pass, and that is the true crows nest. Others claim that the nest is Antelope Butte, east beyond the Pass in the Porcupine Hills where the Apsaroke were wont to haunt until run off by the Piikani. Further muddying the waters, though called nest of the Crows by both the Crees and the Blackfoot tribesKah-ka-ioo-wut-this-tun and ma-sto-eeas respectivelythere is a qualitative difference in their translations. The crow that the Ayisiniwok refer to is the Apsaroke, while the Piikani mean where the Corvidæ nest. Then again, some Natives maintain that the name derives from old Crow Chief himself, who claimed kinship with the crows and was in the habit of pitching his tipi decorated with the birds likeness in this neighbourhood. Whatever the case may be, crows do patrol the airs around Crowsnest Mountain.
Eastward, the classic U shape of the Pass displays the handiwork of a chilly tongue of an anonymous alpine glacier of Wisconsinan ice sheet times which, while pulverizing Sentinels stone into the finest of clays and exposing thick seams of bituminous coal, grated away tons of mountain rock to carve this channel, the Crowsnest Trough, and fill it half full of gravel. During the dozen or so millennia since, the River has scoured its bed deep into the gravel, leaving terraces above the stream upon which the prudent have built their houses and highways.
Train Hold-up at Sentinel
Beneath the Overpass the diagonally orientated tracks of the CPR head off down the Trough. Some 200 metres away on the travellers right at about 2 oclock, is a siding which was first laid in 1909 to facilitate the loading of clay. At the time it was called Sentry siding and today, with its weathered livestock loading chutes, it is Sentinel, serving the once-busy Atlas Lumber (Alberta) Limited sawmill, in the autumn of 2006 nothing but a burned-over ruin being wrecked out in its huge, dusty dry sort yard. Formerly notable in the Yards horizontal forest of the spindly twigs which Albertans mistake for trees, was the old style conical incinerator, relic of the recent past when sawdust was a waste, not the main constituent of marketable press-board. In the good times Atlas employed about a 100 people to cut spruce, pine and fir and mill it into about 40 million board feet of kiln-dried lumber per year. In 2002, however, the American embargo on imports of softwood lumber from Canada had brought an anxious tranquility to Atlas. Years of seemingly endless arguing in U.S. courts failed to persuade Americans to abide by the provisions of the Canada-United States Free Trade Act of 1988. Denial of access to the U.S. lumber market ruined many a marginal Canadian lumber mill, Atlas being one of them. In September of 2006 the new minority Conservative government of Stephen Harper abandoned the many World Trade Organization and NAFTA court victories won by the Canadian lumber industry when it knuckled under to intransigent U.S. protectionism and passed the Canada-U.S. Softwood Lumber Agreement.
Sentinel never was much of a settlement. It was founded as a railway siding around the turn of the century to dig clay out of the nearby deposits and ship it to Medicine Hat where it would be fired into sewer pipe. After a few trainloads, however, the factories in The Hat found that they could just as easily make pipe out of local clays, and the miners at Sentinel packed up their shovels and moved on, leaving the tiny hamlet to huddle around its Railway siding hoping that someone interesting would step off onto the gravel. Around five in the afternoon of August 2nd, 1920, someone did.
Earlier that afternoon, while CPs westbound train No. 63 passenger local was paused at Colemans station, Geo. Arkoff, Ausby Auloff and Tom Bassoff, boarded the day coach with malice aforethought. They figured that the local rum baron, Emilio Emperor Pic Picariello, was aboard and heading for Fernie with a suitcase full of cash to buy liquor. Appreciating that the redoubtable Pic would not meekly hand over his money upon being politely asked, the cohorts brought a couple of guns to lend emphasis to their exhortations. Disappointed at not seeing the Emperor among the passengers, the trio decided not to waste the entire day, so, when the train halted at Sentinel, one of them got everybodys attention by discharging his pistol into the coachs ceiling. The gang then proceeded to relieve conductor Samuel E. Jones of his 23-jewel Elgin pocket watch and collected jewellery, time-pieces and some $400 in cash from the rest of the male passengers.
Although the Emperor was Not on the train, legend requires raconteurs to relate that the robbers were hoodwinked out of really big prizes by both Pic and a local utility manager who each alertly secreted their money-rolls in seat cushions. Be that as it may, the desperados detrained onto Sentinels platform and made off eastward down the tracks. The telephone soon summoned posses of the Royal Canadian Mounted, the Alberta Provincial, and the CPR Police to barricade the proto-Highway and monitor the rail line. The bandits, however, though identified as local miners idled by the crash of the post War coal market, escaped apprehension. Four days later the gang emerged from the bush at Coleman and there planned their next move. Auloff was all for heading south into the U.S., and when the other two thought they wanted to hang around the Pass a while longer and enjoy their notoriety, Auloff took the bulk of the loot and made his escape. Bidding him adieu, Bassoff and Arkoff proceeded to party their way eastward from town to town down the Pass, sported for an evening in Blairmore and then went to Bellevue to dance the night away. Sobering up the next morning, they felt peckish and headed uptown, oblivious to the tragedy that would transpire that sunny Saturday morning over breakfast in the Bellevue Café.
Beyond the Overpass, the No. 3 rolls across Savanna flats and lifts itself onto the wide gravel bench on the northern flank of the valley. To the left, beside Allison Creek and somewhat away from the Highway, is Flo. and Jas. Kerrs old Chinook Motel, now closed and largely demolished, its remains a private residence. From the north, Allison Creek leads Phillipps trail down to join the Highway. Somewhere in the immediate neighbourhood are the traces of a crude airstrip which was laid out with Department of Transport money as a make work project in the early 30s, part of the Trans-Canada Airway. To the south of the Highway is the sullen concrete-faced Phillips Cable, Limited, building, officially opened on May 1st of 1965, part of an economic diversification plan to bring work to the Trough. With all the telephone cable manufacturing capacity it needed, Phillips officially closed the operation on May 21st of 1985. Since 1998 the building is occupied by Universal Reel and Recycling when that company changed its name from R&R Building Supplies and expanded from its base at the Frank industrial park, some 15 kilometres east on the Highway.
South beyond Universal R&R, snuggled tight to the Tracks, Devon Energy Corporations Coleman Gas Plant is the first evidence the eastbound Highway traveller sees of the engine that drives Albertas economy. The plant was originally constructed for Saratoga Processing in 1961 to treat the sour gas pulled from the Savanna Creek gas field. Since the flow from the North Coleman field was directed to it beginning in 1975, the plant has been expanded and presently scours nearly 99% of the various sulphides out of 73 million cubic feet per day. This yields up to 700 tonnes of liquid and solid sulphur per day.
Eastward, the No. 3 climbs higher on the bench past the rambling Bohomlic ranchstead and riding stables as it begins to curl southerly to skirt Iron Ridge, a feature of the Crowsnest Volcanics formation of the Lower Cretaceous Age of the Mesozoic Era. This intrusion, and a weaker sister just to the east of Coleman, are the only1 igneous rock native to Alberta, and have been exposed by tectonic forces and erosion along a north-south fault line, presenting a narrow band of lithic incongruence in the regions sedimentary rock. At the Ridges southern tip, a popular viewpoint entices travellers from their vehicles to hike 20 metres out onto the bluffs for a picturesque perspective looking back up the Pass. Some three hundred feet below, the silvery slivers of the CP rails complement the Crowsnest Rivers pewter sheen as they curl across the savannah once ranched by Jim Good. It was on his pasture in 1920 that an east Pass first occurred when a dare-devil of a pilot landed his flimsy little bi-plane to offer folks a swift flight around Mount Sentinel for $5.00. In the middle distance, on the north side of the tracks, the site of the once-busy Atlas where saws sheltered beneath their corrugated roof of stained steel, the dust from the Sort and the kilns smoke swirled in the yard. Across the tracks and nearer the River, the compound of Devon Energys scouring station is packed with silver sheds, brutally chrome pipes and ranked piles of large, yellow blocks of sulphur. Rising amid the complex, the 100-foot tall stack, festively banded in white and red, clashes incongruously with the mountain scenery. Across the Trough to the north Crowsnest Mountain stands in solitude. Its an odd-ball, that Mountain. Its top half is a parfait of durable Palæozoic limestones that are actually some five million years older than the softer Mesozoic shales upon which it rests. Compression of the edge of the North American Plate caused stress fractures which eventually buckled and heaved up to form the Rockies. Some of these fractures were radically acute and their failure resulted in the crustal strata on the west side of the fault being thrust up upon their eastern neighbours. Here in the Crowsnest, when the Lewis Thrust Fault gave way, the strata to the west of it over-rode the eastern rock by some five miles. As Caprice would have it, a slab of the over-riding limestone strata remained pretty well intact. Glaciation and weathering removed the softer shales from above the limestone, but the limestone, in turn, protected the younger shales upon which it rested from the same fate. Over the æons, prehistoric Allison and McGillivray Creeks ate away the lower shales surrounding the limestone and left the Mountain as the landmark of today.
Standing on Iron Ridges bluffs and contemplating the gas scouring stations stack, the traveller is suspended between Albertas economic past and present. Yonder, a servant of the god Petroleum. East, down the tracks just out of our view, is Coleman, first of the Eastern Passsthe Troughstowns, all of which were built by King Coal.
Tipped to an angle of approximately 45º and rising to the roots of the yellow grass blanketing the Troughs belly is the Kootenay Formation, a 450 to 550 foot-thick sandwich of sandstones and shales laid down, reports Dr. J. Wm. Kerr in his introductory article in Crowsnest and its People (Crowsnest Pass Historical Society, Coleman, 1979), during the Mesozoic Period between 220 and 70 million years ago. Imprisoned among the Kootenays strata are several seams of Bituminous and lignite coal which were, at the turn of the Twentieth Century, substantial enough to guarantee profits to any organization with cash enough to develop the measures.
Rumours that the region was rich in coal had been in circulation for nearly 40 years before Dr. George Mercer Dawson of the Geological Survey of Canada made his way into the Crowsnest Pass in 1884. The Jesuit father Pierre-Jean de Smet had noted deposits of the mineral in the Elk River valley, just west of the Crowsnest Pass in what is now B.C., in 1845. In the early 1870s, the Hudsons Bays man, Michael Phillipps, credited as being the first European to actually surmount the Pass, told of finding coal oozing out of the mountains. Dawson, probably more impressed with the reports of the surveyors who explored the Pass area looking for a railroad route through the Rockies, was the first trained professional to assess the measures and calculate their extent. He was amazed, but it took the opening of the Crows Nest Line (CNL) in 1898 to permit development of the bounty. By 1910, the Trough had attracted a dozen companies which employed 6,000 men and had, since the first commercial operation opened at Frank in 1901, yielded over three million tons of coal. Mining it, however, was a tough go.
Getting a coal mine up and running in the Trough was an expensive proposition. First of all, an economically mineable deposit of coal had to be located and assessed. Was the coal cleanlow in incombustible ash and polluting elements such as sulphurand of high thermal potential? Was it close enough to established, high-volume transportation to warrant development? The answer to these questions being Yes, an entrepreneur then had to acquire the propertys mineral rights. With rights in hand, with samples for demonstration firings, with a market identified, and with the answers to myriad other niggling questions prepared, the developer had to find investors willing to risk money on what was, after all, first cousin to a crap shoot.
Anything could go wrong in a coal mine. In the Trough, with its tortuously contorted rock strata, promising seams could suddenly disappear at a faultdid the seam move up or down relative to the mine, and how far? Was it worth chasing? A seam could gradually pinch out as the edge of the ancient bog was reached, or have been polluted by non-combustible inclusions rendering some or all of the coal commercially worthless. Pockets of methane gas, odourless, colourless and violently explosive, lurked within the seams waiting for oxygen and a spark. Labour problems could disrupt production or transportation break-downs could interrupt deliveries. Or a heart-wrenchingly ominous rumbling from deep underground could signal the end of lives and the closure of a mine forever.
With cash in pocket, the developer had to hire workers and shelter them close to the works to minimize unproductive travel time. If there was no town nearby, one had to be built. At the same time, the mine had to be developed. Access tunnels had to be driven into the deposits and methods of extracting and cleaning the coal devised. Railroads having long ago proved to be the most economic mode of transporting coal, spurs from a mainline had to be laid to the mine mouth and loading facilities erected. By 1925, total investment in the Trough was reckoned to be in the order of $12 million.
Once the mine was up and producing, stratagems to keep it so, and improve its productivity and the quality of its produce, had to be formulated. The miners and surface workers had to be kept satisfied with adequate pay and perquisites. Materials for developmenttimbers for tunnel props, rails for mine haulage, feed for horses, et ceterahad to be at hand. Arrangements for sufficient gondolas had to be established with the railroad. Infrastructure and surface plant had to be expanded and modernized to keep pace with competitors. To meet unforeseen exigencies, lines of credit had to be maintained and investment capital constantly raised.
Another consideration dogging the developer was whether to enter the lucrative coke market or not. Building coking ovens was an expensive proposition, and risky. The basis of the coking process, wrote M.A. Kennedy in her 1979 masters thesis for the Department of Archæology in the University of Calgary, Coke Ovens of the Crowsnest Pass, was to expel by heat the volatile constituents of coal, (methane, hydrogen, tar and ammonia), leaving only the fixed carbon and ash, and the residue of sulphur and phosphorus. Coke was an essential ingredient of the smelting industry, in which it was mixed with metallic ores in a heap and fired. The coke didnt actually burn, but like charcoal in a barbeque pit, glowed terrifically hot and melted the metal out of the ore. Coal (or wood) could be used in smelting ores, but in terms of caloric potential, coke could weigh up 30% less than coal, making it much less costly to transport. Not all coals made good coke, however, and ash was the fly in the ointment. Heating coal does not affect ash, merely increases its volume relative the fixed carbon in the end product, coke. Reported Kennedy, when heaped together with ores in the smelting process, coke contaminated with ash tended to crush, collapsing the heap and hindering, or even ending, the smelting process. Washing the coal prior to coking, or otherwise reducing the amount of contaminated coal used in the coking process, helped. Sorting coal by hand was time-consuming, and building a washery, like the coking ovens themselves, was an expensive proposition, a consideration for Trough mine operators whose coal was notoriously ashy.
Added to the concerns of a Trough coal mine owner was the fluctuations in the coal and coke markets and the distance thereto. Though there was plenty of coal, there were few customers relative to the number of competitors. In 1903 the western demand for coal totalled approximately 7.2 million tons annually. Canada west of Ontario wanted 1.5 million tons for generating steam in locomotives and stationary boilers, and 300,000 tons for domestic use in furnaces and fireplaces. B.C.s smelters required only 50,000 tons, Montanas smelters needed 1.8 million. Industrial consumers in Canada west and the American Northwest required that 3.5 million tons of coal be roasted into coke each year. For the Pass producers the local market was small: a few hundred households, stores and hotels, a handful of lime kilns, a few dozen industrial boilers for powering steam engines and turbines for generating electricity, the CPR on the occasions when its own mines couldnt meet its expanding needs. The major consumers were the smelters at Greenwood, Trail and Grand Forks, some 250 water-interrupted rail miles away. The huge markets of industrialized Ontario were not only thousands of miles away, they were well supplied by Pennsylvania anthracite. Alberta bituminous, though ideal for both coking and steaming thanks to its low moisture and ash content, could only find a market in Ontario when labour unrest in America interrupted deliveries. Even then, the Alberta government had to subsidize transport. The numbers of hearths and furnaces of prairie farms and settlements, though vastly increased since the turn of the century, was still a small market and well served by collieries at Lethbridge, Drumheller and Estevan. Any general slowdown in business, as happened in 1908 and again at the onset of World War One, caused the B.C. smelters to reduce their coal and coke orders to the detriment of the Pass collieries which, even when idle, had to maintain their properties and to keep their labour employed lest it drift away.
Not only was the market unreliable, so, too, was the main agent of transportation for the Pass coal producers, the CPR. By design or accident, the Railway habitually failed to make available enough gondolas in which to haul away the Passs production which, by 1910, was estimated to require 300 hopper cars per day; twelve trains, both bringing in empties and pulling out the loaded. CP had excuses; the grain harvest tied up rolling stock and motive power every fall, winter frosts and blizzards snapped rails and stalled trains, spring floods and summer wild fires destroyed trackage. But really, the Railway was in business for itself, not its customers, and it didnt mind at all if its coal suppliers sweated a bit. Anxiety had a way of reducing prices, so it was to the Companys own advantage to cause inconvenience. The upshot was that the Trough producers were required to maintain expensive stockpiles of inventory and were frequently forced to suspend operations and default on deliveries.
As with most turn-of-the-Twentieth Century capitalist undertakings, there was tension between labour and management in the Passs coal mines. Early on in the areas industrial history, the miners had joined the United Mine Workers of America and used their mass will to obtain a fair recompense for their back-breaking and dangerous vocation. In the western Pass, in B.C., where the towns and everything in them was either directly owned, or indirectly controlled, by the areas only employer, the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company, labour faced a near impossible task in organizing itself. Union representatives were simply not tolerated; they could buy no food, no shelter, and anyone assisting them would quickly suffer the same penalties. In the east Pass things were radically different. Because the company ownership of towns was permitted neither by the provincial government of Alberta nor by the Federal territorial government before it, and because there were, before the War, a dozen independent mining companies in the immediate area to which a man might sell his labour, there was a much greater degree of freedom of association. In reaction to unionization, the companies formed the Western Coal Operators Association2 in 1906 to try and present a unified front against Union demands. As the companies were engaged in cut-throat competition amongst themselves, this front was not entirely successful.
Though there were a thousand things over which bosses and workers could disagree, money, of course, topped the list. Miners got paid by the ton; any hours not spent working at the coal-face was lost money. Travel from the surface to the coal-face was time consuming and the miners naturally thought they should be compensated for it. The companies, mindful of their investors profits, disagreed. The installation of cribbing, called timber-work, also caused friction. Though necessary to keep the mine from caving in, timber-work was expensive in time and material. Wood had to be procured, cut to manageable lengths, delivered where needed in the mine, then custom cut and pounded into place. The mine companies were of the opinion that the miners should emplace it themselves as part of their job; the miners insisted that, if specialized timbermen were not employed, they themselves should be paid so many cents-per-foot to do this work. When this policy was instituted, the companies found that timber consumption sky-rocketed while coal production fell. Another bone of contention was the use of blasting powder to loosen tons of coal from the face. There were several drawbacks to blasting as opposed to hacking out coal pound by pound with a pick. Larger lumps of coal were worth more because they burned longer in the consumers furnaces. Blasting tended to reduce lump size dramatically; a problem for the companys sales department, but of no concern to the miner to whom a ton was a ton. As well as pulverizing the coal, blasting also shattered the rock sandwiching the seam which polluted the purity of the miners produce. To compensate for rock included in his output, a man was paid for a short ton2,000 poundsfor every long ton2240 poundshe sent to the surface. This formula was generally accepted until unusually high amounts of rock in the run impelled the company to impose penalties. To discourage over-use of blasting, companies limited the amount of explosive they issued, much to the miners annoyance.
Besides lowering the selling price of the mines product, blasting also raised several safety issues. It tended to ignite undetected pockets of methane gas which frequently leaked from the seams and pooled on the mine floor. Uncontrolled explosion was anathema to mining. The miners penchant for blasting from the solid was also of concern. Safe mining method required that a deep trench be dug into the coal face before blasting to give the exploding coal space into which to expand. With no trench the coal tended to blow straight back from the face like shrapnel. Trenching, however, was hard, time consuming work and miners dispensed with the procedure whenever they could.
Also on the List was the provision of hygienic facilities, especially wash-houses where a man could don his work clothes and lock up his possessions before proceeding to his job, and where he could bathe and change again after his shift. Viewing them as an unnecessary luxury, most companies were refused to provide them, or if they did, neglected to maintain them and wanted to charge for their use.
Also on the miners wish-list were schools and teachers, comfortable, well built houses and stores with selections of reasonably prices goods.
With its Coal Mine Act of April, 1909, the Alberta government sought to regulate mining practice, demanding that innovations be adopted and protect workers from exploitation. A clause in the Act standardized the eight-hour bank to banksurface to surfaceshift3, created an inspectorate of mines within the Public Works Departments Mine Branch to enforce regulations, and required the use of the closed safety lamp.
The result was the Strike of 1909.
Although an eight-hour shift shovelling coal in a hot, stinking, dangerous environment would, in the early 21st Century, be considered a manly days work, the average miner in 1909 considered the mandated hours a penalty. Miners were paid by the ton of coal delivered to the surface, so unless he was hacking at the coal-face, a man was not making money. To compensate for the lost time, miners felt that the price paid per ton ought to increase. The mine owners, unsurprisingly, disagreed with both the miners and the Eight-Hour Shift regulation. Rankling also was the promise that inspectors would be poking around making sure safe procedures were followed, especially trenched blasting and the amount of unproductive work that that would entail. Another safety regulation well resented was the adoption of the safety lamp. This seemingly sensible idea was rejected on the argument that the lamp didnt cast nearly the same amount of light as an open flame, and therefore made working in the absolute pitch-black darkness of a coal mine even more dangerous. If the use of the safety lamp was to be enforced, the miners argued, they must be paid more per ton as their output would decrease in the darker mine. Naturally, the companies rejected this suggestion and soon after the Act was legislated, tools went down. The forced resolution of the 1909 work stoppage led only to the Big Strike of 1911 and increased animosity between owners and workers.
Even as the companies battled each other for market share, so, too, did miners compete with each other for jobs. From the Troughs earliest days, the companies found it necessary, then expedient, to import experienced mining men en masse from one old country or another. Belgium, France, Italy, the Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Great Britain, Cape Breton, and the United States all sent sons to seek fortune in the mines of the Pass. In Hillcrest in 1941, in a population estimated at 800, there were 21 nationalities represented. The result was a polyglot mixture of groups who could not always communicate and did not entirely trust each other. Presenting a unified front to the bosses was a perennial headache for the Union organizers, for always there would be dissenters who disagreed with the immediate aims of the Union and were willing to break a strike. This exacerbated ethnic animosities and led to communal violence on more than one occasion, the storied stone and bottle battle which was fought in Colemans Bushtown in 1908 being but one instance. The companies, of course, exploited this situation to the hilt, importing new groups of workers to displace those that were restive. As a consequence, implies A.A. den Otter in his Bondage of Steam (The CPR West, H.A. Dempsey, ed., Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver, 1984), few miners got rich in the pits of the Crows Nest.
Through the wage roll-backs, strikes and recessions of the decades, coal continued to be the mainstay of the Troughs communities until February 13th, 1947, when, in the middle of Mike Turtas barley field just south of Edmonton, with a rush and a roar, Imperial Oil Limiteds Leduc No. 1 well blew in. The Age of Oil had arrived in Alberta. Among the first to react was the CPR which announced a year later that it was going to adopt the diesel-electric locomotive as its main motive power. Quickly the Canadian National Railway followed suit. Though the companies had, over the years, converted many of their steam locomotives to oil burners, the railroads were, at the end of WWII, by far the greatest consumers of coal. The news that this thirteen million-ton market was about to evaporate crushed the coal industry flat. Within fifteen years the little towns in the Trough lost their livelihood, made redundant by Oil, the representative of which, the scouring station, guards Savanna flats and its tiny gas field.
Today, tourism and a bit of logging are the only things which sustain folks in the east Pass. Money is tight, and the memory of the tough times following the death of King Coal still haunt people here. There were around 6,000 people in the eastern Crowsnest Pass on June 21st, 1978, when a plebiscite was held which determined that 67% of those who voted wished to eliminate duplication of services and expenditures by amalgamating the settlements of the Pass into one community. The Province of Alberta granted permission and on January 1st of 1979 the Town of Coleman, of Blairmore, the Village of Bellevue and of Frank, and Improvement District No. 5 were collected into the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass under mayor John Irwin. When the provinces divisions were re-jigged on January 1st, 1996, the Municipality was enlarged with the inclusion of part of Improvement District No. 6. Coleman and Blairmore share the administrative duties. Though politically united, the settlements still maintain their individuality.
The reason that there were ten towns in a 14-mile stretch of the Trough reflects the method of distributing coal properties in Alberta. In B.C.s portion of the Pass, one outfit, the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company, controlled the vast bulk of the measures and produced by far the greatest portion of coal. In Alberta huge blocks of property were not made available. Since Territorial times1870 to 1905all lands desired by either agriculture or industry were parcelled up by the Prairie survey system into 160 acre plotsa quarter of a square mileand mining companies leased or bought property on that basis. This led to a plethora of small mining companies working individual properties. A further caveat was that the companies could not, as they could in B.C., directly own entire towns. Settlements had to be established on properties owned by independentat least no closer than arms length from the coal companiesdevelopers. As people were not nearly as locally mobile as they are today, nearly every mine attracted a little town whose remains today can sometimes only be detected by archæologists with the aid of local historians.
On the eve of World War One, there were a dozen outfits mining coal in the eastern Pass; when the chips had finally fallen in the early Twenties and the CPR was buying 80% of the Troughs drastically reduced output, only four companies operating five mines were left. The Town of Coleman served one of those mines.
Away from the bluffs of Iron Ridge and the panoramic view westward up the Trough, the Highway leaves the black and white rose-breasted grosbeaks peek peek peeking over the seed cones in the spruces and rounds the Ridge to find Coleman (1311m) scattered along the scarp and spilling out onto the valleys floor. The No. 3 maintains the high ground to cut through the communitys newer northern neighbourhood as 20th Avenue, Colemans strip: gas stations, Vitos and Popiels family restaurants, a fast food outlet and, perched on the edge of the escarpment on the south, the new Valley View Motel. Nearby, beside the older blue and white striped Stop Inn Motel, a 36-inch gauge air-driven 0-4-0 thermos bottle locomotive on a monumental plinth gleams with thick silver paint. A rare compound engine manufactured in 1909 by H.K. Porter of Pittsburgh and retired from service with International Coal and Coke in 1954, it has a slot lanced into the top of the tank: Ten Ton Toots, the Lions Club sign says, Worlds Biggest Piggybank
Coming in from the west, just as it turns into 20th Avenue, the Highway crosses the gulch of McGillivray Creek on a fill. A quick eye cast northward here can glimpse one of the portals of the McGillivray Creek Coal and Coke Companys mine. To the south, 100 feet down on the bottoms of the Crowsnest River, is west Coleman, formerly Slav Town, with its wide residential streets closely monitored by the house fronts which abut the sidewalks. Like an emerald in its setting, the two-storeyd red brick, green-roofed cube of old Cameron School has anchored the community since it was built as West Ward School in 1919. Renamed in 1925, it closed as an institution of learning in 1963 and in May of 1999 was bought by speculators from Calgary who intend to convert it into a B&B. South of the houses, on the Railways right-of-way, stands the rusting turquoise remains of Coleman Collieries Limiteds tipple. East of it, the ruined survivors of a battery of 216 beehive coke ovens, cold since 1952, crumble into rubble between rusting sidings. Old photos reveal that this end of town looked nothing like the begrimed hell of Michel or Natal; the homes appeared bright and metallic surfaces reflect light back at the lens. Zephyrus, the west wind, prevails in the Trough ninety-nine days out of a hundred and sweeps this end of town clean. When Solanus of the East triumphs, these streets must have been a misery with fumes from the coke ovens permeating everything porous and coal dust drifting in black clouds across the sun.
Eighteenth Avenue drops travellers down from the No. 3 into Coleman West and winds them around the base of a steep little spur which separates the neighbourhood from the main of the Town, affording visitors a closer look at the sad dilapidation of the Collierys tipple. Downtown Coleman isnt much, really. The settlements seeming vendetta against downtown greenery has left not a tree to be seen along the streets of the central business district; no grassy park or front yard lawn relieves the greys of concrete and weathered plywood. The faces of the mostly single-storey commercial buildings, plain and stained with age, windows boarded over, seem to hostile to visitors, blaming the world for the loss of prosperity brought on by the closure of the last mine when the Japanese found alternative sources of coal in 1983. With that loss Colemans sidewalks started to curl at the edges, the roof shingles that exuberant Zephyrus removed remained missing. Broken windows serve as pigeon doors to guano encrusted rooms. Observed by an unsympathetic eye chilled by a cold-hearted little mountain drizzle, the town looks desperately dismal and on its last legs.
International Coal and Coke and Early Coleman
There was nothing at Coleman except a nice stand of evergreens before the CPR built its Crows Nest Line (CNL) up through this valley in the fall of 1897. The local ranchersFrank Gainey, Paul Offner, Matthew Mitchell and W. H. (Bill) Jenkinsand their families had to work their way down along a crude waggon trail to Pincher Creek to pick up supplies. Soon after the Railway arrived, however, P.A. Paulson dug a mine into a deposit of coal exposed in the McGillivray Creeks valley on the north side of the of Crowsnest River. He built a little horse drawn tramway, writes W.J. Cousins in A History of Crows Nest Pass (The Historic Trails Society of Alberta, 1981 ), and hauled the coal to a stockpile he established near CPs rails, approximately where the Railway would build Colemans permanent station in 1906. The little collection of shacks wherein the miners lived was called McGillivrays Hill. Meanwhile, across the Tracks, stretching up into York Creek on the south side of the Trough, a 4500-acre coal property had been staked under the name of Dennison Collieries. It wasnt, however, until the Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting and Power Company began its search for an alternative coal source for its expanding plant at Grand Forks, B.C, that Coleman got its start.
According to John Faley in his Shaping Spokane: Jay P. Graves and His Times, in 1901 a Spokane-based businessman, E.J. Dyer, organized an association of investors to finance the investigation of a promising coal showing on the west fork of the Granby River near Grand Forks, B.C., where the Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting and Power Company was building a copper smelter. Dyer and his cohorts incorporated the International Coal and Coke Company, Limited, in the State of Washington on April 28th, 1902, capitalizing it to $3 millions in one dollar shares. The Granby River coal showing quickly disappointed expectations and, eager to supply Granby Consolidated with a secure source of fuel, International had the property evaluated by G.S. Baton, one of the partners in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, engineering firm of Elliott and Baton. Batons reported that the property captured a seven-mile long stretch of the face of a fault which exposed five seams of coal, one of which ran to 13 feet, another to seven feet. International decided to acquire Dennison in 1903 and buy Paulson out of his little operation. The vice president of Granby Consolidated, Jay Paul Graves, had by then assumed control of International, designating Alfred Cornelius Flumerfelt, Granby Consolidateds smelter manager, as president. H.N. Galer was named as vice president. Development on the Dennison began immediately. In one year from October of 1903 the measures were opened up with adits and raises and a vertical fan shaft. Haul roads were graded. Meanwhile, the general contractors for the surface plant, Edmund Disney and Richard Wesley Johnson, raised a tipple with a 3,000 ton storage-capacity and two 5x40 foot picking tables. A powerhouse was constructed wherein ten boilers steamed two 400 hp engines which were harnessed to matching 250 kW generators and two 1000-pound air compressors. An electrically-powered lorry on an elevated track was kept busy dumping 6.5-ton charges of slack coal into the 100, seven-foot diameter bee-hive coking ovens which contractor E. Morino of Blairmore built on sidings by the CNL. Under the supervision manager E.E. Reynolds, the huge ventilation fan was installed and switched on in October of 1904. By the end of the year the International was outputting some 2200 tons per day. A brief strike by its workers in 1905 wrung a few concessions from the company, one of which was the donation of some town building lots upon which the Union could raise a hospital. Come 1907 Morino had completed 190 ovens which output 910 tons of coke per day, and by the next year 216, divided into three batteries, were in operation producing up to 8,000 tons per month, most destined for the big Granby Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company operation at Grand Forks, and the British Columbia Copper Company smelter a few miles farther west on the Kettle Valley Line, at Greenwood, B.C. At the Mine an extensive system of trackage that reached far underground rattled the wheels of six compressed air-poweredthermos bottlelocomotives which lugged mine cars from the working face to a little yards where they were hooked up into trains of up to 60 cars to be dragged by a pair of larger, compound thermoses to the tipple where the coal was sorted, graded and loaded into CPR boxcars with an Ottumwa loader. A blacksmiths, a woodworkers and a machinists shop completed the surface plant. Three miners suffocated in the after-damp of a gas blast on April 3rd of 1907, the year that the company paid out its first dividend, 5.5%.
In the early years, if there was a good mining company to work for in the Trough, International was it. Blessed with a large and fairly predictable set of seams to work, there was always lots of coal to mine. Not only could a man usually make his tonnage and more, when he came up all grimy and stinking from ten or 12 hours of strenuous labour underground, he didnt have to go home to clean himself the best he could in a house typically without running water. In a time when owners resisted spending money on what they considered frivolous luxuries for their men, by 1907 International had, as noted by Lorry Felske in her research papers The Coal Mining Industry in the Crowsnest Pass (Alberta Culture, 1985), built a commodious, steam heated wash house with hot showers, lockers for street clothes, and a surgery. Though there was plenty of other issues like shortages of reinforcing timber and pay over which Men and Management could disagree, unlike the majority of coal companies in the Trough, the lack of a wash-house wasnt one of them.
By 1908 Internationals backers had nearly $300,000 invested in surface plant and infrastructure, and, though its profits for 1907 and 1908 were reduced by the Panic of 1907 and the inability of the CPR to muster enough gondolas to haul away the Troughs production, the investors looked forward to good times to come. Little did they appreciate that the acme would arrive so quickly; in 1910 Internationals 550 men dug nearly half a million tonnes of moderately volatile bituminous coal from beneath York Ridge. Notwithstanding its reputation as a good outfit for which to work, International suffered during the Big Strike of 1911 along with the other coal companies. Though production in the Trough as a whole peaked in 1913, the famous market downturn that began around Thanksgiving that year dragged the industry from the heights that it would never scale again. The Shine was off the apple.
On a property north of the Railways tracks, International laid out a townsite which it named Coleman for Mr. Flumerfelts youngest daughter, 18 year-old Florence C. The site was dedicated on September 19th, 1903, and lots were offered for sale from October 22nd. The proviso was that no liquor could be sold on any property for 15 years from the date of purchaseColeman was to be a family town. By that Christmas the Coleman Hotel was up and renting rooms for $30 per month. In 1904 Coleman incorporated itself as a Village and elected G.M. Tripp as Overseer. In recognition of the communitys achievement, on May 1st the Post Office opened a local bureau under the mastery of one M. McKay. The Railway finally got around to providing a stationkindly called a pre-fab by some chroniclers, an old boxcar body by othersand putting T.B. Smith in charge. Alice Cameron and Nettie McIntyre taught school in a vacant room above the pool hall. The RN-WM Police built a barracks that year and International Coal and Coke Company had Johnson and Disney build its one-and-a-half-storey, wooden-sided, hipped-roof office building. By the end of the year ICC had also laid in a water system for the Village. Close to the coal companys office arose the first of the communitys religious buildings, the St. Albans Anglican Mission Hall, built under the direction of the Revered Rawlings Alfred Robinson. School classes were quickly moved there from the pool hall. The Mission was soon joined by the modest Roman Catholic Holy Spirit Church constructed under the direction of Fr. DeWilde.
With an estimated population of 500 by January 1rst, 1905, Coleman was a busy little burg. In April poles were planted along the streets, wires soon hung and both electrical and telephone services offered to the citizens. Electricity came from Internationals steam-powered generator and was sold by the companys Coleman Light and Water Company, Limited, subsidiary. The wind-whipped fire that razed the original Cameron Block and several other buildings downtown on May 12th prompted citizens to organize a 16-man volunteer fire brigade under the command of F.G. (Frank) Graham, buy some equipment and erect a fair-sized fire hall. On October 16th the Village officially opened the two-roomed Central School and hired Alice Cameron and, later, Kate McNab, as teachers. In 1906 the Institutionalsince 1925, St. Pauls UnitedChurch was raised by the Presbyterians4 and dedicated on April 1st, and on August 5th St. Albans Anglican was opened. In 1906, to better serve a population that was estimated to be 1300, the CPR built a proper station at Coleman, a Standard Number 5. On July 29th, 1907, the lone RN-WMP member posted in Coleman got some back-up when the Village appointed John Nathan as constable at $510 per year. By the end of 1908 the Village boasted a newspaperThe Coleman Mineran opera house and a complete hospital built and equipped by the miners union and subsidized by International. The school had been expanded with the addition of two rooms. The Eastern Townships Bank, of which Flumerfelt of International C&C was a director, opened a branch, the temperance Pacific Hotellater renamed the Empirewas raised by A.G. Trelle in competition with the Coleman, and Lloyd Manley had built the Grand Union Hotel. Wrote Hugh A. Dempsey in Colemans 50th Anniversary Booklet (Coleman Board of Trade, 1954), with a buoyant economy, a population reaching for 1600 and baseball, hockey and football teams competing through-out the Pass and beyond, on December 10th, 1909, the Village absorbed Slav Town. and on June 6th, 1910, incorporated itself as the Town Municipality of Coleman; A.E. Cameron, mayor.
McGillivray Creek Coal and Coke Company and Coleman maturing
Incorporated in the State of Washington in 1909 with $3 millions in capitalization and the capable Lorne Argyle Campbell, the vice-president and general manager of the CPRs West Kootenay Power & Light, as president, the McGillivray Creek Coal and Coke Company (MCC) was formed to purchase nearly 2,000 acres of coal leases just to the north of Coleman, under the eastern slopes of Iron Ridge, an extension of the Dennison measures. It seems likely that the company took over Paulsons old worksa crude, horse-drawn operation with no ventilation in its mine. At $1.00 par value MCCs shares immediately attracted enough mainly Minneapolis-area buyers so that by the summer of 1910 the company had been able to raise a tipple over the CNL tracks for sorting, cleaning and loading coal, and was hauling it thereto from the mines mouth two miles away on a miniature electric railway. The improvements raised production to 150 tons per day, 50,000 tons for the year, 20,000 above the previous year. Though this was a relatively small tonnage, the weights soon increased and McGillivray became a major player in Canada Wests coal game, announcing plans for the construction of 1,000 coke ovens.
On September 17th, 1917, McGillivray Creek Coal and Coke incorporated itself in Canada. Capitalized to $3 millions, it used many of these $1.00 shares to exchange for those of the Washington company, a process declared complete on October 1st. Campbell remained president, with J.A. Nowell, W.G. Egbert, J.B. Sutherland, and R.S. McKibbin sitting with him on the Board. Like all Pass coal companies, MCC suffered greatly when the metals market collapsed in 1918. Nonetheless, it was able to attract enough new customers so that in 1924, when International and other Pass companies were crippled by a seven month-long strike, the company was able to sell much of the record 484,000 tons that it dug in 223 working days that year. By then, however, management was beginning to appreciate that head to head competition with its neighbours assured no-one of profitability, and the first suggestions of amalgamation were broached.
The Twenties roared into the east Pass bringing with them the post-Great War depression. Destroyed were the western Canadian coal markets when the smelter furnaces in B.C.s Boundary and Kootenay Districts were allowed to cool, many never to feel flame again. Only four mines in the Trough remained in operation, two of which were International and McGillivray Creek, thanks to the quality and accessibility of their coal. However, though the mines remained officially open, little mining was done and times were tough for the 1600 or so people resident in the Town in 1921, many mourning dead soldier-sons overseas and Spanish Influenza fatalities in their homes. Typical of the entries in the annals of the Coleman town council meetings until the mid-30s is this quote from December 20th, 1923, thoughtfully included by the editors and compilers of Crowsnest and its People, Owing to the unfortunate circumstances of the mines working two and less days per month for several months past ... all penalties assessed for late payment of taxes, et cetera, are hereby waived. And the Town was in desperate need of money, for on May 31st of that year wild water floods had ruined roadways and damaged the abutments of the communitys only bridge across the Crowsnest. The water system, owned by International and still not extended into West Coleman, suffered severe damage to its intake on Nez Percé Creek.
As the 1920s matured Colemans economic situation temporarily improved, chronicled by the Coleman Journal which V.C. Dunning began publishing out of the old Miner building in 1921. The Coleman Crystal Rink, Limited, sold enough ten-dollar shares that it was able to build the Rink in the autumn of 1922. A swimming pool followed.
On November 29th of 1922 a fire savaged the downtown core of the Town. William Bell flattened the old Grand Union Hotel with its basement bowling alley in 1924 and, writes Russell Primrose in The Grand Union Hotel in Crowsnest and Its PeopleMillennium Edition, raised the present structure, opening it in time to celebrate the repeal of provincial prohibition in 1926. In 1927 the Towns Ukrainian citizens raised their wood-framed Labour Temple while just down the street the Polish Brotherly Aid Society built the Polish Hall in brick. In 1932 Colemans greater population was estimated at 2700, and though it was hit hard by the Depression and its attendant labour unrest, the Town found the wherewithal to build its two-storey brick High School in 1936. With an auditorium and six classrooms, the school served until Crowsnest Comprehensive was opened in September of 1970.
The 1940s brought benefits and tragedy to Coleman. On May 2nd, 1942, the creeks, overloaded with spring runoff, surged out of their beds and attacked buildings and infrastructure. On June 14th, 1944, the Towns population was enumerated at 3,169, the largest settlement in the east Pass. That year the Town bought the utilities from Internationals Coleman Light and Water. Despite the efforts of the Coleman and Blairmore fire volunteers, a wind-driven fire on February 16th of 1948 took the Community Hall, the beloved Opera Housethe Palace Theatreand three other of the downtowns Main Street businesses, leaving but two. The damage was pegged at $200,000 and led to the eventual re-organization of the fire brigade under Aldo Montalbetti in March of 1951. No sooner had ruins been cleared away than May meltwaters again broke over their creeks banks, a scenario which would be repeated yet again in 1995.
World War Two was a boon for the Trough communities. Coleman had lost 17 sons during the First World War and was to loose 14 more in the Second, but despite this the Town prospered as even school boys and retirees were lured into the mines by handsome wages. However, by the late 40s Oil had replaced coal as the fuel of choice and come the 50s Colemans workers were once again facing an uncertain future. Even the Town abandoned Coal when it instituted its own natural gas utility in the early 60s. Coleman Collieries Limited managed to find markets for its produce until 1983 when economics forced it to quit mining, leaving the Town reliant mainly on retirement income and tourism to keep it afloat.
Amalgamation and the Demise of Mining
The International Coal and Coke Company, Limited, was incorporated under federal Canadian law on September the 7th, 1919, with $3 millions in capitalization. A.deB. Winter, W.G. Egbert, P.A. Carson, G.A. Playtor and R.M. EdmansonCalgary men allcomprised its Board of Directors and they immediately set about exchanging shares in the new company for those of the Washington-based original. Then the coal markets crashed and labour problems began as miners looked to the radical One Big Union to win them a better life.
In reaction to the drastic curtailment of working hours, Internationals workforce walked out in a seven month-long strike called by the OBU in 1924. The strike gained no-one anything; the company simply couldnt pay its men to dig coal for which there was no buyer. Despite the companys, problems optimism seemed to reign at Internationals board meetings, for a new tipple erected in steel in 1926. Meanwhile, at McGillivray, people worked. Where it sold its coal is not known to this author at present, but 1924, with other companies embroiled in long labour disputes, was MCCs record year. Nearly a half million tons out-put. Subsequent years were not as good. On November 23rd, 1926, a blast underground took ten lives and spawned a Royal Commission of inquiry. Still, come the end of 1929, the MCC had 600 on its payroll.
Perhaps it was the director who was common to both their boards, W.G. Egbert, who first suggested that MCC and International amalgamate. The suggestion made sense: the companies were working the same seams, were in close proximity to each other, and were both suffering drastically reduced sales. Proposing that either the companies merge or that his MCC buy up International, in the autumn of 1926 Campbell approached Flumerfelt. Engaged in building their new tipple and betting on a market turn-around, Internationals board demurred, apparently prepared to muddle along on their own until 1929 applied a reality check.
As the 20s whimpered to an end, both companies biggest customer by far was Canadian Pacific with its fleets of boats, ships, stationary boilers and locomotives. Come 1932 and the paralysing Pass-wide strike, CPs subsidiary, Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company, Limited (CM&S), was finally finding buyers for the copper and zinc it was producing at its sprawling complex at Trail, B.C., and was in need of increasing quantities of coke. Though it had developed the coal measures near its Mainline at Bankhead near Banff and owned large mines at Lethbridge, CP was interested in securing reliable sources of good quality fuel closer to the Kootenays. With Crows Nest Pass Coal (CNP Coal) in the west Pass controlled by its rival, the Great Northern Railway, and having closed its own troubled mines in the area at Hosmer in 1914, the Company cast its eye upon east Pass properties.
Through the offices of Trusts and Guarantee Company, Limited, CM&S began to buy International shares. In the autumn of 1934, with F.D. Roosevelts policies in the United States beginning to drag that country out of the Great Depression and sparking economic activity in Canada, the company acquired 756,836 shares held in trust by the Canadian Bank of Commerce, a further 55,000 held by the Sherbrooke Trust Company. By the last day of 1934 CM&S owned enough of Internationals paper so that J.J. (James) Warren, the president of CM&S and its subsidiary, West Kootenay Power, and Trusts and Guarantee, had been accorded a chair on Internationals board of directors. Seeking to control the price CNP Coal was charging CM&S for coke, Warren quickly convinced International to refurbish the newest 14 of its battery of old beehive coking ovens which had stood cold since the collapse of the metals market in 1918, and fire up a 70,000-ton sample for Trail to assess. The product proved satisfactory. Dick Greenhalgh, Internationals former coke oven foreman, was reassigned to his familiar job and told to rehabilitate the newest of the ovens and produce coke. Eventually 104 ovens were rebuilt and brought back into production with doors enlarged to accommodate a mechanical puller/leveller.
As it was buying International shares, CM&S was also gathering shares of McGillivray Creek through the offices of president Campbell: 800,000 worth $280,000 by the end of 1934, and began to promote the idea of amalgamating the two collieries. A.C. Flumerfelt, president of International since the companys beginnings, had died in 1931 and so in 1935 management of the two companies was integrated under the presidency of L.A. Campbell.
The first joint project that the companies undertook was the completion of renovations to its tipple and the construction of a wet washery which MCC had already begun as part of an expensive program of modernization which had seen a coal drying plant finished a year earlier. The washery replaced the inefficient dry picking table operation that MCC had been using since 1909. In the new facility the coal was screened to separate the larger, more valuable lumps from the smaller fragments, the slack. The slack was then dumped into a water-filled vat in which the ash and other impurities sank, allowing the clean coal be skimmed off and sent to the coking ovens.
J.J. Warren had died by the spring of 1939 when it was revealed that CM&S controlled nearly 1.25 million of the three million International shares, and just over one million of McGillivrays. Come 1943 the voting rights to 41.41% of Internationals and 38.36% of MCCs shares resided in CM&Ss portfolio. Though he succeeded Warren as president of CM&Ss West Kootenay Power subsidiary, Campbell ran the Coleman mines as a totally independent entity. CM&S, dependant upon Campbells personal shares in McGillivray and International to control the collieries, tolerated this arrangement, expecting Campbell to squeeze a profit from the operations even if it meant CM&S paid full market price for its fuels and had to monitor quality as closely as had the coke come any another supplier.
The Second World War called Colemans miners back to work in numbers not seen since the 10s. School boys and pensioners and winter-idled farmers were enticed into service with attractive wages. Above ground the coking ovens were smoking day and night, turning out a record 107,500 tons in 1942 alone. So rewarding were operations that by the end of 1946 CM&S had recovered 83.8% of the $3 millions it had invested in McGillivray and International shares. Most of that income, 85% in Internationals case, had been derived from the CPR, while CM&S itself had taken 12% of Internationals output. To meet demands International had begun preparing an open-pit mine on the southern end of its property on York Creek, while MCC investigated the possibility of applying the technique to the northern end of its measures in Vicary Creeks valley, some 20 miles north of Coleman.
Despite the 40-hour work week which had been introduced in Alberta that year, in 1946 the production of coal in the province reached an acme with 8.8 million tons. Though not a banner year for International, it nonetheless did very well. MCC, on the other hand, lost a half a million dollars as it struggled to hold onto its labour by paying higher wages. Worse was yet to come, however, for the Coleman mines were about to lose their biggest customer.
For a decade or more North American industry had been embracing petroleum as the fuel of choice. It was cleaner burning, easier to handle and, as the science of geology improved its skills, more and more petroleum was located and it was becoming cheaper. Leading the switch to oil were the railroads. Due to the penury it suffered during the Depression, the CPR lagged behind its American contemporaries. Still, any new steam locomotives it bought were oil fired, and when practicable it converted of its older locomotives to the new fuel. Come the end of the War, the majority of CPs steam engines were worn out, run into the ground by the effort to keep Canada mobile during the War. Rather than replace or rebuild them, the Company decided to scrap them all and adopt the diesel locomotive. As CPs devoted coal suppliers, International and MCC faced a bleak future.
In 1947, the year International began stripping coal from its York Creek property, L.A. Campbell died. He was succeeded as president of MCC and manager of the International by H.A. Howard, the western manager of the Trusts and Guarantee Company, Limited. Probably more than Campbell, Howard appreciated that the quickly shrinking market necessitated a drastic cuts in the costs of production. He recommended that International and MCC amalgamate and integrate their operations by joining their mines underground.
In 1949 CM&S took a record 600,000 tons of coal from Colemans mines in 233 working days. Though it appeared that the good times had returned to the mines, the directors realized that this was temporary and economies still had to be achieved. Early in 1951 Internationals directors offered $300,000 for McGillivray, lock, stock and barrel. John Gordon, president of Hillcrest-Mohawk Collieries, Limited, of Bellevue a few miles east down the Trough, took the idea one step further and on June 1st lodged a bid of $0.31 for each share of MCC and International held by CM&S and Campbells estate. Still mulling Gordons proposal, on June 19th MCCs directors decided to accept Internationals proposal.
In July of 1951 West Canadian Collieries, Limited, at Blairmore offered to buy MCC. Judged lacking, the bid was rejected by Internationals board who continued negotiations with Gordon, et al. On July 20th W.G. Jewitt of CM&S presented a valuation of the assets involved. Hillcrest-Mohawk, though its enormous underground mine was nearing exhaustion, possessed a good tipple, contracted buyers for large quantities of coal and a profitable stripping operation in progress at Tent Mountain. Jewitt valued it at $3.5 millions. MCC, its mine at Coleman geologically complicated and needing extensive renovations if it was to continue producing, was worth $2.8 millions, due in large part to the potential of the Vicary Creek reserves and the modern washery and coal drier. Jewitt determined that International, which had made significant capital investment since the War, was successfully stripping extensive measures on York Creek and owned an excellent underground mine with numerous large supporting pillars of pure coal to be removed when the mines working life drew to a close, was worth $12.5 millions. Should the operations be amalgamated, suggested Jewitt, International would command a 60% share of the new entity, while Hillcrest-Mohawk and McGillivray would hold 20% each. An agreement was struck and on December 4th Coleman Collieries, Limited, (CCL) was incorporated under the Alberta Companies Act with a 1.21 million dollar capitalization in $1.00 shares, the majority of which were bought up by CM&S, along with 36.1% of the bonds. H.S. Patterson was named president and nominally headquartered at Coleman. A document called the Trust Deed dated January 1 of 1952 specified that CCL was constituted from the assets of International, MCC and Hillcrest-Mohawk and recorded that Hillcrest-Mohawk would remain a separate entity with its original shares outstanding. Patterson was replaced as president by MCCs Howard and F.J. Harquail of Hillcrest-Mohawk was appointed the managing director. Under the general management of Harry Wilton-Clark, operations of the company began immediately.
Not all those with interests in International and MCC were in favour of the new arrangement. A group of minority bondholders in MCC and International viewed the whole deal as shady and of benefit only to the big players and took the whole matter to court.
While the legal wrangling continued, CCLs board got to work. One of the first business decisions it made was to shut down the coking ovens. Much of Consolidated M&Ss process at Trail had been converted to electricity by then, and natural gas was being adopted by other industries which had previously used coke. After producing nearly 1.75 million tons of metallurgical coke over their 50-year life-span, Colemans ovens were allowed to go cold. Ten were kept in production for awhile to supply specialty foundry orders, but on February 29th of 1952 Harold Nelson pulled the last loads from the final five ovens still in use and sealed them closed. None were ever refired, and in the years since many of the thousands of bricks used to build them have made their way into new constructions in the Pass.
Desperate to survive in a collapsing industry, West Canadian Collieries applied once more in 1953 to merge itself into CCL. In a momentous meeting held on October 8th of that year, CCLs board doubtless considered this proposal while re-arranging its companys basic structure. CM&S sold Hillcrest-Mohawk $300,000 worth of CCL shares for $25,000 with the proviso that H-M immediately build a half-million dollar plant in Coleman capable of pressing hourly 50 tons of coal slack into briquettes for CPR fireboxes and back-yard barbeques. Further, CM&S undertook to buy all its coal and coke from CCL for the next ten years. This transaction was consummated on December 2nd.
As well, the matter of streamlining operations within the new company was addressed at the Meeting. Unlike MCC, International had made money during the War and in 1948 its directors had begun a program of capital investment in their works. They dewatered the lower levels of the mine which it had been flooded fourteen years earlier to extinguish a stubborn blaze. Three thermos bottles and 50 mine cars were recovered, refitted and put back into service. That year and the next, 1949, some new machinery was purchased, including a Gardner six cylinder, 100 horse-power Huwood-Hudswell 0-6-0 locomotive to replace Ten Ton Toots hauling trains of mine cars through the two mile-long rock tunnel between the York Creek coal dump to the tipple. This was the first application of a diesel engine underground in Canada. These improvements investment notwithstanding, nor the fact that Internationals mine was in better shape than MCCs, the directors of CCL decided to shut down the International and the York Creek open pit and fill the contracted orders which Hillcrest-Mohawk had outstanding from the MCCs mine. As the mines had been linked underground in 1952, the huge pillars of coal which had been left in situ to support the roof could be removed through the McGillivray. As for the open-pit operations, the board decided to concentrate CCLs efforts on the Tent Mountain properties and continue developing the Vicary Creek project.
By the end of March, 1954, the International was sealed and its equipment scrapped or re-assigned to the McGillivray. The big Huwood-Hudswell, writes John Kinnear in Crowsnest and Its PeopleMillennium Edition, was seconded to the Cheakamus Power Tunnel Project at Garibaldi, BC, for five years. By the spring of 1955 the salvors had finished with the coke ovens, leaving only the bricks for souvenir hunters and do-it-yourselfers to scavenge.
At a cost of $636,000, Hillcrest-Mohawk, still a separate entity within CCL, completed the briquetting plant at Coleman in 1955. It was over a year behind schedule, had cost some $136,000 more than Hillcrest-Mohawk had promised to invest. Built around one Komerak-Greaves press which combined asphalt and powdered coal into lumps, the plant output of 30 tons of briquettes per hour.
Though it had lost much of its traditional market to petroleum, Coleman Collieries struggled on hand in hand with Local 2633 of the United Mine Workers of America, District 18. Their saviour were the Japanese, oil poor and energy hungry. Japans needs kept the Tent Mountain strip mine steadily employed and convinced CCL to take its mining underground at Vicary Creek in 1957. The coal was trucked the 20 miles or so to the plant at Coleman. Though the coking qualities of Vicary coal were excellent, Japanese orders remained sporadic until F.J. Harquail finalized a long-term contract with them in April of 1967. The McGillivray had been ten years shut down by that time, and so CCL was able to fling its entire workforce into expanding the Vicary underground operation and developing a new open-pit mine at nearby Racehorse Creek. Around 1970 the company built a new washery at Coleman. In 1971 Norcen Energy Company bought 82% of CCL, infused some cash and rejigged the companys operations, shutting down mining at Tent Mountain and Racehorse on June 30th, 1972. In 1973 the Loram Group of the Mannix conglomerate was contracted to mine Tent Mountain and deliver 1,000 tons per day by truck to the Coleman plant. By 1975 the modernization of the Vicary was complete with a system of conveyor belts replacing the underground trains, retiring the old, much travelled Huwood-Hudswell, which had been recalled from the Cheakamus Power Project in 1959.
Unfortunately for the east Pass, the coal reserves in the region of the west Pass around Sparwood and Elkford had attracted major investment in the 1960s and 70s, and being on the Pacific side of the Great Divide, coal mined there could be delivered to the markets in Japan at less cost. The first of CCLs operations to close was the strip mine at Racehorse Creek in 1978, followed by Vicary in 1979 and Tent Mountain in 1980. On October 28, 1983, after spending the intervening years cleaning up the Coleman plant site and sending much of the coal to Nihon Cement, CCL shut down, the last coal miner in the Trough. Twenty years later it remains closed.
Coleman this morning
On the sunny side of 18th Avenue approaching 77th Street, visitors pass the towns erstwhile fire hall, built, records Judy Larmour in Crowsnest Pass Driving Tour: Coleman (Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, 1990), in the wake of the conflagration in the spring of 1905 and disfigured in 1934 with a concrete block facade. Flanking it on the west, the wooden bungalow style office building of the International Coal and Coke Company has battled the Passs winds since 1904. On the other side of the fire hall, humble St. Pauls United, the old Anglican Mission, dates from the same year. On the north-east corner of 18th and 77th is the red brick-built box Coleman High School, built in 1936, retired when the consolidated school was built up on the valleys bench in 1970, and since 1985 re-employed as the Municipalitys museum. With its playground full of historic vehicles, a jail cell, a 1948 North British Locomotive Works diesel mine engine, several thermos bottlescompressed air or fireless steam locomotivesand attendant 36-inch gauged rolling stock to climb on, the Museum is well worth the modest sum it charges to have a gander. You either love it or hate it. It is perhaps a typical western Canadian small-town museum of the late 20th Century, dioramas largely created and maintained by volunteers with more or less expertise and artistic sense. Theres a dry goods store with shelves of yester-years tinned cans and doo-dads, a school room with a carefully alphabetd blackboard half hidden behind a raggedy-edged wall map from 1922 commanding the attention of a couple of short rows of well worn desks with deeply incised messages like Nick Botti 1919 followed by Wop carved by a less light-hearted knife, a dentists studio with its collection mediæval instruments of torture and horse-sized syringes, a mine. Here and there little alcoves display small collections. I, your good guide, do confess that I havent seen the collection in a few years. Is it still so dimly lighted that one has to squint at the details and frown over the inscriptions, and emerge into dazzling daylight hours later when your vision seems irreparably damaged and you have digested a wonderful feast of locally-flavoured history.
Not all of the Troughs history can be held captive in the dark cells of the museum, of course. Exiting through the main doors a visitor comes face to face with the restored false frontedor, in the parlance of the Ecomuseum Trust, boomtownfacade of the historical Coleman Journal building of circa 1906. It looks as if it should be condemned and torn down, but with no pressing need for the lot, the old clapboard structure will likely continue to startle the eye until rot or fire work their wiles. When it is open, one can enter and watch a interpreter run off a couple of broadsheets on the antique press. The Journal itself was founded in 1921, ten years after the Coleman Miner was suppressed by the authorities for radically labour points of view. Occupying yards of column inches of type in the first few years issues of the Journal were stories chronicling the labour unrest prompted by the drastic cutbacks at International, and the Crowsnests floods of May, 1923, which nearly drowned both West and East Coleman, filled the lower levels of the International mine, ruined the Towns water supply and menaced the downtown. On a page bordered in black it listed the names of the ten who died when the International blew out on November 23rd, 1926. The Journal struggled along through several ownerships until the death of Thomas Holstead, proprietor and publisher, in September of 1970.
Behind the Journal Building, on 17th Avenuemain street, reallyis the Grand Union Budget Hotel. Bought by Calgary Breweries in 1938 to provide their customers somewhere to imbibe in comfort, it is no wonder that the main floor of this two-storied red brick pile is mostly beer parlour. The second floor rooms are, with the exception of what must be the Presidential Suite at the top of the stairs, basic. Even the Prez is utilitarian in décor, one of its window panes vibrating excitedly as a rare freight train drags its weight through the vacant yards a block south. In the early 1990s the Grand Union welcomed youth hostellers with reduced rates; not so now. Card carrier or not, you pay full fare to enjoy the honky-tonk ambience of this old-timey hotel.
Dying in the Street
Downtown Coleman, although today as lively as a cemetery the night after Halloween, has not always been so. In fact, in the early evening of September 21st, 1922, the normal noises of a struggling coal town finishing dinner and tucking the kids into bed were punctuated by a fusillade of revolver reports. Constable Steven Oldacre Lawson of the Alberta Provincial Police was being killed.
Smuggling alcohol became big business in Canada when the United States adopted the Volstead Act on January 16th, 1919. Though the western provinces had briefly imposed dry spells on themselves during that period, that detail did not deter daring entrepreneurs from profiting from Americas thirst. Close to the Boundary, the Crowsnest Pass region was notorious for clandestine activity.
On July 15th, 1870, by proclaiming the Manitoba Act, the Dominion of Canada had affirmed its sovereignty over the entire expanse of western North America above the Forty-Ninth degree of Parallel excluding the American territory of Alaska and the colony of British Columbia. One of the Governments main concerns was the effect of liquor on the First Nations peoples. Orders-in-Council issued by the legislative assembly of the N-WT sought to restrict the availability of alcohol, but they were weak legal instruments the provisions of which could not be enforced for want of a gendarmerie. Consolidating its authority on October 7, 1876, with the proclamation of a revised North-West Territories Act, 1875, Mackenzies Liberal government in Ottawa had, mainly to save the western Aboriginals from further distress, declared the region Dry. No booze: an unpopular declaration, especially among the hard-drinking North-West Mounted Police who had to enforce the prohibition. There was a loop-hole, however: if one was a friend of the lieutenant-governor one could get a permit to import and legitimately sell regulated quantities of alcohol to non-Natives. This privilege was abused, of course, by both the permitter and the permittee. Canadian Prohibitionists became outraged by the excesses, and inspired by the National Womens Christian Temperance Union, channelled into the Territories the tsunami of anti-alcohol sentiment that was breaking over the entire Continent. Western men, however, continued to esteem liquor for whatever relief it could bring a soul in a hard, often lonely land. Smuggling was uncontrollable, as was the manufacture of moon shine.. Though the N-WT was granted an elected legislative assembly in 1888, it had not the power to conduct a plebiscite of the Territorial citizenry under provisions of the Canada Temperance Act of 1876 to determine if efforts to maintain total prohibition were to be continued, or if some system of licensing the sale of liquor should be introduced. The Legislative Assembly of the N-WT assumed control over its residents exposure to alcohol with The Liquor License Ordinance, 199192, assented to on January 25th, 1892. This ordinance, No. 18 in The Ordinances of the North-West Territories passed in the first session of the Second Legislative Assembly as printed by R.B. Gordon in Regina in 1892, occupies 74 pages with regulations and schedules covering all aspects of the retail and wholesale of alcohol. Finally, legally, White men in the N-WT could repair to licensed rooms and buy their pals drinks to their hearts content. Satedor nota man could buy at one time up to two quarts of ale, beer or porter, or one quart of wine or spirits for consumption at home. Prohibition in the North-West was ended.
On September 1st, 1905, Alberta became a province with control over its own affairs. The European segment of Society who was most interested in its consumption continued to enjoy access to liquor. Any male Caucasian could now chose from a variety of licensed venues in which to legally drink himself into unconsciousness and, as if needing to make up those many years of denial, many did. And often. Squarely facing this emergency, the Social Service League united the various temperance societies and began to lobby all levels of government to ban booze. A case in point documented by Laura Johnston in one of her articles in Crowsnest and its people was the first meeting of the new Town Municipality of Coleman on October 11th, 1910, at which the Temperance and Moral League tabled a petition demanding that the Council refuse to issue wholesale liquor licences and halt peddlers going door-to-door hawking booze. Prohibitionist hysteria reached an intolerant high when nurse Nelly McClungs novella, Sowing Seeds in Danny, hit the book shelves just as thousands of Albertas able-bodied and thirsty young men boarded trains that would eventually deliver them to the killing fields of Flanders. Church organizations and moral reformers such as the evangelistic William Aberhart demanded the complete and immediate eradication of demon rum. Availing themselves of Albertas new plebiscite law, prohibitionists badgered Premier Arthur Lewis Sifton into setting July 21st, 1915 as the date upon which to assess Albertans temperate sentiments. When the count that day revealed that 61% of the all male electoratewomen were not to get the vote in the province until April 19th, 1916,were in favour of absolute abstinence, Siftons government declared that on July 1st of the next year, 1916, Alberta would curtail the casual availability of liquor, allowing its use for only sacred, medicinal and scientific reasons.
There was a problem, however, and that was that not everyone was prepared to advance wholeheartedly with their neighbours into the New Age. Some people would have to be coerced, their access to alcohol blocked. Until October 1st, 1917, B.C. was still wet, as was the U.S. until January 16th, 1919, so Albertans could simply cross into another jurisdiction to slake their thirst. A few of those travellers took the opportunity to make a little ready cash by bringing a treat home for their thirsty friends. With their reputation as two-fisted drinking men, the members of the Royal North-West Mounted Police (RN-WMP) could not be counted upon by the Albertan government to throw their souls into the interdiction of this traffic, especially as their ranks were so depleted by members volunteering to serve with the armed forces overseas, and with the force having been tasked with ensuring Canadian internal security during the Great War. So, on March 1st, 1917, the RN-WMPs provincial duties were terminated, and Major A.E.C. McDonnell began forming the Alberta Provincial Police (APP) to serve in their stead.5
The 1915 plebiscite was conducted by districts, and one district which overwhelmingly voted against the resolution was the Crows Nest Pass. For the vast majority of people here, many being recent immigrants from countries where wine shared with friends and family over dinner is a cornerstone of civilization, a hot, dangerous day of hacking coal from the back of a black cave could laudably be rewarded with a whiskey and a beer in the sociable atmosphere of a local taverna. Prohibition of one of the few pleasures of a coal miners life was simply unacceptable. When prohibition became the Law, back yard stills and cellar wineries mushroomed, and the secretive exchange and consumption of spirits became a way of life, a game wherein the players tested the many ways in which the Law could be circumvented, both legally and not.
One of those whom embraced that life was the owner of the Alberta Hotel in Blairmore and sometime Town councillor. Emilio Picariello had emigrated to Toronto from Sicily in the 1900s, married well, worked hard and had moved his family to Fernie in 1911 to manage a macaroni factory and get into the wine bottle recycling business. With his accumulated savings, Picariello bought the Alberta in January of 1918 from Fritz Sick, who by this time had concentrated his brewing business in Lethbridge and was struggling through Prohibition selling 2% alcohol near beer in the Alberta market and exporting full strength lagers to other provinces through a curious loop-hole in the laws. Picariello, called Emperor Pic because of his way of living life large and his don-like manner of dispensing favours in the Passs Italian communities, naturally viewed his hotel as a distribution point for the various spirits, both legitimate and otherwise, in which he dealt.
Since 1916 the puritanical element in Alberta society, unhappy with the obvious ease with which some of their neighbours still obtained strong drink and increasing in relative strength as thousands of men were sent off to war, had been pressing Edmonton to amend the law and declare a total prohibition. On April 1st, 1918, they got their way. No more personal one quart reserves, no medicinal usage, no extracts for kitchen use, no near beer; nothing. Though the new edict was exacting, it could not destroy desire and liquor continued to flow. Not only were there clandestine stills aplenty, but as distilleries and breweries in all of the western provinces were still permitted to bottle product for export, all a shady entrepreneur had to do was cook up the paper work to buy it and then smuggle it to his customers. This Emperor Pic was most willing to do, and on that fateful Thursday, the 21st day in September, 1922, he decided to import a car load from the government-bonded warehouse in Fernie.
The story is a little fuzzy, as all good tales should be. Pic had recently purchased two big, fast, Buick McLaughlin Special Sixespopularly called Whiskey Sixes because their power and capacity appealed to smugglersand outfitted them with secreted tanks to carry booze. On the day, followed by his eldest son, Stephano, driving the carrying car, the Emperor motored along the Red Route in one of his McLaughlins heading for Blairmore. The APP detachment at Coleman were out to alter Pics plans, however, and they aimed to halt and search the convoy which informants had told them to expect. How the Picariellos got eluded the police at Coleman remains unexplained, but Sergeant J.O. Scott and Constable Dey of the APP were forced to race to the Emperors hotel in Blairmore to head off the convoy. Making a big show of complying with the officers search warrant, Pic was somehow able to warn his son who sped away back toward B.C. with the booze. The officers at Blairmore phoned Constable Lawson in Coleman and instructed him to intercept Steve. At 19, the younger Pic was a skilled and daring driver, indestructible as all kids are, and when Lawson flagged him down, he simply stomped on the foot-feed. Determined to halt the rum-runner, Lawson fired two shots from his .38 Smith & Wesson but succeeded in only knocking the mirror off the McLaughlin and, after a short chase in a commandeered automobile, slightly wounding Steve who kept on dusting up the road to Michel, B.C., where he sought medical attention. Informed that his son had been shot, the Emperor picked up Filumena Florence Lassandro, the 22-year old wife of a business partner, Carlo Lassandro, and booted it up to Coleman to confront Lawson. He took a couple of handguns, too, one of which, a 32 calibre Colts autoloader, he gave to Filumena. Arrived at the Coleman APP barracks at about seven in the evening, Pic called the Constable from his supper table and was deep in discussion with Lawson when passions boiled over and bullets whizzed. According to the unsworn testimony of Lawsons nine-year old daughter, Pearlie, Filumena was the one who fired the final shot that forever laid Lawson low. Records Jock Carpenter in her Bootleggers Bride (Gorman & Gorman, 1993), Emilio and Filumena were arrested the next day, and after an exceedingly speedy trial, were found guilty of murder in the first degree on December 2nd and sentenced to death. At sunrise on Wednesday, May 2nd, 1923, only six months and three days before Albertans sagaciously voted to abandon prohibition,6 the pair were executed by hanging at Fort Saskatchewan prison near Edmonton. Filumena remains the only woman to have suffered legal homicide in the Province of Alberta.
Out of Coleman
In the hopeful morning sun in the spring of 1993, Coleman appeared to the visitor well breakfasted at Chris Restaurant and breakfast café on 17th not nearly as dismal as it did in a cold evening shower. In fact, reclining at its ease on the Rivers escarpment, the town seemed to look forward to another day of retirement, watching the price of its real estate inch ever upwards. That real estate almost got converted into insurance pay-outs in the summer of 2003 when for a few weeks spanning July and August the great Lost Creek Fire threatened to erupt out of the valleys to the south of Colman and leap upon the Town. It burned 54,000 hectares, that behemoth, but none of them in Coleman thanks to determined fire fighting and a fortuitous change in the weather.
The fires downtown of November 29th, 1922, and February 16th, 1948, spared the 1904 Coleman Mercantile Company store and its unique façade. Nearby the recently-restored Roxy Theatre beckons movie-goers with its fancy neon sign. There are one or two other architectural curios featured in the Crowsnest Pass Historical Driving Tour: Coleman that a departing visitor could glance over. Those with a macabre sense of history might want to cruise past the one time home of Constable Lawson, the police barracks just east of the Museum. The old miners hospital, near the barracks, now serves seniors as a drop in centre.
At the east end of Main the road bifurcates, the left branch lifting travellers back up onto the Highway. The right branch, the Old Road, hard surfaced as far as Bellevue by 1937, bumps across the train tracks and jogs through Coleman East before bending back across the tracks and up to intersect with the left branch at the Highway. Until not long ago, the Old Road used to carry travellers the six kilometres east along the valleys bottom down to Blairmore. Now, unfortunately, part of the right-of-way is privately owned and is gated against trespassers. Here in the valley bottom is the Natal Forest Products sawmill with its dry-sort and stacks of spruce, pine and fir studs curing in the yards with bundles of treated fence posts. Forestry has long been important to this region, with outfits like the Gibson Sawmill working in York Creek and the Carbondale Lumber Company in McGillivray Creek providing alternative employment in the early days. The health of the local logging industry was adversely affected when the voracious mountain pine beetle began chewing its way into regional forests in the 1970s.
Easterly away from Coleman, the Crowsnest Highway idles down a gentle decline through a well used but still lovely valley towards Blairmore. On heights to the left newly-rebuilt Crowsnest Consolidated High has welcomed grades nine through twelve since September, 1970. Cyclists notice that the terrible chip-trucks have been replaced by cattle liners, just as hugely boxy and wind-shear spawning, vacuuming their way down the road. A mixed blessing are the extra-wide shoulders with which Albertans like to border their highways. You can cycle a line three yards away from the trucks paths, and thats good; the farther the better. Regrettably though, many Albertans treat these shoulders as driving lanes even thought Law prohibits such behaviour. Its a hold-over from the early oil-boom days of the 1950s when truck-loads of Texan drilling equipment were navigating the provinces then slender highways. Courteously, truckers would squeeze their rigs over to the right as far as possible to let faster traffic pass. Albertans adopted the habit wholesale, and even on four lanes of highway some folks insist on motoring along full borewhich in Alberta is 65 miles per hour; what?, 110 kilometres?, about 95 feet per seconddown the shoulder, stupidly oblivious to the possibility that somebody might be stopped changing a flat tire or pedalling a bicycle. Scary.
About five easy kilometres easterly from Coleman the No. 3 arrives at Blairmores western access road, 20th Avenue, the old Highway. Keeping to the shelf above the Crowsnest Rivers left bank, the new Highway streaks past the Town and further penalizes those duffers who shank their Top-Flites over the municipal golf courses out-of-bounds stakes.
Leaving the Highway on 20th to scoot down onto the flat of the valley and follow the Railway, visitors are headed for downtown Blairmore (1291m) slumbering in its sunny nook. Almost immediately on the left, the Crowsnest Learning Centre (CLC) rising two-storeys in red brick, fends off Natures green with a moat of macadam. Opened on April 5th, 1949, as the Crowsnest Pass Hospital, the building was retired when operations in the new Health Care Centre behind it was officially inaugurated on August 28th, 1987. The seniors centre which had collected around it had been officially opened on January 26, 1974, was moved to the new centre, as well. In 1989 the Municipality obtained a grant from the federal Community Initiatives Fund to renovate the old hospital and today the CLC headquarters the Chinook Educational Consortium which offers introductory college-level courses in co-operation with universities and colleges in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge.
Opposite the Centre and westerly beyond the tracks, on a property still banging with industry and which in the autumn of 2006 it is jam-packed with machinery and the mobile accommodations of the crews re-doing the CPRs Crows Nest Line, is the former yard of the defunct McLaren Lumber Company.
Peter McLaren Lumber Company
The history of Peter McLaren Lumber illuminates the cozy relationship between Money and Government that enhanced the fortunes of many an Eastern magnate during the closing years of the Nineteenth Century.
In 1877 the Lieutenant-Governor of Canadas North-West Territories, David Laird, signed a treaty with the Blackfoot Confederacy by which the latter transferred to Canadian jurisdiction some 35,000 square miles of Prairie which the Tribe had long held as their hunting grounds. In return, the Indians were to get reserves of territory, annual disbursements of cash and other goods, schooling, and capital investments by the government in industries to aid the Tribe in re-orienting its economic pursuits. One of these investments was to be the erection of a combination grist and saw mill for the Piikani Band on or near its Reserve at what is now the settlement of Brockett, Alberta. Not only would it occupy the time of idled Indians, but it would supply the North-West Mounted Police (N-WMP) with building materials with which to construct its forts et cetera. Ottawa duly sent Orillia, Ontario, lumberman, John Kean7 out to accomplish that task. No small task it was. Skilled tradesmen willing to risk an adventure in the West had to be found and hired and despatched with every necessary nail and bolt and piece of machinery to the end of the Northern Pacifics steel at Bismark in what is now North Dakota, thence by paddle-wheeler to Fort Benton in Montana Territory, the head of navigation on the Missouri River. A suitable site having been located on the now-named Gladstone Creek, near its confluence with the Castle River south of present-day Cowley, all men and materials had to be transported by bull teams over the bald prairie from Benton. Luckily for Kean, ex-HBC servant William Shanks Gladstone,8 a skilled builder living in the Waterton area, was available to lend his assistance, having been put out of work constructing whiskey forts for American smugglers thanks to the efforts of the N-WMP. With Gladstones expertise, Kean succeeded in 1879 in getting the water-powered mills up and running. The location was soon dubbed Mountain Mill. Willing Piikani were taught the skills necessary to convert trees into lumber, some of which went for the construction of permanent abodes on their Reserve. The initiative struggled for lack of customers and reliable labour, especially when the Piikanis grain crops failed in the parched foothills soil and they were forced to go hunting to feed their families. Kean, himself, quit in 1881 to go to work for the CPR for two years before taking the job of managing the North Western Coal and Navigation Companys lumber mill at what is now Lethbridge.
In an article for Crowsnest and its people (Crowsnest Pass Historical Society, Coleman, 1979), F.E. (Florence) Kerr wrote that Senator Peter McLaren was an Ottawa lumber magnate whose family had made rafts of money in the mid-1800s supplying the people of Central Canada with the wooden materials with which to build their cities. In 1881, with the CPR poised to make its dash across the Plains, the good Senator, well aware that the Railway would be buying millions of wooden tiessleepersupon which to spike its rails, approached the Department of the Interior and offered to take the Piikanis little sawmill off its hands. Edgar Dewdney, at that time the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the North-West Territories, had just returned from an inspection of the mill that summer and recommended its sale. Who knows what other considerations prompted the Department to release the mill into private ownership: contributions to the campaign coffers of a few Tory politicians perhaps? Whatever, the deal was struck and McLaren sent his brother-in-law, W.R. (William) Lees, out to run what was now the Peter McLaren Lumber Company. From the day of his arrival, January 21, 1882, Lees concentrated on the lumbering end of the enterprise, leaving the grist mill to deteriorate. He also leased some nearby grazing land and began to raise cattle on his own account, leaving McLarens employ in 1883 to take up ranching full-time. His sister, Ella May Lees, came out West to help him. Possibly it was D. McPhail who succeeded Lees as McLarens manager.
Mountain Mill proved pleasingly profitable for McLaren, and he expanded his operations. The Mounties decided in 1883 to abandon the original site of Fort Macleod on an Old Man River, and build a whole new permanent camp on drier ground nearby. The merchants and service providers moved, too, of course, and the demand for construction lumber kept The Mill howling day and night.9 Gladstone Creek was dammed to flood a log-dump and hold a reserve of water for the mill wheel. Soon a population of some 75 souls were resident at Mountain Mills, working in the woods, in the mill itself, or as support staff. Chief among the latter was William Gladstone, who had stayed on to maintain the mills. He and his Métis wife, Harriet née Le Blanc, had started their family,10 ran a few cattle, grew gardens, and eventually opened Gladstone House, a roadhouse combination hotel, lodging house and saloon.
McLarens timely acquisition of Mountain Mill was indeed fortuitous for the good senator. Not only was he in a position to supply ties for the CPR Mainline, but he was on hand when fellow senator Alexander Tilloch Galt in 1885 laid the narrow trackage of his North Western Coal & Navigation railroad from Medicine Hat to the Coal Banks at what is now Lethbridge. In 1887 McLaren hired Wallace Nicholl to manager the operation, and he was still in service when CP decided to build its Crows Nest Line (CNL) in the late 1890s. Despite the loss of the Fort Macleod mill to fire in August of 1894, McLaren was right on hand again to supply ties and trestle timber.
Unhappily for the community of Mountain Mill, however, the CNL by-passed it by some 10 kilometres, and come the end of the Nineteenth Century, the saws had run through economically available timber. With the east Pass booming, McLaren decided to move his operations thence. In 1902 the dam and much of Mountain Mill was washed away in the spring floods,11 but by then McLarens mill-saws were howling out building planks and mine props by the thousands of board feet in Blairmore. His pay roll would eventually contribute $15,000 a month to the east Pass economy and his Hindu workers add an exotic flavour to the Troughs ethnic mix. The trees in the Trough had been burned over in July of 1896, so McLarens staked their timber berths in the watersheds of the Allison, Star and York Creeks. To get the wood to the mill the company built miles of flumes which shot the logs down to the Crowsnest River where upon they floated down to the mill yards. In the winter, when the water was low in the Crowsnest, McLarens mill hands hied themselves to the woods to cut the next summers supply of logs and drive them en masse to the mill in an exciting and wildly dangerous adventure in the spring. The forest fires of 1910 consumed much of the concerns standing timber, and possibly tired of the lumber business anyway, in 1911 the Senator sold his show to Colonel A.G. Peucheon, who immediately modified the outfits name by dropping the Peter part. In 1917 Peucheons timber berth on Allison Creek was savaged by fire and his mill there burned. The company soldiered on, cutting down every sizeable tree it could get, until profits dried up in 1932.
McLarens was not the only sawmill to scream logs into lumber in the early years of Blairmore. From leases to the north on what is now the Forestry Trunk Road, H.S. (Henry) Pelletier flumed logs down to his mill located on a property just west of McLarens. The big fire of 1923 burned his timber, and with not enough construction going on in the trench at the time to warrant acquiring new leases, Pelletier shut the operation down. An outfit called Pete and Pete Sawmill is mentioned in Crowsnest and Its PeopleMillennium Edition, and the Sartoris Lumber Company. Around 1937 Charles Sartoris moved his lumber mill in from Bois Joli to the property occupied since 1977 by the Crowsnest Mall, on the Rivers left bank by the 20th Avenue bridge. Known as Blairmore Sawmills, it had a conical sawdust burner and rail connection to the Greenhill mine spur.
South-eastward from the sawmill site the old No. 3 crosses the Crowsnest River on a little pre-stressed concrete span which quakes in sympathy when a freight train rattles the bones of its neighbouring railroad bridge about two spits away up-stream. York Creek joins the River just above the railroad bridge, and between the two streams the privately operated Lost Lemon RV Campground which is shower-equipped and boasts a hot-tub. It is a pleasant, pricy, camp for cyclists. A few metres beyond the bridge the old Highway dog-legs gently left to head almost due east into downtown Blairmore as 20th Avenue, though in its career it has answered to Victoria Avenue, Main Street, and Tim Buck Boulevard.
Blairmore is the biggest settlement in the Trough, and to a cyclist rolling down 20th, it appears huge. Thats an illusion: it is merely long. Bordering the Avenue, like jetsam on the high tide line of an ocean beach, is the garish signage of the modern world; Fas Gas, KFC, Seven-11, Cash-Stop ... To the left, a used car dealership flaps plastic pennants in the breeze where the cute, plywood wigwams of the Sleepee Teepee Motel stood until 1986. Amid the cordon of south-facing dwellings which line the north side of 20th are forgettable buildings sheltering transmission shops, a strip mall and a couple of family eateries.
Ending the phalanx of signs on the south side of the Avenue is the beautifully belled Gambrel roof of the two-story Greenhill Hotel. The Hotel is impressive. Clad in stone-grey plaster with white half-timbered gable ends and grandly pillared porticos supporting balconies, it is very little changed since it was built by W. Pettifor of Calgary for West Canadian Collieries, Limited, (WCC) in 1921. It was always popular with business travellers who had business with WCC whose offices stood opposite on 20th. The Hotels tavern room, too, was, and remains, an attraction. Built within spitting distance of the Railways tracks, in 2002 one can still stay the night and get grumbled awake in the early morning hours by a lonesome way freight.
The Greenhill Hotel is the symbol of West Canadian Collieries commitment to the Town of Blairmore. The companys WCCs management chose the bleak years following the Great War to consolidate their surface plant and at the same time invest heavily in the social side of their business. The company had acquired a large plot of land adjacent to Blairmore proper and over the years had built cottages and a rooming house for its workers, and the fancy Charbonnier House mansion for its manager. It came to be called West Blairmore.
While the hotel was rising, directly across 20thVictoriaAvenue work commenced on more company buildings. To the design of E.J. (Enrico) Pozzi, Blairmores foremost builder12, the companys office building was completed in 1920, constructed of bricks both made in Blairmore and scavenged from the ruined Frank smelter. On the lot east of the office Pozzi raised the unique H-shaped structure for WCC, and two years later built the old Greenhill Grill building, nearly an exact replica of the WCC block.
The population of West Blairmore was large enough by the end of the 10s that the community warranted a school. WCC volunteered to construct a building and lease it to the school board. West End School was completed for the younger scholars in 1921, leaving their older cohorts to trudge alone a few blocks east to Blairmores Main School until West End closed in 1960.
East from the Greenhill Hotel, 20th Avenue adjusts its course by a couple of degrees to the north to roll past Blairmores central business district. Save for the pretty little wooden gazebo of a bandstand which someone built sometime prior to 1914, no structures stand on 20ths south side. This land belonged to the CPR, and here, during minings hey-day, the Railway maintained a menagerie of freight-sheds and shops flanking its station. The station was salvaged, according to C.W. Bohi and L.S. Kozma in their Canadian Pacifics Western Depots: The Country Stations of Western Canada (South Platte Press, David City, NE, 1993), in 1986, and the rest of the structures demolished. But for the single line of trackage arrowing down the middle of the right-of-way and the gazebo, the site is now cleared of everything but its coal-stained ballast. Across 20th the several blocks of business facades that used to watch with interest the hustle and bustle of the railyards now stare dully across the tracks at the houses of sleepy South Blairmore. Long disappeared into misty memories are those double headed freight drags, a helper cut in halfway along the train, blowing and coughing and clattering their way uphill into B.C. Besides the Tracks, the only thing reminiscent of those gone days is the dead 2-6-0 confined on the north side of 20th within chain-link cage to spare it further injury by souvenir seekers. Manufactured by the Canadian Locomotive Company at Kingston in May of 1914 and never converted to piston valves, Old Maude is eighty tons of crumbling steel and wood embalmed with a thick coat of mourning-black paint. She was originally owned by the CPR which sold it to Hillcrest Collieries, Limited. In 1939 West Canadian Collieries acquired the old stalwart and when that company shut down operations in April of 1957, the engine was slated for scrap. A band of historically-minded citizens lead by Max Brown collected the $800 necessary to ransom her, wrote J.Q. Anonymous in Crowsnest and Its PeopleMillennium Edition (Crowsnest Historical Society, 2000), and presented to the town.
Most of the facades lined up along the north side of the 20th Avenue east from the WCC block and the new Provincial Buildinguntil 1981 the site of the WCCs managers mansion, Charbonnier House, and the foremans cottage, Green Houseare the plain fronts of structures that were never intended to be anything but utilitarian and inexpensive. Many of those that at one time may have possessed stylish appointments or distinctive features have long since been mudded over with stucco and plastic ticky-tacky. A few, however, including some designed and constructed by Pozzi, such as 1923s Union Bank Building on the corner of 127th Street, have either been preserved in, or restored to, their original condition. Examples are the Cosmopolitan Hotel, a big old three-story brick pile which has anchored the downtown and welcomed guests since 1912, the Telephone Building resembling a fancy little red-brick cottage, erected after a fire on December 27, 1927, destroyed its predecessor, and the Lethbridge Brewing and Malting Company building dating to 1907. The latter structure, presently hosting a convenience store, was rescued from limbo during the towns restoration movement of the late 80s. Its massive limestone block walls, designed to bear the weight of a couple of additional floors, are unique in the Trough. A half block east of the Lethbridge Building, the Orpheum Theatre, trying hard to fade into a row of similar circa 1920 plain-Jane brick facades, is given away by its fancy neon sign which still gamely tries to entice folks away from their pay-per-view TV programs.
Towards the east end of 20th, the old courthouse, dating to 1923, is not a Pozzi creation. Joey Ambrosi reports in his The CourthouseRecollections from the Past: A History of the Blairmore Courthouse (unknown, n.d.), that it was the firm of Watson and Abercrombie of Calgary whose bid of $29,740 won the contract. In the early years in Blairmore the Law had made do with a variety of rented or leased buildings to serve as courthouse. However, noting that the Crowsnest region had voted overwhelmingly No in the 1915 plebiscite on whether or not to illegalize alcohol in Alberta, the Ministry of Justice began to wonder if perhaps a greater provincial presence was warranted in the Pass.
Prohibition became Law in Alberta on July 1st of 1916. Law makes crime and soon the Alberta Provincial Police, lodged in less than adequate barracks without holding facilities, were inundated with criminals. In response, in June of 1922 the Town offered the APP four vacant lots at the end of what was then Victoria Street to build a barracks-cum-courthouse. The murder of Constable Lawson in Coleman that September of 1922, coupled with lasting anxiety over the Sentinel train robbery and subsequent Bellevue shoot-out in 1920, so shocked the government in Edmonton that it decided that a more imposing edifice was required to impress rule of Law in the Trough.
The Town was happy to donate two additional lots to accommodate the enlarged structure and in March of 1923 Watson and Abercrombie began construction. On a concrete basement exterior walls of hollow tiles rose two storeys, were stuccod and covered with a hipped roof broken by several dormer windows. Though delayed by the early June floods of that year, come July construction was completed and, without fanfare, the Spanish-Colonial Revival Style building was occupied by the District Court of Fort Macleod and the APP. In the basement were the cells, on the main level was the courtroom, general offices, magistrates office and the Police superintendents family residence. Upstairs was a dormitory for the constables and a full bathroom, a visitors bedroom, more offices and the second floor of the superintendents quarters. When the APP was disbanded in March of 1932, the RCMP moved in and stayed until 1955 when offices for them were completed in the brand new Post Office building four of five blocks west on 20th, then being called Main. The courthouse was then modified and given over entirely to the Courts. In 1983 the Crowsnest Pass Provincial Building near the Post Office was opened and the courts removed themselves thence, the last session held in the old building being on July 14th. For ten years the old Courthouse served various community needs while the roof leaked and heritage societies contemplated its historic worth. Under the auspices of the Ecomuseum Trust the building was declared a Provincial Historic Site on July 6th, 1993, and restoration was completed. In 1995 the School Foundation of the Nippon Institute of Technology bought the structure and modified it for use as both a retreat for male Tokyo tech program students and their guests, and, in conjunction with Lethbridge Community College, as an English-immersion facility which interacts with Pass society through joint technical projects and community services.
Not far beyond the Courthouse and N.I.T.s Mini-Railway Heritage Park, 20th hooks hard left, crosses the River on a flat-decked 1983 span and rejoins the Crowsnest Highway to run on down three kilometres or so to tragic Frank.
The Village of Blairmore
Sometime during the summer of 1873, while Michael Phillipps and John Collins were exploring their way eastward through the Crowsnest Pass, William Samuel Lee was prospecting his way westward up the Crowsnest River. In the morning shadows of Turtle Mountain he discovered a cold spring of sulphurous, milky-white water burbling to the surface. A widely travelled individual, Lee knew a spa when he smelt it, and he knew that such wonders could found a fortune. Lee also knew, of course, that people with time, inclination and money to patronize a spa generally lived half a continent away from the Crowsnest Pass. With no prospective bathers on the immediate horizon, Lee concluded that the lush meadows surrounding the smelly spring had much more utility and he regularly planted oats there. In between crops, Lee, the Garnett brothers, and other neighbouring ranchers, kept their bulls penned on the meadows until their breeding cows came into season.
Lee was not one to let a possible source of income languish, however. With families of European descent beginning to move into the district, and the nearby settlements of Fort Macleod, Coal Banks and Pincher Creek steadily growing, Lee began to tout the amazing curative properties of the Springs waters. Near the outflow he erected a little shackhis sanitariumoutside of which he or one of his employees would heat the waters for people who felt themselves in need of a restorative soak. Ranchers and cowhands, the occasional explorer, or an N-WM Policeman on patrol made up the bulk of the clientele. In August of 1896, the year old W.S. died, a quartet of N-WMP members on a sporting trip to Crowsnest Lake stopped in at what one of them, T. Clarke, perhaps facetiously called the Sulphur Springs Hotel, managed by Bob Connolly and his wife. The hotel was reputedly built by Jack Willoughby, the Lees son-in-law (Caroline), when the family realized that a fortune was on its way in the form of CPR construction crews who were about to lay a railway right by the Springs. By the next year Jack and Caroline were themselves apparently operating the resort and living in the old shack. Business boomed as the railroad men, wearied by long hours of strenuous work, hastened to avail themselves of one of the few amenities in their world. When the track laying crew worked its way through in the spring of 1898, they spiked down the Crows Nest Lines tenth siding near the spa and dropped off an old boxcar to act as freight shed and station for what was commonly called the Springs.
Not long did the Railways patrons have to suffer the old boxcar, for that year CP hastened to raise a proper depôt, a two-storey Crowsnest Pass Branch Standard Second-Class Station. H.E. Lyon was appointed station master and soon built a log cabin opposite the station in which he opened the settlements first store. At the same time, CPs section foreman, Phelix Montalbetti, also built a cabin. On the probability that the abundant coal underlying the area would soon be exploited, people began to settle at the Springs and resolved that a less informal name should be chosen for the community. In gratitude to the Minister of Railways, A.G. Blair, for involving Federal money in the construction of the CNL, and to honour Mr. More, the Lines divisional superintendent, on November 15, 1899, the residents named their hamlet Blairmore. Sixteen days later, on December 1st, the settlement was officially recognized when the Post Office contracted Lyon to open a local bureau in his store and appointed him post master.13
By 1900 most of the promising coal properties in the Trough had been staked, and in 1901, at Frank, just three kilometres east of Blairmore, the Canadian-American Coal and Coke Company (C-AC&C) opened the Troughs first commercial mine. Blairmore boomed and its 231 officially counted residents felt confident enough in their settlements future to declare it a Village on September 3rd of 1901. Wm. A. (Cap) Beebe was elected overseer and likely accompanied the football team to Franks founding celebrations a week later. Along the northern edge of what was likely the Railways construction tote rode building lots were staked and sold madly to merchants eager for frontage on the bustling rail yards. In short order stores were thrown up and stocked. Henry Alfred Fred Kanouse, erstwhile whiskey trader from the Fort Macleod14 area, raised the Waldorf Hotelcomplete with pool hallin competition with Felix Montalbetti who had built Blairmores first hotel, The Alberta. A third hotel soon opened and was booked solid. The frenetic activity in the tiny frontier town attracted the attention of the N-WMP who detached a single constable from D Division at Fort Macleod and sent him to take up permanent residence in Blairmore before the end of the year, 1901. School classes, state the authors of the chapter entitled Education in Photo CompanionCrowsnest and its people., were offered that year, possibly in Montalbettis cabin. The next year the one-room Red school was built and Miss Mills was conducting classes.
Dreams of boom-town riches were, however, slapped into reality early in the spring of 1902 by a wrangle between Lyon and Montalbetti. The dispute was over who had actually first arrived on the townsite and set up a cabin, therefore acquiring squatters rights to the land. By the time the plan of the City of Blairmore was registered on August 28th of 1902 the matter was on its way to court. Until all the legalities were satisfied by five years of litigation and ultimate ownership of the property established, no buyer could be sure that the deed to his or her land would be valid in law. Montalbetti, possibly financially drained by the proceedings, sold his claim to one Malcolm McKenzie who had the wherewithal to press the fight.
The uncertainty of ownership became an acute inconvenience in the aftermath of the disaster that all but wiped out the nearby settlement of Frank in April of 1903. Thereafter people were disinclined to live in the shadow of Turtle Mountain and pressure was put upon Blairmore to accommodate the refugees as well as the increasing numbers of pioneers who came to the Trough to earn their fortunes. Across CPs tracks from Blairmore proper a new settlement, Blairmore South, began growing, its residents able to easily make their way either by foot or train down to the mine at Frank to work.
Blairmore continued to stagnate, but was able to muster flag-wavers enough to welcome the Governor-General and his wife, the Earl and Lady Gray, when they stopped for a couple of hours visit on September 15th in the year Alberta became a province of Canada, 1905. Among the crowd was likely the Villages two doctors, its three barristers and the editor of the newly established Blairmore Times. From information that he gleaned from the Times, condensed and submitted to the editorial staff of Crowsnest and its people, Alrik Tiberg reports that at their August, 1905, meeting, the Village rate-payers had permitted The Pass Light and Water Company to erect a pole line and offer electricity to Blairmores residents. Perhaps the Village should have insisted that the company lay in water mains first, for on January 17th of 1906 a flicker of flame engorged itself on the dried hay storing in Gradys warehouse and when the resulting conflagration burned itself out, an entire block of buildings, including the wood-framed Blairmore Hotel, on what is now the north-west corner of 129th St. and 20th, was ashes.
The year 1906 is not exclusively a story of disaster in Blairmore. That year local sports formed the Pass Turf Association to organize horse races, the premier event becoming the annual the running of the Pass Plate, and in October the Union Bank of Canada expressed its faith in the Villages future by opening a branch office.
In 1907 West Canadian Collieries moved its offices to Blairmore and began developing its Blairmore South mine. The ownership of the townsite was still in dispute so the WCC acquired the adjacent property to the west and began to build bungalows and rooming houses to shelter the mostly French, Belgian and Czech workers which it moved in from its Lille operations. Over the next 15 years the company infilled the subdivision as its needs for housing increased. Enrico Pozzi was regularly employed there, some of his handiwork surviving still.
In 1907 the ownership issue had been resolved in Lyons favour and Blairmore began to grow again. One of the first steps the Village took was to absorb South Blairmore on June 28th, 1908. As the tax base grew the Village began to chafe under its corporate restrictions. It needed a water system but had not the corporate weight to swing a loan. Followed closely by the Blairmore Enterprise, which began its short life on November 4th of 1909, applications were made to the provincial government and on the 29th of September, 1911, Blairmore, its population officially determined to be 1137, was granted a patent as a Town. With H.E. Lyon as mayor, the community took a second breath and bloomed into the Troughs major node.
Arguably the turning point in Blairmores fortunes was the relocation of the West Canadian Collieries head office from Lille in 1907. Until then, with the dispute between McKenzie and Lyon inhibiting the Villages development, Blairmore looked destined to become just a satellite of Coleman which suffered no such crippling conflicts. WCC had been incorporated in England on June 3rd of 1903 to continue a coal mining enterprise at a place called Lille near Frank. Beginning to lose faith in the operation, WCC decided to move its headquarters to Blairmore and concentrate on the extensive measures there.
Joe Little, a former CPR engineer, and Tommy Thompson came independently prospecting to the Trough in the mid-90s and are said to have staked much of the coal lands around Blairmore. Writes W.J Cousins in A History of the Crows Nest Pass, R.E. Fishburn, T.G. Proctor and Charles Chesnut among them early on bought and held some of these properties. Fritz Sicks old brewing partners from Fort Steele, Adolph Mutz and G.H. Scott, teamed with hotelier A. Manuel of Frank and acquired an interest in the Blairmore Coal and Coke Company (BC&C) which in January of 1907 began development work one of the properties, Blairmore South. WCC, already experiencing difficulties with its operations at Lille, decided that $75,000 would be well spent to buy BC&Cs nascent mine and continue its development. In April of 1909 WCC announced that its men had struck a 12 foot-thick seam of excellent coal after tunnelling 300 feet through the gravel till of the lateral moraine that locally forms a bench against the base of the Troughs southern slope. Laying a half-mile-long spur and building a crude loading facility, WCC was digging up to 300 tons per day by December, totalling 30,000 tons for 1909. The next year, with the erection of a mechanically-fed wooden tipple housing sorting screens and a picking table, output rose almost four-fold. Although a new powerhouse was built to shelter larger boilers in 1911, Blairmore South ultimately disappointed WCC which quit mining it in 1914.
In 1926 the brewer Adolph Mutz got back into the coal business in Blairmore by taking a stake in the Sunburst Coal Company which had taken an option on a property on York Creek, probably the old Blairmore South mine. After two years of development Mutzs operators, Messrs. Cartwright and Thomason, it finally began outputting the Weusit brand. It was, however, a poor time to begin a coal mine and the operation never amounted to much. The seam was faulted and chasing it soon drained the companys meagre resources. Mutz sold out to J.H. Farmer, but he was unable to turn the enterprise around and it faded into retirement in the late 30s.
A year before it abandoned its Blairmore South works in 1914, West Canadian Collieries had begun mining into the bench of the Trough immediately north of Blairmore, on property it likely bought from Fishburn, Baker and Proctor. Known as the Greenhill mine, its prodigious output was the economic mainstay of Blairmore, through good times and bad, for nearly half of a century.
Though the mine closed forever on April 30th, 1957, ample evidence of the works remains. The most obvious to the casual observer is the great swatch of barren ground between the River and the Crowsnest Highway north of downtown Blairmore. From 1913, when WCC commenced its Greenhill mine operation, much of this land was used as a dump for waste coal. Mounds of it towered above the trees, an eye-sore to residents and visitors alike. The provincial Environment Department advised before the new hospital was built, the mess should be cleaned up. The Department acquired the worst 50 acres of the site from Home Oil, the inheritors of WCCs assets, and in the summer of 1986 began recovery operations. By the time the project ended more than two years later, some 660,000 tons of material had been trucked north ten miles and dumped into the pit of the Grassy Mountain strip mine. The remainder of the waste was levelled and left to grow what meagre vegetation it could.
North of the spoil piles was the Greenhill mines yards where trains of coal cars could be parked on several sidings to await their loads. A spur crossing the old highway and curving through what is now the Health Centres grounds connected the yards to Crows Nest Line at a switch near the McLaren mill site. Just above the yards, on the slope of Bluff Mountain, sits the concrete shell of the tipple, not worth the effort of destruction in 1958 when the works were salvaged, and now valued as a historic site. It was built during the strike-year of 1924 and its labours, although appreciated as an essential gear in the Greenhill works, was a source of aggravation because of the terrific amount of dust its sorting screens and picking tables added to the Blairmores air. Partially to suppress the dust, but mostly to separate contaminants from the coal and thereby increase its value, in 1934 WCC added a wet washery to the works complex. The No. 3 now runs approximately where the loading spur lay.
The Greenhill hit its peak of production in 1946 when 759,000 tons ran through the tipple. This consisted of approximately 3,000 tons per day from the Greenhill mine itself, plus 500 tons from a strip mine which the company opened that year up on Grassy Mountain, and a further 500 tons from another open pit mine on the Mountain which a separate outfit had begun developing a year earlier.
In 1951 the Greenhill output 561,000 tons and added $422,903 to WCCs bottom line. By then, however, the company was in the same straits as the rest of the Trough coal producers, and made repeated applications to join with International Coal and Coke, McGillivray Creek Coal and Coke and Hillcrest-Mohawk Collieries to form Coleman Collieries, Limited. Its overtures rebuffed, WCC struggled along, making but $48,313 from the Greenhills output of 143,000 tons in 1957. Its markets had all but disappeared that year, and mining was halted. In hopes of a recovery, the company maintained the Greenhill until 1963 when it allowed the depths to flood. It then salvaged the works and in 1964 sold its assets to West Canadian Mineral Holdings. That company disappeared into Resources Service Group eight years later, Scurry-Rainbow Oil and Gas eventually acquiring the mineral properties. Home Oil Company, a subsidiary of Anderson Exploration in 2002, owns WCCs records.
The Big Strike and Reds
Since the Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the middle of the Eighteenth Century, the men, women and children who worked underground digging coal for a living were in opposition to those men who owned the mines. Because there were usually many more willing hands than jobs owners could pick and choose who they allowed to work in the pits. With circumstances weighted against them, miners had little choice but to do as they were told, no matter what peril they were required to place themselves in, no matter what pittance with which they were rewarded. There was no avenue of appeal: the weight of Law was always on the side of the owners of capital and the means of production, and to squeeze every last penny of profit from a mine, Owners seldom hesitated to use the Law to beat upstart workers into the realization that they could expect few concessions. Over the decades, however, mine by mine, concessions were won, the most fundamental being the right of workers to organize and use the threat of withholding their labour as an ace in the hole when bargaining for the improvement of their lot. Owners, of course, regarded Workers organizations as anathema to the orderly production of wealth and fought them at every turn.
On the eastern side of the Great Divide the coal seams are gaseous, steeply angled, and faulted. This made the business of underground mining an especially risky proposition both for worker in the pit, and for the investor in his Eastern office, for, because of the disposition of the seams, the application of machine power to the operation was inhibited: a highly skilled, expensive man had to stand at the coal face use muscle to hack profits from the earth. One man alone, unhappy with the needless dangers to which his employer exposed him, could easily be replaced. Replacing an entire workforce was a different matter.
Organized Labour arrived in British Columbia when the Denver, Colorado-based Western Federation of Miners formed a local in the mines on Red Mountain at Rossland in 1895. In the United States, the Federations response to the intransigence of the mine owners in negotiations and their habit of using armed force to protect scab workers was dynamite and intimidation. This reputation for violence followed it across the Boundary, and it was therefore under pressure from all levels of authority to quit Canada. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the Federations influence rapidly spread into the Crows Nest Pass coal mines and by 1902 it had formed District 7 taking in workers on both sides of the Great Divide.
Meanwhile, workers in the coal fields at Lethbridge in the District of Alberta had joined the United Mine Workers of America. In 1897 the UMWA had used a strike in the Lethbridge fields to win gains for its members. Its style and success appealed to the miners in the east Pass and on May 8th, 1903, they abandoned the WFM and joined the UMWA, District 18, sub-district 5.
On May 9th, 1906, the government of the newly-formed province of Alberta involved itself in the business of mining coal by having lieutenant-governor Geo. Hedley Vicars Bulyea assent to The Coal Mines Act 1906. This act addressed the issue of children and women working in coal mines, and laid out basic safety precautions and operating procedures to be enforced by provincial inspectors. The Act did not address the on-going dispute between workers and bosses regarding hours of work, lost time and recompense, but did provide dozens of solicitors with hundreds of billable hours as the regulations were argued over in the courts by an organization which was formed that year, the Western Coal Operators Association.
To deal with the unification of their labour, the mine owners in Crowsnest Pass formed the Western Coal Operators Association in 1906. It met with some initial success in 1907 when it was able to hammer out an agreement with the UMWA which guaranteed some stability in the coal fields. It addressed the issue of children in the pits, and set a wage for contract miners at $0.57¾ per long ton (2240 lbs.) of coal sent to the surface. At the time CP paid $1.75 per short ton (2000 lbs.) of cleaned, sorted coal right from the tipple.
Despite the Agreement a constant undercurrent of suspicion and confrontation continued to define Labours relationship with Management in the east Pass. A shift or two in a mine and a mine there would down tools in protest over a specific issue. Once in a while a more unified action would occur which saw the entire workforce walk out of a companys mines. This was rare and usually short-lived, and the loss of production was, to the detriment of the struck mine and its employees, made up by other companies. The atmosphere changed on March 5th, 1908, when the province of Alberta passed An Act to Amend the Coal Mines Act for the Purpose of Limiting Hours of Work Below Ground (The Coal Mines Act 1908): ... a workman shall not be below ground in a mine for the purpose of his work and of going to and from his work, or be allowed to be below ground for that purpose, for more than eight hours during any consecutive twenty-four hours. Disagreements quickly bloomed and the Act came under attack by the owners who were particularly alarmed by the inclusion of travelling time in the eight hours: this could represent a significant amount of time when multiplied by the number of workers and the number of shifts over a year. More immediate, however, was the companys declaration that it would, along with the other members of the Western Coal Operators Association, reduce miners per day pay to reflect the reduced hours of work. Then, just before Christmas in 1910, the companys mine at Bellevue blew out and killed ten workers. Negligence, roared the Union, and resentments hardened. After more months of halting negotiations over wages, hours of work, safety, child labour and housing, on March 15th, 1911, the UMWA called its members out of the Crowsnest Pass mines, first in B.C., then in Alberta. In retaliation, on April 1st, the companies belonging to the Operators Association locked UMWA men out of their mines. The Big Strike was on.
It was, of course, a nasty affair. Separated by language and culture and disputes rooted in ancient European distrusts, the workers of the Pass were not truly unified. The British, the second largest group, feared the Slavs who made up the largest population, and the Slavs had little use for Italians, the third largest group. Needing to resume production, the mine owners quickly exploited these ethnic divisions and enticed the poorer and more desperate men back into the mines. Enraged, strikers denounced the scabs and attacked their working neighbours. The owners called in the police to maintain order and heads were cracked all round. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a radical labour association formed in Chicago in 1905, involved itself in the affair. For six months the situation boiled as both owners and workers watched their resources dwindle. On September 21st of 1911 Robert Laird Borden was elected Conservative prime minister of Canada. With him came the fiscal restraint which cut subsidies to industry. Faced with decreased government patronage, the Coal Operators were more open to compromise and finally, on November 16th a truce was reached which saw the UMWA men return to work. Though the agreed wage for a qualified miner at the face was set at an acceptable $3.65 per day, many other issues remained unresolved. Resentments simmered.
Any interference in the flow of product between pit and consumer jeopardized the entire process. Such an interference was the Great War. The loss of European markets early on in the conflict weeded out the marginal mining operations in the Trough and threw hundreds out of work. Where as there were a dozen pits to suffer the effects of the Big Strike, only five survived to benefit from Industrys demands for coal to meet increased industrial production during the latter half of the great blood-letting. The grief-tempered prosperity that War brought to Blairmore served to mask the changing times in the coal industry. With the end of the war came recession and the subsequent closure of the B.C smelters which had bought so much coal and coke. Companies facing mounting loses had no sympathy for their workers plight. Times toughened in Blairmore and the rest of the Pass communities. Idled workers gravitated towards the egalitarianism of Marxism and the Trough became a hot-bed of Red agitation.
The Industrial Workers of the World had made progress in subscribing some east Pass workers and many blanketstiffsseasonal labourersinto its organization during the Big Strike and the hard times brought on by the Great War when men poorly paid were crammed into The Passs meagre accommodations. However, in 1912 the IWW began losing popular support due to its involvement in the long Grand Trunk Pacific strike and its unbending intolerance of racism in a racist society. Refusing to be party to no strike agreements with companies and governments for the duration of the War, it was branded subversive and hounded out of Canada in 1918 on the pretext that its executives were aliens: to wit, Americans. Into the radical niche left by the departing IWW stepped the OBU.
In March of 1919 a general meeting of Labour in Calgary resolved to distance its members from the Dominion Trades and Labour Congress which many derided as a conservative down East organization concerned mainly with crafts workers, as opposed to industrial workers. The B.C. delegation proposed that Western workers ally themselves with the One Big Union and, with the revolution in Russia seeming to prove that Workers could effect change in their own lives, many embraced the suggestion. The notion of solidarity spread and when workers walked out in a General Strike in Winnipeg that May, tools clattered to the ground in sympathy all over the West.
In 1919 in the Crowsnest Pass there was not much mining going on. Jobs were precious and even though there was a good deal of sympathy for the Winnipeg strikers, the reality was that if a man could find a job, he took it. The UMWA leadership, needing to win back its members, treated with the mine owners and soon reached an agreement. Dues-paying UMWA men would receive raises and the general adoption of the battery-powered Edison Safety Lamp would be hastened. The OBU was soon ruined and withdrew from the Pass. However, no sooner had the OBU threat dissolved than the owners began to regret their generosity and attacked the wages of their men. The result was wide-spread strikes and lock-outs in 1922 and, especially, 1924. No longer trusted by its members, the UMWA was unable to make their erstwhile allies honour their agreement and the local dissolved. Casual, company-sponsored jobsite associations replaced it. Come 1925 these were being absorbed piecemeal into the Mine Workers Union of Canada (MWUC) which spoke in increasingly radical tones as the Black Monday of October 29th, 1929, led the world into the Great Depression.
Frustration caused by the opposition of mine owners to changes of any kind drove the workers in the east Pass to rallies sponsored by the Workers Unity League (WUL) of Canada, a member of the Moscow Red International. The words of organizer Harvey Murphy struck a resonant chord especially with the West Canadian Collieries workers who were the first to associate their MWUC local with the WUL. Carrying their workplace politics into the civic realm, residents of the east pass soon elected radicals to local policy committees and boards, confronting the big-business policies of they saw as a corrupt and entrenched ruling class.
On February 23, 1932, reacting to rumours to a further trimming of their hours, workers at WCCs Greenhill mine at Blairmore struck. The next day their brothers in the Bellevue downed tools, too. WCC was paralysed, its 750-odd workers picketing the company offices and plant. Soon every mine in the East pass was affected as entire families attended demonstrations to protest their rapidly degenerating conditions. Writes John Kinnear Crowsnest and Its PeopleMillennium Edition, Pass-wide some 1400 workers walked out. The discord would make the next eight months very tough. Though relief trains of basic necessities sent by supporters buoyed the Workers struggle, their situation continued to deteriorate. A rally called at the Blairmore bandstand on May 1st inflamed passions and four days later riot broke out pitting some 1200 angry miners and dependants against some 75 Mounties. The confrontation shocked the Crowsnest communities so deeply that the solidarity of the workers shattered along largely ethnic lines. Fear of a repeat of the Estevan massacre15 sobered inflamed passion and the strike slowly simmered over the course of the summer. Come Labour Day everyone, workers and owners, had had enough. For their part, the owners promised to restore wages to the pre-strike level, allow their workers to organize themselves as they saw fit, and not discriminate against strikers when it came to re-manning their mines. On September 7th men desperate to feed their families returned to the pits to do whatever job they could win. With the Depression slowly throttling the Worlds economy, however, the owners were just not in need of many workers.
Despite the fact that the moderate MWUC soon re-exerted its influence over the workers of the east Pass, the strike had set in motion a chain of events which resulted in the election of a workers slate to the town council and school board of Red Blairmore in February of 1933. One of mayor William Knight and the councils first acts was to declare May Day a civic holiday, and rename Victoria Avenue Tim Buck Boulevard for the secretary of the Communist Party of Canada / Labour Progressive Party. Karl Marx Park became a popular rally and recreation venue, and sporting houses were banned.
That Tim Buck Boulevard became again Victoria Avenue in 1937 is indicative of the realities of the Pass. The fact was, that in the throes of the Depression, there was simply, despite the rhetoric, little work, something that no dose of radical politics could remedy. Miners began to explore the avenue of appeasement rather than confrontation. At the Alberta Federation of Labour conference held in Calgary in 1936, the little east Pass miners associations rejoined the UMWA. A year earlier, on August 22nd, 1935, promising social dividends for every family, Bible Bill Aberhart had led the progressive Social Credit Party to power in Alberta. Before long the traditional powers in the Trough had recaptured the town councils, Blairmore being the exception, where a dyed-in-the-wool Communist, Enoch Williams, was elected mayor in 1937. W.L.M. Kings Liberals in Ottawa passed the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act in 1938 which provided a venue for industrial negotiations. The demands of World War Two went a little way to easing the economic pain in the Trough and inspired the workers to again try to force concessions by joining the brief, continent-wide coal miners strike in November of 1943. With the Wars conclusion and the substitution of oil for coal, Blairmores mining industry slipped into retirement when West Canadian Collieries closed its offices about a year after the last shift had punched out of the companys Greenhill mine, April 30th, 1957.
Blairmores secondary industries
A vibrant, wealth-generating region like the East Pass attracted entrepreneurs aplenty, especially in the field of construction. Noted is D.A. Sinclair, a general contractor active in the neighbourhood prior to the Great War. However, the man best remembered for the quality of his work was the prolific builder, Enrico Pozzi.
Enrico Pozzis first job in the east Pass as an architect and builder was overseeing the construction of Canadian Metals Companys smelter at Frank. Blessed with 90 million tons of fresh Turtle Mountain limestone which had crashed down into the Crowsnests valley two years earlier, Pozzi set up a lime kiln at the western edge of the debris field just east of Blairmore and commenced to manufacture cement. Bricks he likely got from the local Austrian Brick Company. Following Pozzis lead, on November 30th, 1906, W.J. Budd and W.M. Alexander incorporated the Rocky Mountain Cement Company with a capitalization of $600,000. A year later Budd returned from a business trip to Spokane, Washington, with the news that the Spokane International Railway would subscribe to 80% of Rocky Mountains initial 250,000-dollar offering of bonds, and that the plant should be operational by May of 1908. Construction of a factory on a property near Pozzis kiln on Blairmores eastern outskirts began immediately. Delays occurred and it wasnt until January of 1910 that Rocky Mountain began producing its Crows Nest Brand (Enduring as the Ages) cement at the rate of 500 barrels per day. That year, claims W.J. Cousins in A History of the Crowsnest Pass, the company took over the Pelletier Brick Works. Rocky Mountain reached what was to be its peak production year in 1913 only to become a casualty of the credit crunch which crippled Canadian business prior to World War One. Along with the Austrian Brick Works, it closed its doors in 1914. Rocky Mountain sold its works to the Canadian Cement Company, but the plant never re-opened and was scrapped out in 1939.
A concern affected by the Great War was the San. Just after the turn of the Nineteenth Century, their rather rustic facilities inundated with more clientele than they wanted to spend time serving, the successors to W.S. Lee had sold their spa to one of the principals in Canadian-American Coal & Coke, Samuel W. Gebo. Gebo improved the facilities, named it the New Sanitarium Hotel and convinced C-AC&C to buy the operation in 1905. The new owners razed the existing structures and built the opulent three-story wood framed Rocky Mountains Sanatorium hotel complete with sun-balconies and terraria, a hot pool, a cold pool, a battery of big, galvanized iron soaking tubs in the basement, a steam room, bar room, billiards room, and a zoological garden. It opened in the spring of 1910 and became, with enthusiastic promotion, a Mecca for those arthritis sufferers who could afford the price. Paying guests, as they did at all hotels, all but vanished during the Great War and the San became the headquarters of the 192nd (Crows Nest Pass) Infantry Battalion. In 1917, reports Florence E. Kerr in her essay, The Sanatorium in Crowsnest and its people, the resort was purchased by the government of Canada as a convalescence home for soldiers whose lungs were filling with tubercles. It was re-christened the Frank Military Hospital and Doctors Ritchie and A.H. Baker came to administer to the sick. At the time there was a professional disagreement as to how the patients should be treated: one side advocating complete rest and isolation, the other proclaiming that fresh air and exercise was essential. Unfortunately, the San was ideally suited to neither philosophy, for the constant traffic on the railway disturbed those seeking peace, and the fresh-air was heavy with coal dust from the Greenhill operation only three upwind miles away. When a new sanatorium, eventually named the Baker Memorial Sanatorium, was completed in the Bowness suburb of Calgary in 1920, the army abandoned the San. Tainted by illness, the building stood empty until it was finally torn down in 1928, its property becoming a playground.
As well as a few lumbering operations, Blairmore long enjoyed the distinction of being The Lethbridge Brewing and Malting Companys main point of distribution in the east Pass, and hosted the local exchange of Alberta Government Telephones. The Sartoris familys Crows Nest Bottling Works began a ten year run of capping soft drinks around 1935, around the time that Meadow Sweet Dairy began operations.
The Town of Blairmore
As recorded by J. Brian Dawson in his Crowsnest: An Illustrated History and Guide to the Crowsnest Pass (Altitude Publishing Canada, Canmore, 1995), as it roared into the 20th Centurys second decade Blairmore boasted stores galore, a bank, a brickyard or two, a schoolthe Main School, raised in 1908in the process of expansion, three hotels, a new (1910) Standard Number 5 CPR station, a soon-to-be-completed waterworks, a telephone company, a roller rink and, thanks to the generosity and support of the Troughs increasing Italian community, Frayer & Beebes Blairmore Opera House. Teams playing every popular sport occupied citizens recreational time, and a gun club was organized. The Towns merchants, led by the Blairmore Trading Company, Mar Ons Blairmore Cash Trading Company and, post-1912 when it moved down from Lille, F.M. Thompson and Company, offered the convenience of night shopping, provided a horse drawn streetcar to carry shoppers down lengthy Victoria Avenue, and dominated regional commerce by arranging the delivery of purchases to any home in the Trough. Vibrant is the adjective of choice used to describe the Town during this period. It was the place to live in the east Pass.
The Town of Blairmore was gazetted on October 24th of 1911 and elected its first Town council on November 1st. The first order of business was to arrange to borrow $45,000 at 5.5% interest to pay for the dam on York Creek and the associated water distribution system which the Village had let for tender in September, 1910. A part of the money paid for the construction of a fire hall, which was becoming a necessity now that Blairmores population was rapidly increasing thanks to WCC and Rocky Mountain Cement. When Ottawa finally declared in 1911 that the part of the Frank townsite still endangered by Turtle Mountain must be abandoned, most of its residents moved west 3 miles to Blairmore. Among them was Dr. Geo. H. Malcolmson, owner of the first X-ray machine in Alberta, who had divided his time between Frank and Pincher Creek since the former was founded. By 1913, when the WCC began developing its Greenhill mine, the Keystone Cement Company had been incorporated, and automobile club organized and the Blairmore Brewery had begun to slake thirsts. Little damaged by the miners strike which convulsed the Pass in 1911, and buoyed by Industrys substantial investments, Blairmore charged into the Great War.
Besides the Army, another group which the Great War brought to Blairmore was the Royal North-West Mounted Police. Since 1901 the Mounties had maintained a presence in the community, but had left much of the day to day policing to the local constabularies. However, fearing trouble from one or more of the enemy alien ethnic groups present in the Pass, Ottawa instructed the Police to set up a permanent detachment to keep an eye on things. On April 1st, 1916, the RN-WMP created their Crowsnest Pass sub-division with one inspector, a sergeant and two constables, and designated Blairmore as their headquarters. Exactly eleven months later, suspecting that the Forces war-depleted staff couldnt be relied upon to whole-heartedly enforce the provinces new liquor prohibition law, Alberta cancelled the Mounties contract to police the country-side, restricting the their mandate to federal laws only. Though they withdrew their men from most towns, Blairmore was one place in which the RN-WMP maintained a presence for, with the threat of sabotage ever present during wartime, every pound of explosive distributed in the Trough had to be monitored.
Around 1916 domestic electricity came to Blairmore when WCC agreed to supply the Town with the excess wattage generated in its Greenhill mine powerhouse.
As attested to by the buildings on 20th Avenue faced with bricks salvaged from the abandoned Canadian Metals Company smelter in nearby Frank, the early 20s saw a construction boom in Blairmore. With an population officially pegged that year at 1552, in 1921 the Town bought a concrete building in which to install its offices, fire and police departments and gaol. Adding to the verve of the Town, Signor Ubertino opened the Orpheum movie theatre that May (or was it 1924?). It was eventually acquired by the Cole family who had built the Rex in Bellevue in 1917 and would soon control the Roxy in Coleman.
Come 1922, however, work of any kind became scarce as the post-War recession bit deeply into industrial production world wide. The suspension of mining due to soft markets and labour unrest crippled the Towns income all through the 1920s. In the middle of it all, on May 31, 1923, a spring thaw hastened by two days of steady rain drove York, Burns and Lyon creeks from their beds and sent the Crowsnest River rampaging through the streets, causing an estimated $250,000 in damages to bridges, roads, foundations, utilities and commerce. That summer a wild fire engulfed thousands of trees and to cap off a bad year, on August 23rd the Home Bank of Canada declared insolvency and closed, wiping out the school districts savings along with those of countless families all through the Crowsnest Pass and beyond. Perhaps the one bright spot in the middle of an uncertain decade was the opening of the Blairmore Indoor Arena on January 1st, 1924.
All east Pass communities were forced to cut back on civic services as recession gave way to the Depression and tax bases steadily shrank. Though its economy, too, was straitened, Blairmore became the envy of the Trough, riding relatively high on the back of government spending. The law industry, centred on the RCMP and the new courthouse, funnelled monies into the Town, as did the provincial Forestry Service, which had established a post in Blairmore in the late 19-aughts. Ottawa maintained a customs post in the Town, and an army barracks, and Alberta Government Telephones built its regional switching station and opened an exchange. In 1949 Blairmore, centrally located in the east Pass, won the new hospital.
In 1955 the Town of Blairmore annexed West Blairmore and raised a second classroom building next to the West End School to accommodate higher grades, and five years later opened Isabelle Sellon High in South Blairmore. Local prospects for graduates were, however, poor. With its coal mines in recession, its cement factory, its brick yard and its big sawmill all closed, Blairmore, still recovering from the mauling it took during May floods of 1942 and 1948, was left with precious little with which to make a living. It turned to the No. 3 for succour.
William Francis Billy Cochrane had brought the first horseless carriagea Locomobileinto the District of Alberta in 1903 and soon everyone just had to have one. The first to arrive in the Trough was a chain-driven Tudhope-McIntyre which the Wolstenholme family of Burmis and Blairmore brought in 1907. Made in Orillia, Ontario, it resembled nothing so much as a horseless buck-board buggy. However crude, even by the standards of the times, it was a harbinger of a new age. Enthusiasts soon formed Auto Clubs and badgered governments into building more and better roads, and improving those in existence. On December 20th, 1911, lieutenant-governor Geo. Bulyea of Alberta assented in the name of King Edward VII to The Highways Act, which for the first time legislated the operation of motor vehicles in the province. According to John Nicol in The All Red Route: From Halifax to Victoria in a 1912 REO, (McArthur and Co., Toronto, 1999), the next year Alberta dedicated $1.5 million to better its roads. A major thoroughfare, the route from Lethbridge into the Crowsnest benefited much and there was talk of pushing it through the Pass to connect with B.C.s fledgling road network.
To encourage governments to improve driving conditions, in 1913 motorists organized the Trans-Canada Cavalcade, an enormous rally which started down East and headed for Vancouver through the only motorable Pass in the Rockies, the Crowsnest. Whether Blairmore welcomed the adventurers or simply regarded them as some sort of bizarre life-form is a question for further research, but the Cavalcade heralded what is now an important industry for the town. Though it was possible to drive all the way through the Pass by then, few among the party attempted it. Most went only as far as Coleman where they boarded themselves and their vehicles on the train to Cranbrook. Following the Cavalcade, governments grudgingly assumed the responsibility for improving roads. In Alberta, the Department of Public Works spent more money each year grading and gravelling roadways. To indicate Trails and Routes, identifying colours were painted in bands at eye level on telephone poles or in patches on buildings. This route through the Crowsnest, the Red Routenot to be confused with the All-Red Route from Medicine Hat to Banffwas completed through Blairmore in the early 1920s and for years remained the only route through the mountains. In the late 20s it was dubbed the Interprovincial Highway. Although new roads were pushed westward from Edmonton and Calgary during the 1930s, the Interprovincial remained pre-eminent through the postwar boom of the 1950s, being completely paved by 1952. Because both of the newer highways farther north ran through national parks and were therefore off-limits to heavy trucks, the Crowsnest Highway continued to see much traffic. Blairmore was ideally situated, and only too happy, to serve travellers.
Then, in July of 1962, disaster. The Rogers Pass section of the Trans-Canada Highwaythe No. 1was completed through the Selkirk Mountains of B.C. It is a much shorter, and, in the years since its opening, a much improved route between the Prairies and Vancouver. Open to trucks despite running through the heart of Banff National Park, it stole most of No. 3s traffic. The loss nearly killed Blairmore. But for the fact that the Crowsnest was so much more receptive to power and pipe line alignments than the other passes, forest weeds would likely be colonizing the cracks in Blairmores sidewalks and prying up the pavement.
Destruction lingered close to Blairmore for a few tense weeks in the middle of the summer of 2003 when the voracious Lost Creek Fire roared in the valleys beyond the ski hill ridge to the south, wreathing Blairmore in smoke and showering it with ash, a promissory of its intention to soon be raging in the streets. Weather, accurate and daring water-bombing, and hot, dangerous grunt labour defeated the daemons designs, curbing the devastation to somewhat over 200 square miles south of the Ridge.
At the far end of 20th is the courthouse and glowingly white St. Lukes Anglican. Nearby is St. Annes R.C. and Blairmores first building raised exclusively for religious purposes; Central Baptist Church, now Blairmore United, dedicated on July 25th, 1909, and topped with a spire made by blacksmith J.W. Gresham. At the foot of 131st Street, a squirrelly little suspension bridge marked Use at Own Risk takes folks onto the left bank of the Crowsnest to walk the waterside path along the much-straightened River and view the old Greenhill rail yards.
Teeing off from the Highway southward, 129th Street cuts across the former Greenhill yards now being colonized by a tiny subdivision, leaps the little Crowsnest River on a 1983 concrete deck bridge to carry traffic into Blairmores CBD and continue on over the Railways tracks to get into South Blairmore. In this mixed neighbourhood of old working family cottages and up-scale homes, visitors will find that 127th Street leads them south past Isabelle Sellon Junior High, the arena to the Pass Powderkeg Ski Hill on the benches south of town.
Farther west, on 119th Street, the railroad crossing farthest west, is the Alberta Forest Service Ranger Station with its fenced-in meteorology station and heli-pad. Though the Service was only established after the Dominion transferred the administration of natural resources to the province on October 31, 1936, the history of forestry in the east Pass goes back to the terrible year of 1910 when wild fires burned off half the timber on southern Albertas eastern slopes. To monitor the situation and, hopefully, prevent a re-occurrence, Ottawa set up the Rocky Mountain Forest Reserves and outlined the Crowsnest Forest in this area, naming Pincher Creek as the local headquarters. In early 1911 ranger George Ritchie was posted to Coleman to establish the boundaries of the Forest and begin building a network of trails and overnight cabins throughout the area to accommodate patrols. Ritchies successors continued to expand the infrastructure, transferring it all to the province in 1936. The local headquarters were transferred from Pincher Creek to Blairmore around 1944, and the post at Coleman closed.
On 133rd Street, the crossing farthest east, is Thomas Gushuls sky-lighted photography studio and its associated Writers Cottage. Gushul, from earliest times until his death in May of 1962, was the premier photographer of the Pass and no historically-minded traveller can avoid seeing samples of his work in books, pamphlets and museums throughout the Crowsnest region.
Leaving Blairmore, 20th Avenue rolls east past the Courthouse, crosses the River on a concrete decked bridge and rejoins the Crowsnest Highway at the base of Bluff Mountain, also known as Goat Mountain for those evolved antelopes which at one time populated its slopes. Not far from 20ths intersection, Blairmore Gap squeezes the Railway, the River and the Highway into a narrow corridor between Bluff and a foot of Turtle Mountain to the south. Technically, the Gap is the mouth of the Trough, for downstream from here the Crowsnests valley begins to open out, the evidence of glaciation less obvious.
Bending slightly left around Bluff on a section that was re-aligned in 1978, the No. 3 bumps over the River. To the left, between the Highway and the River running along the base of Bluff, is the site of the Rocky Mountains Sanatorium marked by the outline of what appears to be the kerb of a pool now filled in with fine gravel and lately used as a parking lot. After the San was demolished in 1928 the property sat vacant until local entrepreneursJim, Jack and Mary Kerr, and Bill Colebegan building the Turtle Mountain Playgrounds in May of 1941. With a swimming pool, a lunch counter and a dance floor set on stacks of old tyres, the Playgrounds opened that July 5th. It was all but destroyed by the floods of the next spring, but stayed in business, drawing custom from all over the Pass and beyond. Jack Kerr bought sole ownership in 1945 and created a sad little zoo on the toes of Bluff Mountain across the River. In later years the Playgrounds grew a second storey and became the Turtle Mountain Motor Inn, a motel which ended up masquerading as a Spanish hacienda in white stucco before its destruction in 1998.
Across the River from the Playgrounds, on the slopes of Bluff above the site of the zoo, was an area which became known as Hill Sixty. So named for a feature on a WWI battlefield in France, it was the location of the infamous brick house. A den of iniquity to some, a pleasure palace to others, the house was early on owned by the notorious Emperor Pic, the rum-running town councillor of Blairmore. He sold it in 1921 to a lady familiar with the business, and it stayed in similar hands right up into the 1950s when, like so many other local enterprises, it succumbed to the economic hardship caused by the closure of the coal mines. A canvas for graffiti artists, it was demolished as a Canada Centennial project in 1967.
Opposite the Playgrounds site, across the tracks and screened by the brush, are the abandoned quarries of the Rocky Mountain Cement Company. Past the San and beginning to gently curve to the right, the Highway hops the River again and enters Frank.
Frank is famous for two things. From the moment travellers pass through the Blairmore Gap they are aware that they are heading into the scene of disaster. The bright, white scar on Turtle Mountains grey face and the barrier of broken limestone that covers five square miles of the valleys floor is the first thing for which Frank is famous; the Slide. To understand the hows and whys of this cataclysmic event, one must know that Frank is also famous as the site of the first commercially producing coal mine in the east Pass, and that the Slide and the Mine are intimately related. Noting for future reference the ruined remains of a battery of low brick arches hiding in a grove of scrawny cottonwoods to the north of the Highway, the traveller looks away southward at a small, rural industrial park which hosts a trucking company but is centred on Universal Reel and Recycling, Inc., which was founded in 1965 as R&R Lumber Supplies, and makes those big wooden cable reels. Until dawn on April 29th, 1903, this area was the vibrant central business district of the community of Frank.
The little empire of Henry Luplin Frank
So pleased was Henry Luplin Frank with his new mine that he invited 1400 people to the fête he threw on September 10th, 1901, to celebrate the inauguration of the model community which was to shelter and serve his workers and clients. He engaged the Town of Macleods brass band to emphasize the proceedings and an orchestra to serenade the guests. Recorded the journalistically-inclined ex-Mountie, T. Clarke, football sides from Blairmore and Pincher Creek agreed to play a match, and lacrosse teams from Lethbridge and Fernie would further entertain the throngs. On the great day chartered excursion trains from as far east as Medicine Hat and as far west as Cranbrook converged upon Franks namesake. Among the guests were Sir Clifford Sifton, then the federal Minister of the Interior, and F.W.G. Haultain, premier of the North-West Territories. It was an auspicious beginning to industrial coal mining in the east Pass.
The celebration was the culmination of a couple of years of hard work.
The American prospector, C.A. (Joe?) Little, returned to the Trough in 1899 to develop the coal measures that he had noted on a prior visit near what was to become the community of Burmis near the eastern mouth of the Pass. Satisfied that a mine would yield a profit, Little approached the Butte-based Frank and his partner, Samuel W. Gebo (or Gibeau or Gibault, depending on ones orthographic skills and empathy with Samuels ethnicity) for financial assistance with the project. According to Sharon Babaians interpretation of Lorry Felskes research, The Coal Mining Industry of the Crows Nest Pass (Alberta Culture, 1985), the partners agreed that Gebo should venture to the east Pass and help Little sink an exploratory shaft. Discouraged by the dirty coal they uncovered, Gebo began checking out other prospects in the region. On a property near Sulphur Springs already assessed and acquired by Henry S. Pelletier, et al, Gebo found what he was seeking. Taking an option on the property for $30,000, Frank and Gebo began digging their Blairmore Springs Coal Mine in December of 1900. The CPR, eager for the coal, ran a spur in to the mine mouth where a temporary tipple fed the coal directly into the bunkers of the engines tenders and filled trains of coal cars.
After a few months development work, the partners realized that the property was going to be a cinch to mine. The seam was of pure bituminous coal varying in thickness between 14 and 20 feet, was only about five degrees off the vertical, and ran nearly parallel to the face of the Turtle. The mining plan was simple: drift two adits horizontally into the seam. The lower adit, some 15 feet above the River, was for ventilation, and would eventually reaching 2500 feet with a shaft upwards at the 2300 foot mark. The shaft upwards connected to the Main adit which would be mined into the seam some 30 feet above, and inclined slightly upward so that loaded coal cars would roll easily to the mines mouth. Into the seam above the Main vertical raises would be dug for as far as the seam allowed. Some raises would be manways with ladders installed or steps cut into the coal. Other raises would be chutes to allow the coal to drain downward into the Main. As the 32-foot mark a drift would be hacked horizontally from the raises for a total of 130 feet. These drifts were the floors of the galleries which would then be opened up above for 250 feet. Between the galleries 40 feet of coal would be left undisturbed but for manways to act as pillars to support the hanging wall, that slab of Paleozoic limestone capping the seam. Above the first row of galleries another floor was left and another gallery opened to a height of 300 feet, and above that yet another gallery, 400 feet high. Gallery by gallery the measures would be mined until the limits of the seam were reached. The mine could be productive for decades. All that was required was the patience and investment to do it properly, for the miners had to use the coal that they loosened as a floor upon which to stand as they worked upwards into a gallery. Only when the coal in the stack of galleries was free could it be gently drained through the chutes and rolled out of the mine in horse-drawn rail cars. Simple and efficient, with gravity doing half the work. Because all the development work took place in the seam, coal was produced from day one of the operation, and come the summer of 1901 the Troughs first mine was dispatching regular shipments.
By the time that its postal bureau opened on August 1, 1901, the 300 or so residents of the little hamlet of Frank could send their kids to schoollikely at someones cabin,buy necessities in a few tent stores down on Dominion Avenue, frequent a saloon or two, and keep track of all the local doings courtesy the Frank Sentinel. Visitors could find accommodations at A. Manuels grand Frank Hotel, or the Imperial or the Union. On the flats surrounding the business district miners cottages were popping up, each on a generously proportioned lot, priced high to discourage the construction of shacks. Knox Presbyterian, the first church in the Trough, was raised that year. Water was served by a system owned by Mr. Goyette, owner of the local furniture store. Lonely men could find comfort in a little neighbourhood arising a respectful distance west of the townsite. In October of 1901 Alexander Leitch16 from Killarney, Manitoba, opened the hamlets first mercantile store. Come the end of 1902 the two-storey Frank School had been completed.
Realizing that they were into something good, Henry Frank and Gebo organized the Canadian-American Coal and Coke Company (C-AC&C) in November of 1901, and began investment in surface plant. In 1902, with the Mines production rising to a gratifying 160,000 tons, the rail spur was extended and a giant tipple was erected to clean and sort the coal by size and dump it into CP gondolas. Reflecting the goals enshrined in the companys name, an experimental battery of six beehive coke ovens was built at the foot of the Mountain, the first of 240 that Hank Frank had announced were to diversify C-AC&Cs offerings. The mines coal, though disliked by CPR firemen for its resistance to ready firing, contained a higher calorific count than Lethbridge coal and was, thanks to the Turtles tremendous largess, competitively priced to secure the Railways custom.
For two years, fortune smiled on the hamlet of Frank as its population grew past 500 souls. With the addition of the Miners, Frank was a four-hotel town, a substantial community to which millionaire Pat Burns gave his seal of confidence when he opened a local store in his expanding meat-marketing franchise.
Then the Turtle walked
It is not that the Turtle is malicious, of course; its just unstable. Native peoples in the area, the Piikani and the Kainai, believed that the Mountain walked, and they would not camp in its shadow. Their old stories tell of a battle near its base that was cut short by a rock-fall. The fact is that for æons the Turtle had waited for an excuse to shed some weight. Men gnawing at its guts provided that excuse.
At 4:10 in the morning of April 29th, 1903, a slab of Mississippian Age limestone some half mile square in surface area and up to 500 feet thick broke loose, pivoted slowly, grindingly, on its bed and slipped from the Mountains grasp. Gathering speed and pushing a hurricane of air, some 90 million tons of rock hit the hard-edged lip of the ancient fault which at once shattered the mass and launched the fragments upon a cushion of air which lubricated their decent. Like an avalanche of snow, the Slide entrained more air within it, crashing down upon the valley floor, roaring over eastern edge of sleeping Frank and rolling part way up the valleys opposite side. Some eye witnesses thought they were watching the birth of a volcano, for the sparking caused by the friction within the churning rubble glowed fiery. Others, like engine oiler Joe Dobeck, a mere 600 feet away from the outriding boulders, felt the concussion of the trapped air being expelled from the mass with the sound of a freight train passing close, but saw nothing in the darkness.
The event took 100 seconds from the moment the support pillars in the Canadian-American Coal and Coke Company mine began to crush until the last big boulder finally crunched to rest. At least 81 people died, the exact total remaining unknown because no-one knows exactly how many workers were in Poupoure and McVeighs construction camp on the flats by the rail linefive, reports the Cranbrook Herald of April 30th, including J. McVeighor how many guests might have been staying with the families in the lost eastern end of the hamlet. Few identifiable bodies were ever recovered, most of the dead being buried in their beds under tons of erstwhile sea floor shining brightly in the moonlight. Alexander Leitch, his wife Rosemary, and their four little boys died, but all three of their daughters, Jesse, May, and Marion survived, the latter being the miracle baby who was variously reported found crying piteously in her dead mothers arms, or on a bed of hay many metres from the shattered remains of her home, or on top of an enormous boulder furlongs away.
The survivors were in serious trouble. Not denigrating the efforts of the people of the tiny villages of Blairmore and Coleman, substantial help was a long way away. Seven thousand feet of the CPRs Crows Nest Line had been buried along with the valley road. The station had been wrecked. Dead and injured horses from the Poupoure and McVeigh camp were everywhere. The Railways telegraph line was destroyed and RN-WMP Constable Robert Leard had to wire Cranbrook some 75 kilometres away westward to summon assistance. Railway brakeman Sid Choquette, blessed with an astounding presence of mind considering what had just happened, scrambled over the still-settling rubble to the eastern edge of the Slide just in time to flag down the Spokane International Railroads storm-delayed crack luxury train, The Spokane Flyer. The grateful crew alerted Inspector Davidson of the RN-WMPs Pincher Creek detachment. He and two of his men immediately saddled up and set off to help Constable Leard. When he finally got to Frank, Davidson found most of the survivors, exhausted by their rescue efforts and shocked at what they were finding, as drunk as skunks. In Ottawa, beside himself in agitation at the news from Frank, Deputy Minister of the Interior James A. Smart stepped into the Territorial governments bailiwick by ordering the Inspector of Mines, William Pearce, to conscript a squad of Mounties in Calgary, requisition a train to get to Frank and take charge. With Inspector Douglas and ten men Pearce arrived in the early morning hours of May the 1st, the same day as the Territorial premier, Frederick W.A.G. Haultain. There was really little to be done but commiserate with the survivors. Only 23 people had been rescued from the rubble, and 17 bodies would eventually be recovered. Haultain ordered a waggon road be worked around the northern fringe of the debris and, after warning people to move away from the base of the Mountain, left to attend to other business.
At the moment of the slide, C-AC&Cs Main adit had been punched 5500 feet into its seam of coal. For 1200 feet in from the mouth of the mine the seam had been left undisturbed above, reserved for the time years in the future when the economic limits of the mine would have been reached and the crews, retreating, would mine the remaining coal, leaving the works collapsing behind them. For 3500 feet from the 1200 foot mark the seam was a honeycomb of chambers, some empty, some still full of loose coal awaiting removal, some under development. The Mine was averaging an output of 1,000 tons per day. At 0410 hours the night shift was at work, foreman Joe Chapman and 16 men underground, three workers on the surface weighing coal and readying a train of loaded cars for the approaching CP locomotive. They died running, their demise witnessed by the CP men who reversed their engine and sped away from the maelstrom. Underground the miners knew disaster was overtaking them when the Mountain groaned and the supporting pillars of coal began to crumble. Amazingly, all the workers survived, gathered together and headed toward the mines mouth. Finding it blocked, they sent a crew back to collect some tools and attacked the blockage, dreading the after damp that they felt sure would soon reach its gaseous fingers out of the depths of the mine to silently strangle them. They soon realized that they would not exit the mine the way that they had come in a few hours earlier, and after investigating the air shafts and finding them, too, blocked, resolved to dig themselves upward through the seam to the Mountains surface. Some twelve hours later it was Dan McKenzie who was the first to break into dusky sunlight and look down on a landscape transformed. The Railways line, the road and the eastern end of Frank were covered with broken rock. C-AC&Cs surface plantthe railway spur, the stables, the fan house, the tipple, powerhouse, the little battery of coke ovens and the stockpile of expensive equipment with which the company intended to electrify the Minehad been swept away and buried. For the emerging miners it must have been a scene almost incomprehensible.
Apprised of the extent of the catastrophe, Clifford Sifton, the federal Minister of the Interior, immediately appointed a commission of inquiry into the disaster. On June 12th of 1903 R.G. McConnell and R.W. Brock of the Geological Survey of Canada tabled their report. In it mining engineers swore that it was unsafe mining practices that caused the Frank Slide, claiming that too few coal pillars of too small a mass were left in situ by the miners to keep the hanging wall of the mine from collapsing and crushing the works. The pillars, they said, had been pared down to increase output to make the mine look more profitable than it was when Henry Frank went overseas looking for additional development money. Geologists declared out that the structure of Turtle Mountain itself caused the disaster, pointing out that the limestone strata are poorly cemented, fractured and so radically folded that, like the coal seam, in some areas they were inclined close to the vertical.17 The outside strata, the geologists maintained, adhered to the side of the Mountain only by friction. Meteorologists reported that temperatures for a few days prior to the Slide had plummeted to -20ºC following a period of rain which melted much of the heavy fall of March snow. Water, they suggested, had naturally leaked into the fractures in the limestone layers and had frozen, prising the cracks wider. Seismologists explained that, finally, one in an eternity of tectonic tremors succeeded in breaking the bond between the strata and put intolerable pressure on an ancient fault which underlay the bottom of the Mountain. Officially, the Commission concluded that all those factors played a part in the disaster, but it was primarily Mans mining under its skin which snapped the Turtles equilibrium.18 Though the Commissioners found that the C-AC&C could not be blamed for the calamity, it could be held liable should it keep working the Mine and cause a second slide. As well, they recommended that the hamlet of Frank be abandoned forthwith as the Turtle appeared ready to shed tons more rock.
After the dust had blown away and all hope of finding more survivors beneath the jumble of rock and broken houses had died, the people of Frank turned their attention to recovery. Few of the hamlets buildings had, fortunately, been caught by the Turtles onslaught. Most of commercial Dominion Street remained intact, the new school on Alberta Avenue was undamaged. Though the abandonment of the townsite was not so ordered by the authorities, C-AC&C subdivided a property north of the Crows Nest Line, installed water and sold building lots in North Frank to those leery of remaining in the Turtles shadow. Come the end of 1903 Inspector Davidson of the RN-WMPs Pincher Creek detachment would report that every bit of the hustle and bustle for which Frank was known before the Slide had been recovered. By 1905 44 little single-family dwellings dotted the flats along with an assortment of other habitations, including the big boarding house called the Miners hotel. Fred Kanouse, according to Hugh A. Dempsey in his FirewaterThe Impact of the Whisky Trade on the Blackfoot Nation (Fifth House, Calgary, 2002), had opened a small sanatorium. In 1907 the Presbyterians erected their Knox Church beside the big school on Alberta Street. The Dypolt family, however, chose to build their general store on the new townsite, and did the Roman Catholics with their Sacred Heart (Corpus Christi) Church, which was dedicated on November 13th, 1910. Some families moved from old Frank, but many, of course, just stayed put, discounting reports that the engineers of the Geological Survey of Canada continued to insist that the Turtle really did remain a threat to the old townsite.
The men who had dug themselves out of the Mine reported that, though the portal was destroyed, the underground works were relatively intact. A man which C-AC&Cs acting superintendent, J.S. McCarthy, had sent into the Mine via the miners escape route to estimate the damage assessed it at about $75,000, writes Frank Anderson in The Frank Slide, one of his contributions to Triumph and Tragedy in the Crowsnest Pass (Diana Wilson, ed., Heritage House Publishing, Surrey, BC, 2005). Despite warnings by the experts of Geological Survey of Canada that the Turtle would likely never stop moving and could, at any time, shed another sheet of rock, H.L. Frank placed his faith in that ancient adage about lightening not striking twice in the same place and decided to re-invest in the property. At the time of the Slide he had been in Paris to finalize the sale of C-AC&C to a French consortium for $1.5 million. The Slide scuttled the deal and Frank returned to recover his Mine. Within a month of the disaster his workers had uncovered the portal and were again hauling coal out of the Mountain. A new wooden tipple was under construction along with other surface plant. However, the Slide had dammed the Crowsnest River and the resulting lake soon rose to send water gurgling into the Mine. Determined to extract the coal already loosened and push the Mine to its limits, in 1905 Frank had the Mines old portals again sealed after a shaft had been sunk vertically into the workings. It was an expensive undertaking requiring the erection of a head-frame, the installation of a lift and the acquisition of gas-powered dinky engines to replace the horses. Henry Frank had, however, met a man who convinced him that it was all worth while.
Constant Fernau was a European mining engineer. On a tour of southern B.C. in 1904 he visited the Bluebell mine on the shores of Kootenay Lake and heard that the difficulties in eliminating the zinc from its silver-rich lead ore had driven the previous owner, Kootenay Mining and Smelting, out of business. Fernau was fascinated, writes Jeremy Mouat in The Business of PowerHydro-Electricity in South Eastern British Columbia, and soon convinced himself that advanced Belgian techniques in smelting would solve the problem. What was needed was a new smelter and a reliable source of metallurgical coal. Because two tons of coal were needed to treat one ton of ore, the smelter, insisted Fernau, should be built at the coal mine and the ore transported thither. The search for a suitable source of coal brought Fernau to Frank and a deal was struck.
Unable to interest local investors in his project, Fernau returned to Europe where he convinced édouard, Comte Riondel, to form a consortium of moneyed acquaintances and incorporate Canadian Metals Company, Limited, with some $1 million in capital. CMCs plan was to combine the output of the Bluebell with that of other Kootenay mines and renovate Kootenay Mining and Smeltings old Pilot Bay plant to magnetically concentrate the ore which would then be consigned to CP for shipment to Frank. While that was being accomplished, Fernau came to Frank to build his smelter, the overgrown remains of which travellers on the Crowsnest Highway have noticed on the north side of the road at the western entrance to new Frank.
Fernau contracted the Italian-trained architect E.J. (Enrico) Pozzi of Blairmore to construct the smelter in the spring of 1905. It cost CMC some $300,000. Though it did turn out a specimen of zinc bullion, reports Alrik Tiberg in Crowsnest and its people, to celebrate its completion in October of 1905,19 the smelter was a bust. Over the course of several months it proved able to process neither the complex concentrate output by the Pilot Bay plant, nor the poor copper ore which prospector Tommy Thompson had located on nearby Syncline Mountain around 1900. In August of 1906 CMC re-organized itself and re-defined its business plan, deciding to invest its dwindling capital in the construction of a new concentrator at the Bluebell and send its output to the CPRs big plant at Trail for smelting. It salvaged some of the Frank smelters equipment and walked away. An image captured by Blairmore photographer Thomas Gushul in 1918 shows the buildings pretty well still intact. Another photo, dated to 1923, reveals little standing above the foundations, and todays remains are but a fraction of those.
C-AC&C never regained the profitability it had enjoyed before the Slide. The failure of the smelter must have been a bitter disappointment to H.L. Frank, and the struggle to find new sources of credit to finance the Mines expensive vertical shaft operations must have worn him down. The red ink splashed in the totals columns of C-AC&Cs 1907 report was likely the last straw, even though it was due in part to the CPRs inability, or unwillingness, to supply gondolas enough to haul away all the coal that was offered by the mines throughout the Trough. In 1908, in the middle of the general downturn in business that saw C-AC&C shut down for about a year, Henry Luplin Frank died.20 The company re-organized itself that April as the Canadian Consolidated Coal Company. Perceiving a rising demand for coke, in 1911 CCC announced that it would build a battery of 50 Solvay retort-type ovens, from which the volatile gases would be captured to fire the boilers in the companys powerhouse. The Big Strike of 1911, however, and ominous grumblings in the Turtles guts, convinced the directorship to get out of the Trough: in January of 1912 CCC liquidated itself.
In 1911, too, the Geological Survey Branch of the federal Department of Mines submitted the Report of the Commission Appointed to Investigate Turtle Mountain, Frank, Alberta. In it investigators Reginald A. Daly, W.G. Miller and Geo. S. Rice urgently recommended the immediate evacuation of the original townsite of Frank. It was doomed, they averred, by another slide that appeared imminent. Governments heeded this, the latest in a decade of warnings by various experts that the Turtle remained restless, and ordered old Frank be abandoned and the remaining populace relocated across the tracks to new Frank. The Imperial Hotel was dismantled and removed to Vulcan, AB, where it continues to serve. Symbolically, the big school was torn down in 1916 and classes moved into a former church building in new Frank for a few years before finally taking up permanent residence in the brick-built erstwhile dance hall which the school board bought in 1921 and renovated. It is now the Masonic Hall, the last of the school classes having been moved to Blairmore in 1957.
The Canadian Consolidated Coal Company re-organized itself as Franco-Canadian Collieries (FCC) in March of 1914 and re-opened the Mine. FCC carried on business until more fires underground and a mighty gas explosion levelled much of its surface plant in 1917. Discouraged, FCC closed the mine for good. Frank, founded with so much whoop-la, sighed in resignation, sent its workers elsewhere to work, salvaged what it could from the avalanche-endangered river flats where it grew up and bedded down where it is today, a dormitory for Bellevue and Blairmore.
An aspect of Franks history that is often over-looked amid the rubble of its famous Slide is that it was, reputedly, the first town in the Pass to raise a miners co-operative store. During the Strike of 1909, many local merchants, nervous about miners mounting stacks of IOUs, refused further credit on the purchase of food and goods. The Mine Workers of America local organized a co-op, selling memberships to raise enough cash to rent and stock a store with comestibles and durables which the members could buy at cost. So successful was this enterprise that when merchants again refused credit during the Big Strike of 1911, not only was Franks co-op reactivated, but the Unions locals at Fernie, Coleman and Hillcrest all organized ones for their members and thereby seeded western Canadas Co-operative network of today.
The Frank that greets travellers today is the townsite laid out by C-AC&C in 1904. Of the original townsite on the flats around the industrial park between the Highway and Turtle Mountain, all that remains is an ancient fire hydrant and a landscape welted, pocked and pimpled with abandoned railway grades, cellar pits of long gone bungalows and foundation works of heavy structures.
And the Turtle still walks. Around noon on May 25th, 1954, the Man Rock or the Turtle Man, an odd spire-like formation left standing on the Mountains high slopes, fell with a crash, scaring all who heard. Sphincters tightened again on February 5th, 1975, when a particularly strong tremor rattled dishes and nerves in the Trough. Fear is not unfounded, for the fractures that the Geological Survey of Canada found in its investigations during the 19-aughts have not healed, but are rather pryd yearly wider by the actions of water and frost. It is just a matter of time before Turtle Mountain buries the valley anew.
Reported on 2010/01/06 by the CBC in an article posted on its web-page http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2010/01/06/calgary-frank-slide-monitoring.html
Today, as part of a multimillion-dollar monitoring program by the Alberta Geological Survey, scientists have installed a new $250,000 microwave imaging sensor to give warning should another catastrophic landslide seem likely to occur on Turtle Mountain.
Some experts believe its just a matter of time before another major landslide occurs. Geological surveys in 1933 and 2000 suggest another five million cubic metres could tumble down the side of the south peak of Turtle Mountain, destroying everything in its wake. The province invested $1.1 million in equipment to monitor rock masses on the mountainside in 2003.
Engineer Corey Froese, the project lead on the Alberta Geological Surveys Turtle Mountain Monitoring project, said everyone in the world of geological engineering knows about the massive slide almost 107 years ago.
Frank Slide is one of the most famous rock slides in the world, said Froese. If youre a landslide specialist or an engineering geologist anywhere in the world, you know about this. The fact that your office is on the top of a mountain, its pretty amazing. Its a pretty nice day job.
In the past six years, Froese and his colleagues have installed 80 sensors of various types above Frank, on and around Turtle Mountain.
Each has a wireless antenna and its own power supply, but no protection from lightning strikes, snow and ice.
Its an issue ... providing a reliable data stream to the base of the mountain, where the monitoring team has an operation base.
The new microwave imaging sensor is three kilometres from Turtle Mountains peak and sits atop an old pumping station. Extremely sensitive, the new sensor is continuously bouncing signals off the mountain and two large cracks that have been discovered on the South Peak.
It complements the arsenal of existing equipment that is on the mountain to measure incremental movements in the rock mass.
Even from a distance, the scientists are able to monitor extremely minute changes in the time it takes for the microwave signals to echo off the rock face. Any change in the length of the signal indicates a movement on the mountain.
If the time it takes for the signal to return changes, it means the mountain is moving, said Doug Martin, another member of the team who measures readings from the new sensor to those the team previously installed on the mountaintop.
If the devices reveal a significant shift in rock mass, a Code Yellow or Code Orange would be called and the public would be notified that a landslide is increasingly likely. In such a circumstance, an evacuation of the area would be called.
(For another perspective on this story, please see Bruce Ricketts The Mountain that Walks.)
Side trip to Lille
What presently there is of Frank sits in the mouth of the Gold Creek valley, a longitudinally oriented furrow separating the Blairmore Range to the west from the Livingstone Range, the eastern front of the Rocky Mountains.
When Frank worked, besides mining, it coaled and watered CPs engines from its dock and tank, and in its little engine shed built on the south side of the Crows Nest Lines right-of-way maintained the pusher locomotives which were needed to ease coal trains over the Slide and prod them over the hump at Lundbreck to the east, or up to Crowsnest to the west. Included in Franks duties was the switching of coal gondolas between the CNL and the Frank and Grassy Mountain Railway (F&GM) which twisted and trestled its way some seven miles northward up Gold Creek, climbing 783 feet from Frank to Lille. Construction contractors Breckenridge and Lund finished the line in February of 1903, and had to rebuild the lower couple of miles later that spring after they were buried by the Frank Slide.
Its a moderately strenuous hike up the old railbed. It is overgrown in places, the 23 trestles are gone, and its steep; the pair of old 2-6-0 Moguls that the F&GM owned could only drag three loaded boxcars at a time up the two and three percent grades. Having finally arrived at the site of Lille, a casual visitor would be hard pressed to imagine the busy village which flourished there for a few years in the newness of the Twentieth Century. Unfortunately, the industry of souvenir hunters and brick miners has not ceased since the locale was gathered under the protective wing of Albertas Historic Sites Service in 1978, and though a metal detector might turn up a few objects of interest around the surviving chunks of foundation and filled-in depressions, most finds would be oddments of scrap iron and corroding nails embedded in pieces of punky planking. Lille has vanished.
Charles Remey and J.J. (Jules) Fleutot were prospectors sent to western Canada by United Gold Fields Company of British Columbia, a French-owned syndicate incorporated in Great Britain on September 10 (19?), 1900. Having staked a few silver claims in the Kaslo region, Remey and Fleutot inspected the Trough and discovered what they thought were some pretty good coal prospects up in the Gold Creeks valley where for hundreds of years Native peoples had been mining chert for projectile points and tools. Disassociating themselves from United Gold Fields in 1901, Fleutot and Remey staked coal fields totalling 20,000 acres. They likely did some development work to prove their prospect before travelling to France to raise the capital necessary to drift in a mine and build a railroad to connect the site to the CPRs Crows Nest Line. Three-quarters of a million dollars in hand, Remey and Fleutot returned in the spring of 1902 to rename what had previously been known as French Camp for Lille, the hometown of their chief backers, Le Societé Anonymé du Chemin de Fer Noullier du Canada. Eschewing local labour, Remey and Fleutot began importing squads of first French and then Belgian miners and surface workers. Completing the F&GM with its required 23 trestles in February of 1903, the pair used it to haul matériel up to the mine site where they soon had their men hacking five openings into the coal measures. Meanwhile, in London, lawyers employed by Le Societé Anonyme had been organizing a new company, and on June 3rd incorporated West Canadian Collieries, Limited, (WCC) with a capitalization of £720,000. Its head office, writes M.A. Kennedy in her thesis Coke Ovens of the Crowsnest Pass was in Lille, France, and Alphonse Georges Wicart, the noted linen manufacturer, sat as its first president. The companys mandate was to operate the Lille mines and purchase other prospects. Just as production commenced, Turtle Mountain smashed down into the Crowsnests valley, wiping out the lower two miles of the F&GMs trackage and its junction with the CNL, then being re-aligned by the firm of Poupoure and McVeigh. The disaster delayed WCCs first delivery for four months until the line was repaired, requiring Fleutot to beg the Department of the Interior for an alteration to his companys property payments.
On August 10th, 1904, WCC was registered as a foreign company in Canada, intent on enriching its backers. Producing 60,000 tons of coal in 1904, Lilles mine promised a fine return on investment. The big tipple was under construction, as was an expensive wet washery and the battery of 50 Bernard retort-type coke ovens. These special Belgian ovens were designed to capture the volatile gases which are expelled during coking, and feed them back into the combustion chamber to hasten the process. To make sure that they would function correctly when erected in the wilds of western Canada, the ovens were pre-assembled in Belgium, tested and then dismantled, every one of the thousands of bricks being marked to ensure proper re-assembly. Originally these ovens were slated to built at Frank, but that the Slide buried the chosen site, and when the bricks arrived in 1903, they were hauled up to Lille where E. Morino built the batterys foundations set into a wharf 92 metres long by perhaps 50m wide. With doors at either end, the ovens were nestled transversely on the wharf and measured ten metres long by two metres high and increased in width from 56 centimetres on one end to 61cm on the discharge end. Along the wharf at the narrow end of the ovens ran a steam ram which shoved the six tons of finished coke out of the oven onto the discharge wharf where it was quenched with water and loaded into boxcars lined up along the wharfs face. Cleared of its charge, the oven was immediately refilled through its three roof ports with eight tons of slack which was levelled by the ram. The heat left in the oven from the previous charge caused the slack to ignite and begin coking. At full capacity, the battery was capable of producing 150 tons of coke per day.
By the spring of 1905 the 1200 ton-per-day tipple was receiving output from Green Creek, Bear Valley and Morin Creekmines No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3which were interconnected and shared a common haulway. In October of that year the wood-built washery was completed, the first such facility in Alberta. Separated from the more valuable lumps by a two-inch screen in the tipple, the slack went to washery in where ten Luhrig jigs aided in reducing its ash content from 16% to a less objectionable 11%. Cleaned, the slack was delivered to the coking ovens which were also finished that year, albeit without the ability to capture the exhaust gases.
Unfortunately, the coke produced from Lilles coal was not the best. Though the washery reduced the ash content of the coal significantly, the resultant coke still ended up with about 15% of its volume in ash. Ash is structurally weak, and coke with too much ash tends to collapse when fired in a heap with metallic ore in the smelter, smothering the process. In 1907, perhaps reflecting a loss of faith in finding good quality coal in the Gold Creek basin, WCC removed its head office from Lille to Blairmore.
Until 1908, when WCC bought out Le Societé Anonymés interests for £100,000, much of the profit from the Lille operation was remitted to France at the expense of the miners. Particularly irksome to the men was the Companys refusal to build a wash-house in which to scrub away the encrusted grime of a day sweated away in the mine. If they wanted one, declared WCC, the miners would have to pay for it themselves. The Company already supplied a little 15-bed hospital kept by Dr. Thos. OHagan, a school, and, facing the works across the F&GM rails, had built Fleutots large hotel with a fancy bar and a bath room wherein the miners could, for a price, scrub down; damned if it would lay on a wash-house, too. For years that lack soured relations between labour and management and escalated many a minor disagreement into a work stoppage. Finally, in 1910, the Company caved in and grudgingly threw up wash-houses at all three of their mine sites; Blairmore South, Bellevue and Lille, though the one at Lille was so flimsy that it froze solid that winter and had to be replaced.
Lille never really amounted to much of a settlement. It was incorporated as a Village under the jurisdiction of the N-WT government on February 22, 1904. It built a water system, and enjoyed electricity provided by WCCs stone-built powerhouse located a bit down the valley at the No. 1 mine. The buildings were all of wood construction, the lumber coming from the companys mill located up the Gold Creeks valley a ways. Grassy Mountain Avenue was the main street, and on it stood the Western Mercantile store which supplied most families basic wants in the way of dry-goods. A postal bureau, opened on February 1st, 1906, was likely located in the Western Mercantile. There was a two-storey, log-built boarding house, Orchards butchers shop, and Fabros bakery. Prices in Lille were, however, considerably higher than they were down at Blairmore, and businesses there, eager to make up orders and deliver them anywhere in the Trough, captured much of Lilles trade and at least one of its businesses when F.M. Thompson of Blairmore, and his brother-in-law, F.M. Pinkney, acquired Western Mercantile in 1908. With money flowing out of the community, infrastructure remained basic and the whole settlement had a transient air about it. By 1907 the hospital had been built and some 25 miners cottages populated a neat grid of streets and avenues. There were, mentions Dr. B.R. Allen in his essay on Lille for Crowsnest and its people, only about 400 residents in 1910.
After the Big Strike of 1911, WCC resumed mining at Lille, but with decreasing enthusiasm. WCCs big coke buyer, Anaconda Copper Mining Company of Butte, Montana, had found other suppliers during the strike. Claiming that the 15% ash content of Lille coke made it marginally suitable for its process anyway, Anaconda declined to buy further from WCC. As well, the 25 trestles required to lift the F&GMR up the Gold Creeks valley needed constant attention and several had to be replaced in the wake of a forest fire in 1910. The harsh winter of the following year actually shut down the line and miners had to be withdrawn from the mine to clear the tracks. From 1912 the pockets of bad coal that had occasionally been encountered in Lilles seams became common phenomena, and facing a drastically shrinking profit margin thanks to increased labour costs, difficulty refinancing its debts in a period of financial uncertainty, and a softening coal market, WCC abandoned the mine in 1912 and began divesting itself of the 200,000 Gold Creek acres that it had acquired. The workers were transferred to either the Bellevue operation or to the new Greenhill mine at Blairmore and the machinery was salvaged. The F&GMR was apparently left intact in case the company wanted to return, but its railbed suffered extensive damage in the May floods of 1923, and the remaining rails and trestles were salvaged in the late 30s. When Mannix Limiteds miners came to the area during WWII to strip mine, they used the road that zig-zagged up over Grassy Mountain from Blairmore.
With the end of mining and the flight of its population, Lille, of course, began to disappear. Buildings worth saving were trundled away to Bellevue, Frank and Blairmore. Others were simply salvaged. The pride of the Lille Hotel, its fancy Belgian bar, ended up in Lundbreck at the eastern mouth of the Pass, where it still supports elbows in the hotel beer parlour. Over the years, wild fire and weeds and unforgiving winters have conspired with midden rakers to eradicate most physical traces of Lille.
A little bridge installed in 1955 carries the No. 3 over Gold Creek and out of Frank into the wasteland of the Frank Slide. The Highways alignment through the devastation is the legacy of a make work project dating from 1932, and makes it only about a five-kilometre journey from Frank to Bellevue. It is a sobering experience. Dug down into the debris to the right is the re-alignment of the Crows Nest Line which took the railroad construction contractors Lund and Breckenridge and their 1100 workers 23 days of 1903s May to constructpart of the crew labouring to clear a channel for the Crowsnest River to escape. Over the years the CPR has shifted the rocks aside so that the tracks lie now on the original ground level. The result is an awesome trench through the splinters and boulders of limestone. A half a kilometre into the devastation, opposite the roadside information boards on the Highways south side, an access road winds visitors a couple of kilometres up onto the valleys northern bench to the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre where the event is fully explained, and other bits of Trough history addressed.
There is an alternative, more intimate route through the Slide. On the western edge of new Frank an access road leaves the Highway to the south, bumps over the Railways tracks onto the original townsite of Frank, now occupied by a struggling industrial park just daring the Turtle to take another swat at it. Passing the much-photographed antique fire hydrant, one of the few relics of the Old Town to survive, one bears left on the narrow paved lane of Old Frank Road152nd Streetwhich, generally following the loop of the River, was bent through the boulders in 1917 to replace the stage road which had picked its way around the northern fringe of the Slide since 1903. Beyond the hydrant, just into the debris field, languishes the miserable little memorial to the last of the Slides dead to be discovered, Mrs. Clark and her six children, discovered in their stony crypt by the road crew building the Old Road in 1922. Losing its pavement and winding along easterly for a couple of kilometres over the 10 storey-deep waste of shattered rock, the Road affords an unsettling view of Turtles slopes. Some 1,000 metres above, the wound on the Mountains side is painfully white; not even a century of oxidization has healed it with the greys that mottle the surrounding limestone. The brighter scarrings are recent slides. Washing down the Mountains flank, the cascade of rock tortures the Crowsnests waters in their ragged bed, damming Frank Lake into existence. Though the Turtle has been grievously injured, it is not dead; every so often, especially in the spring, it sends great hunks of limestone hurtling down to crash into the Lake or smash to rest amongst the other fallen rocks.
At the eastern edge of the Slide, near the site of Jas. Grahams ranch house and the six people buried within it when the Turtle walked, the Road passes the three-chimneyd remains the Winnipeg Fuel and Supply Company kilns hiding in the brushy evergreens. This is Lime City. Joe Little, the pioneer speculator who early on made a fortune buying and selling coal lands in the Trough, in 1909 acquired a piece of land covered by the Slide and set up an operation to burn the 85% pure limestone into powdered cement. George Pattinson and his Winnipeg Fuel and Supply acquired the operation around 1912, built two big kilns and hauled rock to them on a little narrow gauge tramway insinuated into the Slide. Soon Pattinson built a third kiln and talked the CPR into laying in a spur from the Crows Nest Line. At the apex of its career WF&S employed no more than 10 men, some of them being coopers. Come the early 20s and the economic downturn following the Great War, WF&S ran out of suitable rock and quietly went out of business.
A few score twisty metres passing evergreend acreages alive with kids and horsesthe vestiges of River Bottom a casual community which dates back to the Valleys mining erathe Old Road terminates at a T intersection with 219th Streetthe Hillcrest-Bellevue Roadwhere travellers can turn either right, cross the River and pedal up to Hillcrest on 9th Avenue, or turn left and come up to and across the Highway to enter Bellevue.
Early Bellevue and the West Canadian Collieries mine
Bellevue suns itself on a gravel bench some 70 feet high deposited by glacial action along the northern side of the Crowsnest Rivers valley. Quelle une belle vue, Elsie Fleutot, daughter of the West Canadian Collieries manager, is supposed to have breathed in wonder when she got her first glimpse of the vista from this vantage point sometime in late 1902 or early 03. Before her lay the valley, patches of woodland prairie amid a light forest of cottonwoods and evergreens climbing up the lower slopes of Turtle Mountain, the scenes enormous backdrop. At its feet what people at the time called The Oldman River, middle fork, glistened. Like a toy on a rug, a CPR train tooted and huffed its way up the valley towards Frank visible in the distance, its mines tipple smoking with black dust. Within a few months of Elsies pronouncement, however, the view changed forever when Turtle Mountain shrugged, sending some 90 million tons of limestone cascading down to wash across the valley and up the valleys northern scarp to menace Bellevue with a scattering of stony scouts.
From the Highway the traveller eastbound has four opportunities to get climb up to Bellevue. Farthest west, the Highways former alignment now calls itself 21st Avenue and branches off northward, weaves itself up among the boulders to mount the bench and roll along its lip past houses and cottages towards the downtown. A few hundred metres eastward from 21sts intersection, the Bellevue-Hillcrest Road has, since the creation of the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass in 1979, come to the Highway from the south as 213th Street, crosses and climbs up the scarp to join 21st Avenue at the western edge of Bellevues central business district. About a mile farther down the Highway, down the dip past the gaping entrance to the Bellevue mine on the left and up again, the Information Centre marks the 227th Street entrance to the town, and farther yet, 27th Avenue intersects the No. 3 at a radically acute angle on the left.
By what ever route he enters, the visitor comes quickly into Bellevues central business district; the settlement just isnt that big, and neither is the CBD: little more than a one block stretch of 213th, formerly Front, Street. Here one finds the only hotel in the settlement, the quaint-looking two-storey Bellevue Inn. Built in 1921 by Fred Wolstenholme for West Canadian Collieries, it was operated as a company guest house-slash-hotel until sold into private hands in 1945. The Inns neighbours are pretty plain, all dating from the 20s, wood framed and usually slathered with stucco. In the summer of 2003, with the enormous Lost Creek Fire south of The Pass flooding the valleys with smoke and threatening to incinerate Blairmore and Coleman, the historic Bellevue Restaurant next door to the Inn is closed.
Like Lille, Bellevue grew up around a West Canadian Collieries (WCC) coal mine. Even as they were developing their property on Gold Creek, Jules Fleutot and Charles Remey, the principals in WCC, had a crew excavating an exploratory gallery into a twelve-foot-thick seam that was exposed right beside the CPRs tracks at the base of the bench upon which Bellevue now sits. A few months work convinced the company that the mine was worth developing. Under the managing direction of Fleutot a permanent portal was created and in 1904 production commenced, the output being loaded into CP gondolas right from the mines mouth. A wooden tipple was raised in the autumn of 1905.
WCC, still headquartered in Lille, France, showed a distinct preference for old-country miners, many of whom they enticed from the coal fields of Nova Scotia and northern France. By 1905 the workforce numbered some 150, the militant North American miners originally employed being replaced by better trained and, hopefully, less demanding Europeans.
In 1906 a shortage of railcars forced a 79-day suspension of mining when storage facilities began to overflow. Come June of 1907, notes Florence E. Kerr in her essay on Bellevue for Crowsnest and its people, the Bellevue was outputting some 1200 tons per day, adding up to 137,448 tons for the year. After subtracting $277,645 in costs of production for the net income, the Bellevue added $115,500 to WCCs profits that year.
The community of Bellevue started growing the day that WCC decided that the Mine was worth developing. The most suitable site for a settlement was on the flat bench above the Mines mouth. There the company had a townsite surveyed, laid in a water distribution system and began building 40 cottages on the level bench land north of Main Street in the spring of 1905. Never the best maintained abodes, they, and the lack of a wash-house at the mine works, kept the company and its supposedly placid Euro-workers in tooth gnashing disagreement for years.
Dr. Duncan McKenzie arrived possibly in late 1904 and by 1905 had had a little hospital built next to his house overlooking the mine works. In 1905 Kate McNab began teaching school classes. Clovis Fauré (?) raised his grand Southern Hotel on Front Street in 1906, and Burnett and Lang opened a general store in which a post office was opened on June 15th, 1907: Thos. Burnett and Nora Mitchell, post master and mistress. The Mines superintendent, Charles Emmerson, built a hardware store nearby, and Jack Wheeler erected the Union Bank building. Downtown, as well, in 1908 the Methodists raised their first church, on Front Street. In 1910 Bellevues business district spread out a bit when the Tom McCutcheon Block opened on Main Street, one block north from Front.
On the valley floor at the base of the escarpment, WCCs infrastructure was also growing, spilling out of the mouth of short, steep little defile which led a trail down from the bench and Bellevue. On the edge of the bench, Fleutots house and Emmersons overlooked the plant below where a powerhouse had been raised, its excess generation used to electrify the hamlet. A warren of shops and offices were growing up around the mine mouth. Dust and smoke stained the air and the defile resonated with the discordant music of industry. In 1910 the Mine sent five-ton hunk of coal to amaze the crowds at the Dominion Exhibitionprecursor to the famous Stampedein Calgary. Then tragedy.
At seven in the evening of December 9th, 1910, the 47 men who had entered the mine on the three oclock shift were caught at their posts in the 9,000 foot-long mine by the second explosion to rock the works that year. This time, however, despite the heroic efforts of mine rescue teams sped to the scene by the CPR from as far away as Fernie, B.C., 30 died, either killed out-right or suffocating in after-damp. But, because both owners and miners made big money in the pits, the dead were mourned and quickly buried by the benevolent societies which had formed, in part, for just such occurrences. The works were cleaned out and coal was again soon flowing to the huge steel tipple that the Company had that year erected. Production in that black year totalled 336,334 tons. The cost of $1.32 per ton was down nearly 35% from 1905, supplying profits of $234,300 to WCCs investors. Costing 34 dead men their lives that year, Bellevues profits were won at a high cost.
The dead were not forgotten. The explosion was attributed to the ever-present dust that haunted coal mines, and was a raw rubbing-point in the relations between worker and boss. Not enough was being done, claimed the miners, to make the works safe. Ventilation was inadequate, allowing gases and dust to accumulate. Powdered limestone was not often enough dusted throughout the mine to neutralize the coal dust. These grievances added their weight to others and when the United Mine Workers of America called out the workers in a Pass-wide strike in the early months of 1911, WCCs Bellevue men were among the first out. For six long, bitter months the miners battled to keep scabs from productively operating the mine. Finally, in November accommodations were reached and with a sigh of relief the Union men returned to their jobs. On the lip of the defile opposite the managers house and connected to the works by a long, wide, wooden stairway was a prize the miners won by dint of their job action: a wash-house with showers and lockers and drying cages for clothes. No longer would the men have to trudge home dirty and wet after eight hours hard work.
Maple Leaf Coal Company
While WCC was emplacing its considerable surface plant in the late 19-aughts, another outfit moved into the locality, attracted by an exposed seam of coal up on the bench above, and to the east of, the WCC operation. By July of 1907 Maple Leaf Coal Company (MLC), owned and capitalized to the tune of $500,000 by a Washington state Inland Empire consortium led by the Traders National Bank of Spokane, had seven miners digging the entry into what was to become the Mohawk Bituminous mine. Come February of 1908 16 men were hard at work under the direction of manager A.R. Watson. By the end that year, with a wooden tipple built by Robinson-Schaefer of Chicago cascading down the scarp and connected to the mine mouth with five hundred metres of tram line, the ten or twelve men that MLC employed underground used their state-of-the-art airpicks to output 15,000 tons of coal. Despite the little recession which gripped the North American economy in 1908, MLC was able to gather enough financing to enlarge its power generating capacity, install a new hoist, and weather a three-month strike in 1909. That year it even boosted its production to 50,000 tons, a weight the works equalled in 1910, the year a washery was completed. Sheltering Luhrig floatation washers, the structure was built by Robinson-Schaefer and was at the time, and for years afterwards, the largest single mine building in the east Pass. The Big Strike crippled output in 1911, but in 1912, with expansion of the powerhouse and the construction of a washhouse at its workers insistence, 50,772 tons was trammed to the tipple by gasoline-engined dinkys dragging trips of 2.5-ton ore cars.
In 1915, their overseas markets having evaporated and their companys debts rising, MLCs owners shut down the operation. In late 1919, defying the recession which was crippling any business associated with the metals industry, Calgary-based Carlyle and Johnson bankrolled an outfit they called Bellevue Collieries which bought the rights to the seams of the old Leitch Collieries property then owned by Joe Little, on the east side of Tallon Peaks spur. The plan was to get at the seams through the Mohawk. Some of the backers got cold feet and on June 7th, 1921, Bellevue Collieries liquidated itself, its assets immediately being transferred to Mohawk Bituminous Collieries which had been organized specifically to receive them by some of Bellevue Collieries original principals. It turned out to be a good investment, for Mohawk was to remain independently mining until it amalgamated with Hillcrest Collieries, Limited, in 1938.
Bellevue and the end of Mining
The opening of Maple Leafs Mohawk Bituminous Mine greatly stimulated Bellevues economy. More paycheques meant prosperity for merchants and building contractors like Fred Wolstenholme who was soon the proud owner of the first horseless carriage in the east Pass, a chain-driven Tudhope-McIntyre. Organizations benefited and some amenities to assuage a harsh, frontier life began to appear. A School Board had been organized, and in 1911 had been given permission to borrow $5,000 to raise a school building on a lot on the highside of Main Street just west from downtown, according to a map21 supplied to the author by Arend Visser in 2004. Until then children had been educated in homes or any vacant building that could be adapted to their needs, or sent to the big school in Frank. In 1912 the Bellevue School was erected: 70 feet on each side and rising two storeys it boasted four class rooms. That year, too, the Anglican congregation was able to raise their St. Francis Church, and the Finlanders Dance Hall soon followed. On March 1st the Union Bank of Canada opened a branch office. In 1915 Fr. Beaton saw to the completion of St. Cyrils Roman Catholic Church. The infliction of prohibition on July 1st, 1916, curbed the rougher amusements, likely ensuring the success of the Lyric Theatre and the Rex which Mr. and Mrs. Coles opened in 1917.
The Mohawk mines most lasting legacy to Bellevue was the little settlement called Maple Leaf which grew up on a property pre-empted by Chet Wentworth east of the ravine in which sheltered the Bellevue Mine. He began offering building sites for sale in September of 1909. The three-storey Maple Leaf Hotel was up by the end of that year and was soon joined by Allazettas General Store and Mrs. Rudds store. Come the 20s there were five stores and a café in the tiny business district.
When WCC shut down its Lille mines in 1912-13, it transferred many of its workers to Bellevue and the community boomed anew. For $1400 the School was greatly expanded with four additional rooms in 1919. Still it was jamb-packed, and in 1924 the larger Maple Leaf School was erected in the neighbourhood of the same name, near Mohawks mine on what is now 28th Avenue. It served until the M.D. McEachern School was opened in September of 1962, when it became the communitys Maple View Hall. Two years earlier the Bellevue School had been closed, its students bussed off to the newly-completed Isabelle Sellon School in Blairmore. After serving as a library and senior citizens drop-in centre, the old school was demolished in 1990. Unfortunately the school district closed M.D. McEachern School in 2002 and local scholars must now take the bus to Blairmore.
Perhaps Maple Leafs most interesting contribution to the district was Maple Leafor BellevueBush Town, Il Bosc, a little renegade community of shanties which squatted by the tracks between the WCC and MLC tipples. Inhabited predominantly by Italian families, it was officially discouraged but resisted eradication like a weed, and though nearly drowned in the flood of May 31st, 1923, it survived until WCC shut down when the Age of Oil put paid to Pass coal.
Bellevue suffered two memorable fires. The first started a little before 8 oclock on the morning of August 28th, 1917, in a small barn behind the Southern Hotel on Front Street. The Hotel was soon ablaze and westerly breeze carried the flames from wall to wooden wall down the entire length of Front until they met with the only fire-proof structure in town, the Wheeler-Farmer Building, which saved the residential neighbourhood downwind of it along with the hospital. In all, some 20 buildings went up in smoke and damages ran to $150,000. The only the structures on Front Street to survive were those few west of the Southern survived. The wooden bridge which carried Front over the head of the Bellevue ravine was so scorched that it was removed and the defile there filled with mine waste. Reconstruction began immediately, this time with some builders choosing to face their structures with hollow tiles made in Blairmore. The tiles made little difference, as evidenced by photographs taken following the second fire, on January 4th, 1921. Again large gaps were opened in the phalanx of facades which lined Front Street, and the Methodist Church, then under construction with Blairmore tiles, smoked in ruins. A third fire on November 21, 1922, took the new hospital that Dr. Norman Beeman had built in the five years since he had succeeded Dr. McKenzie.
Culturally, Bellevue, like all Pass communities, was an exotic mix of nationalities. In 1922 the staff of the 12-room Bellevue School conducted a survey and found representatives of 40 nationalities. One thing most people had in common was a desire to garden and a love of sports. In the dying days of World War One the Bellevue Horticultural Society organized itself and held its first parade and sports day on Labour Day of 1918. It became an annual event and did much to instil a sense of community in Bellevues residents. A few years later, hearing that the Town of Coleman had incorporated a publicly owned company to build a covered arena, Bellevue did the same. Offering shares at $25 each, the Bellevue Arena Limited quickly sold 400one to almost every family in the settlementand contracted E.J. Pozzi of Blairmore to raise the structure. The grand opening took place on January 1st, 1924, the entire 20,000 dollar cost of the project was paid off within a year and the building remained the sporting heart of the community until its demolition in May of 1999.
Raised in 1908, WCCs tipple, huge and black and over-arching the CPR tracks in old photos, was enlarged and improved along with the rest of the plant until the Bellevue operation was one of the biggest in the Trough. Sustained by its Belgian and French markets, WCC weathered the downturn at the end of the Great War despite a four month long Pass-wide strike in 1919. In 1920 the Mine contributed $316,436 to WCCs bottom line, produced from 372,718 tons. Cost per ton: $3.75; selling price: $4.60. The company struggled through the labour problems of the early 20s and by 1927 had introduced several safety measures such as compressed air-powered picks which cut the use of explosives, conveyor belts instead of trains of mine cars to move the coal, and an improved method of distributing limestone powder throughout the Mine to suppress coal dust. In 1929 the Mines mouth was re-enforced with a concrete portal and the tipple was rebuilt. By then, however, the widening use of Oil had depressed the price of coal some 40%. With 1930 came the Depression and on August first WCC introduced a two week on, two week off schedule for all workers. Notwithstanding the cutbacks, the Bellevues 318 employees still output 208,413 tons of coal, but, because the selling price was only 28 cents higher than the $3.41 per ton production price, the Mine earned only $52,175. The Pass miners six month-long strike in 1932 over wages and benefits drove the Bellevues cost per ton up to $3.95 for a loss of over $49,000 on the 95,000 tons output. Come the late 30s, with the majority of its shareholders and markets sequestered behind Hitlers Atlantic Wall, WCC had to sell into the over-supplied North American market. Losses continued. In 1940 the Bellevue produced almost 317,000 tons, a record exceeded only by the following years production. Nonetheless, with its average selling price three cents less than the $2.75 per ton costs price, the Mine lost $11,111. However, with War in control of the Economy, demands strengthened and in 1944 WCC began developing its property south on Byron Creek, opening up its Adanac Mine in 1945. With eighty employees bussed out daily from Bellevue, Adanac was trucking 1,000 tons a day for cleaning and sorting at the Bellevue tipple by 1947. The Adanac South strip mine was soon being laid out, and WCC returned to Grassy Mountain to strip near its former mines at Lille. The company spent over $93,000 to build a washery at Bellevue in 1950. In 1951 the Bellevue output 231,567 tons with 316 men. Production costs still exceeded the $5.88 per ton selling price by a penny, so the Mine lost over $5,000. The tipple was busy, though, sorting and grading 93,000 tons from the Adanac, 89,000 from Adanac South and 124,000 from the Grassy Mountain stripping operation. The postwar onslaught of Oil was, however, WCCs undoing. The Bellevue worked only 154 days in 1953, struggling to remain viable. On April 10th of 1957, though, operations were suspended, putting 194 workers off the job. For the next four years WCC merely monitored the Bellevue as it continued to run Grassy Mountain coal through the tipple. In 1961 the Mine was closed and the tipple removed in 1962. Thus ended mining in Bellevue.
Along with all the rest of the Trough coal mine operators, Mohawk Bituminous Collieries struggled through the 20s and into the Depression. In 1935 it began to entertain overtures of amalgamation from the principals in Hillcrest Collieries, Limited, across the River at Hillcrest. An agreement was reached and in April of 1938 Hillcrest-Mohawk Collieries, Limited, (H-MC) was formed. The new outfit soon concluded that mining coal underground was quickly becoming uneconomic in the east Pass. In December of 1939 it sealed the Hillcrest, and continued to work the Mohawk while it developed a strip mine at Tent Mountain, on the Alberta side of the border near Corbin, B.C. The Tent Mountain property came on-stream around 1946 and its output was trucked to the H-MC tipple at Bellevue for cleaning, sorting and shipping. To house its expanded workforce the company built 36 new cottages on the Moccasin Flats neighbourhood of Maple Leaf, a boon to the Bellevue economy.
King Coal, however, was dying, dragged from his throne by Big Oil.
The Mohawk mine itself was being phased out of production by 1951 when the companys president, John Gordon, and his board of directors decided that if their business was to survive it had to amalgamate with other operations in the Pass. Gordon began negotiations with the International/McGillivray Creek Coal and Coke combine at Coleman. His proposals initially met disinterest as McGillivray and International were intent on completing the consolidation of their operations, but Gordons suasions soon began to make sense. Appraisals of each of the businesses were made and because H-MC possessed a good tipple, the profitable Tent Mountain stripping operation, and contracted buyers for large quantities of coal, it was valued at $3.5 millions. An agreement was struck and on December 4th of 1951 which saw Coleman Collieries, Limited, (CCL) incorporated under the Alberta Companies Act with a 1.21 million dollar capitalization in $1.00 shares, the majority of which were bought up by CPs Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company. H.S. Patterson was named president and nominally headquartered at Coleman. A document called the Trust Deed dated January 1st of 1952 specified that CCL was constituted from the assets of International, McGillivray and Hillcrest-Mohawk on a 60-20-20 percentage basis and recorded that Hillcrest-Mohawk would remain a separate entity with its original shares outstanding. Patterson was immediately replaced as president by McGillivrays H.A. Howard and F.J. Harquail of H-MC was appointed the managing director. Under the general management of Harry Wilton-Clark, operations of the company began immediately, with Tent Mountain coal continuing to be delivered to H-MCs cleaning plant and tipple at Bellevue. Operations in the Mohawk ceased on March 14th, 1952. On October 8th of 1953 H-MC took a bigger stake in CCL when it bought a further 300,000 dollars worth of the companys shares for $25,000 and the commitment to build a briquetting plant at Coleman. On December 2nd of the following year H-MC bought Consolidated M&Ss shares in CCL for $625,000. By that time CCL had refurbished the former Internationals big tipple at Coleman and soon the Bellevue facility was redundant, its cleaning plant used only in urgencies as the rest of the infrastructure was dismantled and salvaged. The brick and concrete ruins rising above the scrub of scrawny evergreens on the edge of the scarp to the west of the Highway at the southern end of Bellevue are the remains of H-MCs new tipple.
Though the coal industrys failure ripped the economic heart out of Bellevue, amazingly the town did not die. In 1957 it had finally incorporated itself as a Village and under the first Overseer, Ernest Goulding, bought the communitys partial water system from private ownership. In March of the following year the Village hired Zigmund Scropski as its constable. Under the leadership of Ernie Fisher and G.K. Sirett, the citizens had finally organized the Bellevue Volunteer Fire Department in 1951, and with incorporation the community was able to buy a new Dodge truck and modify it as an emergency vehicle. In 1976 the community finally installed a sewerage system and extended water distribution to Maple Leaf and other areas. The Village administration moved into the old Union Bank building and in 1977 a new fire hall was completed.
Come the end of the second millennium Bellevue somnambulates on its sunny bench, savouring, perhaps, plots of vengeance on a petro-carbon addicted world when the caverns beneath the Persian Gulf spit up their last drops. In the mean time, it fixes up its few historical buildings and lures travellers in off the Crowsnest Highway.
The Wayside Chapel, standing on the corner where 227th Street intersects the Highway, can seat all of 14 folks in cozy confinement. With the aid of the Dutch Reformed Church in Southern Alberta, it was built at Passburg, a few miles east down the Highway, by Chris Withage of Lethbridge under contract to local Dutch immigrants who just wanted to provide travellers with a place in which to refresh their spirits. The building was dedicated on July 2nd, 1960, and was moved to its present location in 1984. Near the chapel at the eastern end of Belleview is the Bellecrest Community Associations free campground, likely the site of the Blue Bird, one of the first motels in the east Pass. By the Chapel is the local info centre whose staff will want to direct you to Bellevues premier attraction, the old mine.
The old mine is the West Canadian Collieries adit, of which the Crowsnest Pass Ecomuseum Trust has reopened some 400 metres. Heading back towards town on 27th Ave past the humble miners cottages, one sees to the east the evidence of industry: these were the yards of the Mohawk Bituminous Mine. Nearby is imposingly-porticod Maple Leaf School, a stuccoed, single-storeyd wood-framed structure which welcomed children for 40 years beginning in 1924. Coming into the downtown, 27th angles hard left to become 213th Street, a one-and-a-half block length faced by the Inn, the Bellevue Restaurant, a storefront outreach mission or two, a seniors drop centre, the Old Dairy Ice Cream Shoppe and a closed Moose Factory. Turning left opposite the Independent Order of Odd Fellows hall with its fancy little Italianate buttressing arch supporting the ghost of the departed United Church, and following 25th Avenue down the scarp, visitors come to a small interpretive centre at which a guide will regale them with a brief history of the workings and then encourage them to don warm clothing for their excursion underground. Take this advice, especially if the day is hot. Outfitted with miners helmets complete with lights and belt-slung battery packs, the group is shepherded into the main portal shored up by a concrete lintel into which 1929 WCC A.D is cast. The air chills with each step the tour takes along the lighted, artefact-strewn tunnels. In a work room visitors are shown what used to be a working face and questions are answered. WCC abandoned the mine in 1957, but townsfolk continued for five years to pick out their winters stockpile of coal from the exposed seams. Until the guide turns off the mine lighting, most people have no real appreciation of what darkness is, and until you finally gets your feeble little helmet lamp turned on, you dont see anything no matter how long you give your eyes to adjust. Brrr.
Shoot out at Joes
Beside the Bellevue Inn on Front Street is the Bellevue Cafe [sic]. Though not owned by the Mah family since 1975, the Café looks pretty much as it did on that fateful Saturday morning of August 7th, 1920, when & Rooms completed its over-door sign.
Having robbed the CPR train at Sentinel five days earlier, and split up with their pard, Ausby Auloff, Geo. Arkoff and Tom Bassoff ambled into Joe Mah Kis café to take on some breakfast that August morn. It was a bold thing to do, walking into town like that; everybody was keeping an eye out for them. Reports Harold Freyer in his contribution to the Canadian West Magazine Volume 8 Number 1, Blue-Coated Mounties, Justice of the Peace Joseph H. Robertson was the first to spot the pair and hustled to phone the Alberta Provincial Police offices in Blairmore. Catching a passing train, Constable Jas. Frewin was soon in Bellevue where he met his fellow APP constable, F.W.E. Bailey, and RCMP Constable Ernest Usher. Proceeding to the café, Frewin and Usher, revolvers drawn, barged through the front door while Bailey came in through the kitchen. There are eye-witness accounts of what transpired during the next few moments, the essence of which suggests that the desperados were not impressed with the weaponry that the police waved in their facesor perhaps they just panicked. Whatever the case, they quickly pulled their handguns and the café exploded into a shooting gallery. Wounded and retreating, the officers managed to get seven bullets into Arkoff and one into Bassoffs leg. Usher also took seven hits and, expiring, collapsed across the front door sill tripping the back-pedalling Bailey who fell out into the street. Arkoff lurched out past the prostrate Constables and made it a few metres off down Front Street before sinking to the sidewalk and dying. Bassoff, following his accomplice out the door, blasted Bailey dead as the latter lay stunned on the walkway, and limped away through a volley of bullets from Joe Robertsons ugly old Mauser pistol to lead police on a three-day long game of cat and mouse in the rubble of Frank slide. The search for Bassoff was a confusion of passions as law-enforcement officers from several agencies intent on getting the murders. The CPR Police were most interested in capturing the malefactors: it had been on one of their trains that the original offence had taken place. Detective J.D. Nicholson of the APP held overall responsibility for the hunt qnd was probably grateful for the assistance of Inspector J. McDonald and his RCMP contingent. No-one knew if Auloff had joined up with Bassoff in the rocks and everybody expected more gun play. Tragically, during that escapade in the rocks special Constable Nicolas Kyslik was mistaken in the morning mist for one of the culprits and fatally shot by his own partner. Under cover of fog, Bassoff escaped the police dragnet only to be quietly captured on the 11th by CPR police in the railway yards at Pincher Station, some 35 kilometres east on the Crows Nest Line.
In 1920, Canadian justice, unfettered by concerns about an accuseds civil rights&3148; and the bloated union of pettifoggers which hobbles it today, was able to move swiftly and purposefully. Bassoff was at trial two months after his arrest, and though witnesses testified that the police officers had neglected to identify themselves upon entering the Bellevue Café and had likely fired first, the accused was found guilty of capital murder and, three days before Christmas that same year, stretched a rope in Lethbridge. As for his absconding associate, Ausby Auloff, he hocked Conductor Sam Jones distinctive CPR Elgin pocket watch in Portland, Oregon, on January 18th of 1924. Thanks to the diligence of the APP in circulating a description of the timepiece through-out the U.S. Northwest and actively monitoring events, he was quickly run to ground at a mine outside of Butte, Montana. Auloff waived his extradition rights and was escorted back to Blairmore and straight to trial. On January 26th of 1924 he was awarded a seven-year sojourn as a guest of the federal government in its oh, so exclusive hostelry at Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where he died of miners pthisis on April 5th, 1926.
Detour through Hillcrest
Hillcrest nestles in the Drum Creek valley just where it blends into the Crowsnest, about a mile as-the-crow-flies southwest from downtown Bellevue. Here and there on the heights surrounding, the charred remains of the trees immolated in the wildfires of 2004 remind the human inhabitants of this valley just how vulnerable is the forest organism. Eastbound on the Highway from Frank, the traveller turns right onto 219th Street, the old Hillcrest-Bellevue Road. Passing Old Frank Road, 219th crosses the Crowsnest River on its current bridge, a 1991 concrete-decked span, and becomes 9th Avenue. Huddled in the eastern lea of the bridge, the tiny community of River Bottom has been favoured since early days by those who seek refuge from the municipal order of the surrounding settlements, and find it thrilling that the River occasionally overwhelms its channel and carries away firewood, boardwalks and other unsecured floatables.
9th Avenue continues up its grade and, approaching Hillcrest proper, bifurcates into 8th and 9th, the latter of which angles off to the left. Near the fork a short road branches right and leads down to the Hillcrest graveyard with its massive black marble monument dedicated to Miners who have lost their lives underground, a little plaque commemorating each deadly event in the entire Pass. Behind the monument, enclosed within a fence made with Paige wire stiffened by cable hung on posts of 50-pound rail, the Hillcrest Cemetery must cover five acres. In the middle of the sea of stones are the three mass graves wherein are laid many of the miners who died in the single worst mining disaster in Canadian history.
Away from the graveyard, 8th Avenue swells to 80 feet wide and enters Hillcrest proper, welcomed by one of the settlements few remaining edifices, the rather plain-jane, two-storey wood-framed house that Hillcrest Collieries raised for its general manager in 1911. Hiding from observers in a yard full of evergreens, it is impressive only because it is the largest residence in a settlement full of miners cottages.
Charles Plummer Hill had roamed and worked in the American Northwest for many years before he got the chance to wander through the Crowsnest Pass in the late 1890s. A jack-of-all-trades from a customs officer to a town-founder, he was enough of a mining man to spot a likely prospect and may have risked money on S.W. Gebo and H.L. Franks first endeavour at Burmis, and through them may have heard of the carboniferous riches in the vaults of Turtle Mountain. On July 16th of 1902 he purchased the mineral rights to a property jointly owned by George Mills and Mary Heap on what would become Hillcrest Mountain, adjacent to the Turtle. Forming the Hill Promotion and Development Syndicate, he scoured the east for capital, finally finding most of it in Ottawa.22 With but $33,000 in his coffers, in January of 1905 Hill sank his first drift into a 14 foot-wide seam of rich, clean, semi-bituminous, the upper of two exposures on the side of Hillcrest Mountain. On the 31st of that month Hill incorporated Hillcrest Coal and Coke Company with a capitalization of $750,000 and a mandate to mine coal, make coke, operate a railroad and found a town. Several Members of Parliament, E.M. Hill,23 and A.J. Leitch were among the shareholders. While he had his own residence raised beside the mine works in the valley between Hillcrest and Turtle Mountains, Hill had a water-piped townsite laid out on a quarter-section of wooded flats flanking Drum Creek at the base of the bench upon which the Mine entered the mountain. The company owned everything: water rights to Drum Creek, surface rights, mineral rights and timber rights, but unlike the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company at Fernie which retained ownership of the townsite and most of the structures upon it, Hillcrest C&C sold building lots.
Its main street a generous 80 feet wide and the others laid out to a standard 66 feet, the community was soon growing, built with lumber felled on the site, watered from the Creek. School classes were convened for the few children, Hill himself raised a hotel, and the MacLean Trading Company24 opened its doors. Hillcrest C & C built a few cottages for its workers with families, while the single men were expected to bunk in the dormitory at the Mine site. Officially, the community of Hillcrest Mines came into being on June 15th, 1907 (discrepancy: Jan. 1, 1908?), when the Post Office authorized C.P. Hill to open a local bureau.
Meanwhile, development at the Mine proceeded apace. The coal compressed within Hillcrests three seams proved to be ideal for use in locomotives; it was low in ash content and therefore relatively free of clinkers when burned. The CPR esteemed it especially for use on passenger trains and bought all it could get. Initially mining the measures was not too difficult. The seams were faulted, but nearly level. No powered tools were needed to extract the coal, and horses were quite able to handle the underground haulage chores. The Mines main portal, however, shadowed by the mountain in the deep valley of Drum Creek, was usually mired in mud. Delivered to the surface, the laden mine cars were marshalled in a miniature yard whence a dinkya small 0-2-0 saddle-tanked steam locomotivedrew them up to a wooden tipple built on the edge of the escarpment overlooking the hamlet. There the coal was sorted and cleaned by hand and dumped into a short train of small gondolas which were eased by cable down the face of the scarp on rails laid on the slope. At the bottom, 125 vertical feet below the upper tipple, the coal was dropped into a second tipple and from there into waggons for the two mile haul to the Crows Nest Line (CNL) at Bellevue. After 1910 the coal from the second tipple was loaded into CP gondolas. These were banged into trains in the company yards and chuffed two miles on Hillcrest C&C rails across a long, curving trestle over the Crowsnest River to CP sidings at the Junction on the CNL. When in a jocular mood, according to Lorry Felske in her research papers compiled by Sharon Babaian, The Coal Mining Industry in the Crows Nest Pass, Chippy Hill liked to boast that, although his railway was not quite as long as the CPRs, it was every bit as wide.
In 1906, the Hillcrest mine shipped around 30,000 tons of coal to market. In 1907, despite a softening economy and work stoppages by his employees to support their demands for better wages, Hill went ahead with improvements to his plant. Chief among them was the replacement of horses in the mine with ten-ton H.K. Porter compressed air-powered thermos bottle locomotives running on 28-pound rail gauged to 36 inches. The price tag for these improvements was a daunting $100,000, but Hill must have been satisfied with his investment when production in 1908 quadrupled 1906s output. This despite Hills illegally locking out UMWA miners for awhile in a dispute with the Union. In a report dated December 30th, 1908, and sent to W.H. Aldridge, the manager of the CPRs smelter at Trail, B.C., Lewis Stockett of CPs Natural Resources Department in Calgary stated that for that year the Hillcrest operation output 122,966 tons at a cost of $1.31 per ton. Despite it being a recession year, Hill managed to get an average of $2.08 per ton, gaining a profit for his investors of $83,716.48.
That profit must have looked like big money to Hills certified miners who at the time earned a maximum of 55¢ per 2,240-pound long ton, sixteen of which, sang Tennessee Ernie Ford so many years ago, a good man could load in a day. When the recession bit deep in 1908, Hill, a pillar of the mine owners Western Coal Operators Association since its formation in 1906, sought a wage roll-back to 35¢ a ton, ten cents less than what the miners had struck against the year previously. With all the improvements he had made to his very expensive plant, Hill argued, his production costs averaged 20¢ per ton more that the typical Trough mine; to be competitive, he needed his mens indulgence. He didnt get it, and, in fact, to entice his workers back to their posts to end the Pass-wide general Strike of 1909, Hill, along with the other operators in the Pass, had to surrender a pay increase and accept a closed shop arrangement under which he could not hire non-Union labour.
The unions victory was evidently more than Hill could bear, and in 1910 he sold out to a Montréal syndicate which that year incorporated Hillcrest Collieries, Limited. With deep pockets lined with cash and optimism, the new owners resolved to make real money from the Mine. To do that they had to tackle the complexities of the coal measures, following them as dove steeply towards the roots of Hillcrest Mountain. They gained the loyalty of their workforce by complying with wage and benefit demands and began improving the plant. A wash-house was erected. Power tools were acquired, and pumps to keep the Mine dry as workers began digging down below the water table. A new powerhouse was completed in 1911 and work began on a pricey steel tipple. The inclined tram on the face of the scarp was replaced by an enclosed Jeffrey retarding conveyor. A newer standard gauge locomotive, Hillcrest No. 11, Old Maude, was purchased from the CPR and set to work shifting trains the two miles between the lower tipple and the CNL. In town the new managers house was built and more miners cottages, and a two-storeyd office block.
The Montréal investments inspired private construction in the settlement as well, with a row of two-storey homes built in 1911. Down on the CNL, according to Bohi and Kozma in their Canadian Pacifics Western Depots: The Country Stations of Western Canada, CP had left a Standard Second Class Station in the area in 1898. This seems unlikely as there would have been no call for it at the time. Come 1910, however, at the Junction, just west of the road bridge to Bellevue, the Railway had raised the larger Hillcrest Mines depôt to serve both Bellevue and Hillcrest. In 1914 the two-room Hillcrest School opened, freeing the old Mission School higher up the hill to be converted into a home.
One Thousand people were living in Hillcrest by 1914, the Union Hotel home to 40. Come that spring the company was paying some $50,000 per month for the services of about 375 men who, by general consensus, were working in the safest plant in the Crowsnest, most every piece of equipment was less than four years old. Though the markets were soft, the company was nearing its goal of mining 2,000 tons per day.
In the Coleman museum and in the occasional pamphlet, one sees a reproduction of the blueprint of the Hillcrest Mine. It looks for all the world like the map of the heart of an ancient North African town; the separate kasbah in the centre surrounded by the twisting streets of the medinah. A main entry and a counter entry, like French colonial boulevards chopped through the native street pattern of the kasbah, lance into the mountain. From them, a confusion of alleyways branch off, leading to and through the connecting rooms from which the coal has been removed. At the intersections of the alleyways, square pillars of about fifty feet to the side have been left to support the roof. When the coal seam petered out and the mine reached the end of its working life, these pillars were removed beginning at the farthest edges of the mine, allowing the roof to cave in behind the retreating workers. What the map does not show is the mine floors topography which, of course, follows the steeply pitched and frequently faulted seams as they dove and climbed between sandwiching rock in response to some whimsical tectonic dictate.
In many ways, the Hillcrest was typical of mines in the Trough, though it had the reputation for being best run and the safest. The coal, as mentioned, was bituminous; gaseous, friable. During the process of mining, it crumbled readily, filling the works with suspended dust which, like any organic dust, needed only to reach a critical concentration point in the right mixture of air to detonate with the slightest of sparks. Frequently, pockets of methane gasfiredampwere encountered trapped in the seam or, heavier than air, pooled on a rooms floor having leaked from the coal face. This, too, awaited only the feeblest of excuses to explode.
It was never determined exactly what caused the Hillcrest mine to blow-up on June 19th, 1914. Both the companys fire boss and a delegation of union men had, because the mine had been idle for some days preceding the blast, done a tour of inspection and pronounced the works safe before the 7:00a.m. shift entered. Investigators generally accepted theory was that a rock fall, an all-too-common hazard of underground mining, had struck a spark which ignited a chain of methane pools and finally the coal dust at the working faces.25 No matter the Why, though, at 9:30 that Friday morning the Trough for miles around Hillcrest jumped with the force of an enormous explosion. At the moment the morning shift of 237 men was hard at work underground; only 48 would return alive to their families.
News of the emergency flashed throughout the Pass. UMWA disaster teams converged on Hillcrest from mines as far away as Fernie. CPR trainmen rushed the Company Car 54 with its specialized mine rescue equipment to the scene. Little, however, could be done as black-dampcarbon dioxidecreated in the aftermath of the blast had pushed all air out of the mine. The main ventilation fan had been reversed immediately after the explosion in an attempt to drive fresh air to the workers, but, likely due to blocked shafts, the effort was unsuccessful. When teams equipped with PROTO breathing apparatus finally explored their way down to the heart of the carnage in Room 33, they found 26 of the deceased. In tunnels and rooms around, dead men were found frozen in macabre postures; some still standing to their work, picks upraised, others crouched and preparing to run. Deeper in the mine, where the black-damp had first collected, victims lay in sad queues where death had stopped them in their attempt to make it back to sunlight, their faces masked with water-soaked cloths in a desperate attempt to filter oxygen out of the black-damp. In total, 189 had died. The enormity of the tragedy shocked the World; even King George V of Great Britain had his secretary send his condolences. Until it closed in 1962, every student at the school used supplies donated by Hillcrest Collieries and its successors in consideration of the families left desperate when the bread-winner dies.
Identified if possible, washed and wound in white cloth, 150 bodies were laid to rest in three mass graves in the suddenly-full little Hillcrest Cemetery on June 21st. Others were buried in other yards, with family and friends, throughout the Trough, or sent away Home. On July 7th, the last body found was located, leaving only Sidney Bainbridge to wander alone in the caverns under Hillcrest Mountain. In 1959, citizens rehabilitated the Hillcrest Cemetery which had become a wild forest glade, and today a dignified cairn has replaced the humble wooden head markers that were originally used to record the names of the dead.
The mine had survived the explosion in a salvageable condition, and, with War gnashing his teeth in Europe and military-industrial complex crying for coal, the company chose to rebuild. The engine house, writes Gordon A. Chambers in The Hillcrest Mine Explosion in Crowsnest and its people, 100 feet from the mouth of the mine, had been destroyed, its eight-inch thick concrete front wall caved in on top of the engines, the roof blown away by the typhoon of air blasted from the tunnel by the Mines collapsing heart. It was rebuilt while the Mine was recovered, and mining resumed. On June 15th, 1915, production halted when Union men walked out for the day to emphasise their demands that those of their co-workers who hailed from enemy countries be excluded from the pits. The company, however, needed every hand it could muster to meet the demands for coal, and convinced the UMWA to send their men back to work.
During the first three years after the Great War ended a workforce of some 500 men dug 750,000 tons of coal out of the bowels of Hillcrest Mountain. The tipple was modified with new picking tables and a slack separator. The wooden trestle across the River was replaced with a concrete structure. Dr. G.B. Rose was hired to run the company hospital. The post-war recession, however, weakened demand and the company began paring back its workforce in 1921, the very year that six new rooms were added to the Hillcrest School. Workers reactions to the reductions was divisive, pitting the established Union against radical activists who believed that Labour had to vigorously confront Owners to win concessions. Disagreements and walk-outs culminated in the long strike of 1924 when the mines in the Pass, with the notable exception of McGillivray C&C at Coleman, fell silent. Six months they were out at the Hillcrest. Barely back into steadier production after a period sporadic activity, the Mine was wrecked by a tremendous blast at 10:20 p.m. on September 19th, 1926. Fortunately the explosion occurred on a Sunday when only two men were in the Mine and consequently killed: fire boss Frank Lote and pumpman Fred Jones, checking to make sure the Mine was safe for the Monday morning shift. An enquiry determined that the only possible cause of the explosion was a rockfall sparking a pool of methane. Despite the recession the company chose to rebuild the Mine and continue on, forming an alliance with the Passburg Coal Company which had a small mine in the valley of the Crowsnest a kilometre of so downstream from Hillcrests operation.
The 1920 and 30s were a struggle for the inhabitants of Hillcrest, as they were for the rest of the Pass communities, indeed the entire Country, Continent and World. In 1927 the casual syndicate of miners who had purchased the old Co-op building for use as a club house obtained a licence to dispense beer. The Hillcrest Miners Literary and Athletic Association soon came into being, a male-only sort of an organization that sponsored and promoted manly contests of sport and endurance. The place went up in flames on February 8th, 1959, and was rebuilt on a philosophy of gender equality. St. Theresas Catholic Church was blessed into service on February 22nd, 1926, the same year that J.E. Upton established the Hillcrest Orchestra, the antecedent, record the authors of Hillcrest Mines in chapter two of Crowsnest and Its PeopleMillennium Edition, . . . of the Crowsnest Pass Symphony; Albertas oldest amateur orchestra; Canadas only teaching orchestra.
In 1935 the principals in Hillcrest Collieries began talking about amalgamation with the owners of the Mohawk Bituminous Mines across the Crowsnest River at Bellevue. An agreement was reached. In April of 1938 Hillcrest Collieries liquidated itself and Hillcrest-Mohawk Collieries, Limited, was formed. After a year of joint operations the new company decided to concentrate its efforts on the Mohawk mine and on December 2nd of 1939,26 having salvaged everything worthwhile from the tunnels, the company blew the Hillcrests portals closed with enough explosive that the Mine hasnt heard a human footfall since.
Hillcrest-Mohawk laboured on through WWII, drawing only a lucky few former Hillcrest employees across the valley of the Crowsnest to mine the Mohawk of work in the surface plant. Like the workers of Passburg on the far side of the River who built a suspension bridge in the 1920s so that they could walk to work in the Hillcrest Mine, the workers of Hillcrest fortunate enough to secure employ now had to walk across the River to Bellevue to their jobs. With them they took the high school students after the Hillcrest School stopped teaching the upper grades in 1940 when teacher Isabelle Sellon moved to Blairmore. In 1938 the hamlet had supported a theatre, seven or eight stores including Lipnickas, Kong Sings confectionary, and Cruickshanks general store, the Palm Café, a Royal Bank, Fumigallis motor garage, a hotel, a complete school, and had enjoyed the attentions of Dr. Rose in his little company-sponsored hospital. All, of course, were dependent to some extent on the Mine. At the final tally, Hillcrest Collieries had employed around 107 miners at $5.40 per day guaranteed, and around 100 other workers whose scales ranged from $4.45 for a labourer to $5.10 for a timber packer. With the loss of much of this income, Hillcrests businesses began to close and its population quickly decline, numbering but 853 by official count on June 14th, 1944, many of the younger men having gone into the armed forces.
Hillcrest-Mohawk involved itself in the formation of Coleman Collieries Limited with International Coal and Coke and McGillivray Creek Coal and Coke in the early 50s, and concentrated its efforts on stripping coal from its Tent Mountain property out by Crowsnest Lake. Hillcrest-Mohawk shut down the exhausted Mohawk on March 14th, 1952, keeping its cleaning plant and tipple operating on an as needed basis when the Coleman Collieries facility couldnt handle an unexpectedly large order. This happy situation cropped up only infrequently, however, and the very few of Hillcrests workers who had enjoyed employment with Hillcrest-Mohawk had to find other employment for their talents.
One thing can surely be said about Best Water in Alberta Hillcrest: it is quiet. A cruise up four block-long 8th Avenue will take the visitor past every notable edifice in town save the 1913 Carpenters Gothic United Church on 7th, a block west. In easy retirement, the community spends its time painting its houses, driving school buses back and forth to the Comprehensive High School in Coleman, tending their commercial greenhouses and laying awake some nights trying to distinguish between the rumble of a CP train on the Crows Nest Line and the restless heart of Turtle Mountain. On 8th one passes the two-storey wood framed and ship-lap sided cracker box of the Halton-Moser store which MacLean Trading erected in 1905, the Moose Hall, formerly a Chinese restaurant dating from the 1920s, and the Crowsnest Ceramic Store which has tried to impress the streetscape with what the Ecomuseum Trust like to call its boomtown front since circa 1910. Gone is the Palm Café, a favourite hot-spot during the 20s, gone is the movie theatre. No accommodations, no place to eat, no big bank anymore, the tall 1912 Hillcrest (Mission?) School closed in November of 1962 and has since been demolished. It is hard to imagine that the communityit never succeeded in incorporating, even though the residents voted to do so in January of 1953could muster the 33 Girl Guides who smile from the 30s in an image on a page in the Photo CompanionCrowsnest Pass and Its People (Crowsnest Historical Society, Coleman, 1990). Never again will Hillcrest be so blessed.
Passburg, Police Flats and the Leitch Collieries
Leaving Hillcrest, a traveller can return to the Crowsnest Highway either via Bellevue-Hillcrest Road or, at the south end of 8th Avenue, can turn east on 230th Street and follow it as it blends into 232nd and then into a short but scenic side-road past Crowsnest Greenhouses down to the Crowsnest Highway at the site of Passburg.
Eastward from its intersection with the Bellevue-Hillcrest Road, the Highway passes the Bellevue mine and interpretive centre on the left, the tiny Wayside Chapel, and the remains of Mohawk Collieries tipple on the right, and begins curving lazily to the left across the apron of the souther-most spur of humble Tallon Peak. On the inside of the curve is the Municipality of Crowsnest Passs west-bound welcoming display; on the outside the scenic side road from Hillcrest joins. Beyond, the Highway, eager to get down onto tiny Police Flats, cuts through the tip of the spur. The cut illustrates the attraction coal miners felt for this part of the World. Sandwiched between strata of sedimentaries, layers of crumbling coal dip away to the east, staining the ditch water amber.
Police Flats are so called because the Crows Nest Detachment of the North-West Mounted Police built a temporary post here in 1881 to discourage rustling and horse-thieving through the Pass. The post proved useful, and in 1883 the Police assigned two constables to the location on a permanent basis. In 1887 the post was substantially expanded.
Opposite the Flats, just beyond the Highways northern ditch, the gabled stone end walls of the roofless Leitch Collieries power-house looks like a ruined mediæval chapel mourning the death of the Troughs main industry.
Quebecer A.J. (Angus?) Leitch who, with his three brothers, had owned and operated a flour mill in Oak Lake, Manitoba since 1888, came through the Pass in 1901, likely on his way to visit his brother, Archibald, who at the time was in partnership with the CPR in a lumber mill in Cranbrook. A.J was alert to new commercial ventures, and it was obvious to him that, should the coal market boom, fortunes would be made in the east Pass. He apparently bought some properties east of Bellevue to position his family to profit from the coming coal rush.
Somewhere along the line Leitch made the acquaintance of Ontarian W.L. Hamilton, an experienced coal miner who was thinking of selling off his holdings at Taber, east of Lethbridge, and relocating to the Pass. Come 1906 and a bullish coal market, Hamilton sent the Kerr brothers, John and William, into the Trough to find a likely prospect. South of Police Flats, where Byron Creek debouches into the Crowsnest, the brothers found an attractive exposure on the bank of Byron Creek, an minor tributary to the Crowsnest draining Hillcrest Mountain. The property was owned by one J.C. Drewry. Hamilton contacted Drewry and on November 1st of that year, 1906, began buying the coal rights to some 12,350 acres.
A small-time operator with limited access to the financial market in a period of economic uncertainty, Hamilton turned to the Leitch family. Apprised of the project, the surviving brothers Leitch27 expressed interest and in 1907 they added Anguss properties to those of Hamilton and together the three entrepreneurs incorporated Leitch Collieries, Limited. While Archibald Leitch remained a silent partner managing his saw mill at Jaffray in the East Kootenays, brother Malcolm assumed the presidency of Leitch Collieries and stayed at the companys headquarters in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Hamilton took on the job of managing the works in the Pass. Driving a 3,000 foot-long adit into a six-foot-wide seam exposed at the base of the Byron Creek escarpment about a half a mile from the Crowsnest River, the partners laid a spur from the Crows Nest Line to their little sorting and loading tipple, and through the recession of 1908, dug their coal and concluded that their time was wasted. They sampled other seams on their property and tests indicated that better coal could be dug out of Tallon Peak from a site on Police Flats.
Mrs. Hamilton named the tiny collection of cottages that grew up by the River on Police Flats near Leitch No. 1 mine Burg of the Pass because, she hoped, it was destined to become the pre-eminent settlement in the Crowsnest Trough. Passburg it became. William Kerr had gone into the grocery business and on June 1st, 1908, the Post Office authorized him to open local bureau in his store. By 1910, with the No. 2 mine well started on the Flats, Dr. Irving Bell, the owner of a Metz motor car, was in residence in Passburg, the Nastasi brothers Joseph and James had come from Coleman and Bellevue to build their bakery, and the New Passburg Hotel was welcoming guests. Reverend Lang built a church in 1910, the Pisony family opened their butcher shop, a hall was raised and Passburg School District No. 2300 was established. The wild fire that blew out of the Byron Creeks valley to menace the budding settlement that summer of 1910 hardly slowed the construction of a one-room school house in which classes commenced that November.
In 1909 Leitch Collieries had begun cutting mine No. 2 into the second of five seams hidden within the spur of Tallon Peak around which the Highway presently curls. Labour trouble plagued the project. Leitch was already heavily committed to improving its surface plant and decided to fight, earning the undying enmity of the UMWA by hiring independent labour, forcing the Union members back to work. With sandstone quarried on the property, Scottish masons especially brought over for the project built a three-roomed power house and a fancy managers mansion for the Hamilton family. Simultaneously a fan house, a 2,000 tons per day steel tipple, an amazingly tall coal-washing plant,28 a stables and smithy, a miners bath house, a boarding house, sundry offices and buildings to house assayers and timekeepers were raised. A 150 kW generator driven by a 300 horse-power steam engine powered by four boilers was fitted into the powerhouse. Air pumps and piping were installed. A large, wooden coal and coke washery equipped with a battery of ten Luhrig jigs completed the surface plant and tested the limits of the companys credit. By the end of 1910 the No. 2s main gallery had been punched nearly a half mile into Tallon and a network of drifts and raises was expanding the Mine through the intermediary rock into the other seams. Haul-ways had been established and trestles built. With local sandstone and thousands of firebricks imported from the Union Brick Company of Unionville, Pennsylvania, work commenced on the 700-foot long battery of 101 technically advanced and expensive Mitchell coking ovens: 30-inches wide, top-loading, double-doord push-through types with a Leveller/Ram running down one 15-foot wide quay shoving the hot coke onto the quay opposite where it would be washed down, drained dry and loaded into CP boxcars. A ten ton electric larry was purchased to charge the ovens. By Christmas of 1910 sixty of the ovens were finished, as was most of the rest of the plant: 1911 looked like the year that Leitch Collieries would finally begin to make money. Then came the Big Strike. In March of 1911 UMWA members from Fernie to Lundbreck downed tools in protest of wages and conditions. On April 1st the members of the Western Coal Operators Association barred Union members from their properties, turning the dispute into an ordeal which lasted six months. Leitch again resorted to non-union labour to supply the locomotives and Trail smelter furnaces of its main customer, the CPR, but the untrained workers were inefficient and production was poor. Major clients like the smelter operators in Montana began to buy their coal elsewhere. Splashing more red ink into its ledgers, the company stubbornly stuck to its plan and finished the last of its coking ovens.
Though alarmingly deep in debt, when the infrastructure was complete Leitch Collieries looked ready to rapidly supply the largest orders for fine steaming coal and coke.
Then disaster. Though early tests had assured Leitch that the coal in No. 2 contained around 7% ash; excellent for steaming and coking purposes. However, as the company dug deeper into the measures, the quantity of ash increased to nearly 18%. Not only would the coal make poor coke, but it was too dirty for industrial use. A test batch of coal was fired in about a thirdor but five ovens, say someof the Mitchells. As expected, the coke was not good. The CPR began to cut back its orders, preferring to buy from CNP Coal at Michel and Fernie, B.C., and from International Coal and Coke and McGillivray Creek Coal and Coke west up the Trough at Coleman. The loss of their main customer edged the company to the brink of ruin. Despite its misgivings, the company mined over 100,000 tons of saleable coal during 1913. Even at that rate the owners figured that they were under producing by half and, with a fat Balkan coke contract on the table and just awaiting a few additional signatures, tore into 1914 with a will.
Leitch Collieries barely survived 1914. The assassination of Ferdinand and Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28th scuttled the Balkan contract, and a world wide cash-crunch crushed demand for coal and coke; even the CPR neglected to pay its bill. The nervous Imperial Bank called in the Leitchs loan. Bankrupt, on March 5th of 1915, mentions M.A. Kennedy in her thesis Coke Ovens of the Crowsnest Pass, the company closed the mine. Though people continued picking coal for their own use, the mine never again saw commercial production. At the end of the teens the Tallon Peak coal measures were taken over by Maple Leaf which mined them from the other side of the mountain. The Hamiltons fancy house was dynamited and the surface works were scrapped. The Bank assumed outright ownership of the plant in 1926, salvaged what it couldincluding the million high-silica coke oven bricks specially imported from Pennsylvaniaand wrote off the rest, leaving the stout stone walls of the power house and surrounding detritus to be stabilized and developed by the Ecomuseum Trust into an interpretive centre commemorating the Troughs hey-days.
Passburg was, of course, staggered by Leitch Collieries failure. The cadre of Movers and Shakers who had tried to incorporate the community in 1912 had not succeeded in interesting many of their 500 fellow residents in the proposition; now it was evident that Passburg would never join the league of legitimate settlements. The population of the new two-storey school house built by the School District on Police Flats near the Mine fell by half as families fled to find work. Though Doctor Bell moved on, many folks stayed, and the new school remained in steady operation until June of 1944. Into the 20s Passburg could boast of two grocery stores, a Chinese café, a laundry, a bank and a dancehall. A pedestrian bridge was suspended across the Crowsnest to bring Hillcrest and its working mine within easy walking distance. The Post Office finally closed in 1938, officially ushering Passburg into the realm of memory. After World War Two the exodus of people and houses left Passburg with but one inhabitable building in 1956 when it, too, was moved into Bellevue. Salvagers, the May floods of 1923, 1948 and 1995, and the Highways re-alignment of the 1970s, have erased all obvious traces of Passburg.
Away eastward from the ruin of the Leitch powerhouse and up a few feet out of Police Flats, the Highway breaks free of the Rockies. The view opens dramatically as the valley of the Crowsnest widens, showcasing the swelling River. This is the Burmis bench.