Eastbound from the Leitch Collieries Historic Site, the Crowsnest Highway lifts itself gently out of the shallow saucer of little Police Flats and bashes over the first of the low, sharp limestone ridges which cut through the thin soil on the slope of Talon Mountain. Twenty metres further is a second ridge, along whose spine a line of tortured Pinus flexilisLimber pineprostrate themselves in permanent worship of Aurora. A close relative to the ancient Bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) of Nevada and California, Limber pines are, as a species, the oldest trees in Alberta. These on the Ridge range to 700 years old, and this is very near the northern limit of their habitat. One twisted individual in particular is the symbol of the east Pass. It died about 1978, but so revered is it by locals that when it finally blew down on October the 8th, 1998, a cadre of volunteers gathered on November 25th to gently resurrect it with metal rods, cement, wire and rock screws. How long the desiccated relic will be able to withstand the wild westerly winds is conjectural.
Seeing these gnarled survivors, so utterly moulded to the lee of the ridge, the cyclist knows that any air moving just must be coming from the west. Sadly for those east-bound under their own power, this does not have to hold true; even Zephyrus is sometimes forced to retreat by his precocious Prairie cousins, and head lowered, straining on the pedals, many a disillusioned bikie has had to force her wheels down-grade against a contrary gale that insisted she not get off the skirts of Talon Peak, the last of the Rockies.
This is foothill country, long parallel ridges, reports Chester B. Beaty in The Landscapes of Southern Alberta - A Regional Geomorphology (University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, 1975), reflecting the geologic structure of sandstone and shale strata below. As the shale is much more susceptible to erosion than the sandstones, most of the foothills skeletal material is the latter. Plate tectonics played their part in raising these hills, of course, as did glaciation and the on-going processes of water erosion and gravity in shaping their present configuration.
Past the Burmis Tree, the Highway issues onto a broad, flat bench overlooking the cottonwood-lined Crowsnest River. Borrow pits here and there reveal the glacial gravel upon which the valleys benches are built and the thin layer of soil which barely supports the covering of sparse, yellowd grass. North and south, the valley opens ever wider as it spills the Highway down toward the beckoning Plains. Somewhere here the Highway has left the Mountain soils behind and crossed over into the Black soil regime of grasslands with its pioneering copses of poplars hiding in the hollows from the wind. Approximately on the boundary separating the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass from the Municipal District of Pincher Creek #9, a roadside sign indicates that the sprawling D U Ranch pastures its registered Herefords on the short-grass rangelands hereabouts.
Several sources, likely quoting an original raconteur, insist that the first men to ranch in this area were the brothers Jack and Louis Garnett in 1879 or 80, with brother Arthur arriving in 1881. They obtained a lease on 40,000 acres mainly between the Old Mans River Middle Fork (Crowsnest River) and the South Fork (Castle River). In 1882 they sub-leased the eastern half of their range to F.W. Godsal and contracted local carpenter, Wm. Gladstone of nearby Mountain Mill, to erect the Grand House for which the family is mainly remembered. Their elder sister, recalled only as Miss Garnett, came from Lancashire, England, in the spring of 1883 to run the new house. And run it she did. By the time Walter Garnett came to join the family that fall, the Miss had her brothers dressing formally for dinner, and expecting their guests to do the same. Apparently the frontier ranching life didnt agree with the family and by 1888 most of the western portion of the lease had been sublet to several individuals. With the destruction by fire of the big house in 1898 and the death of Jack in the Klondike, the family, credited with naming Turtle Mountain, fades from local history.
Some three kilometres from Leitch is Burmis, its last obvious remains sheltering on the south side of the Highway behind the low piles of waste coal and massive concrete buttresses identifying the industrial past of the place. Formerly a substantial settlement, it is today a mere shadow of its Yesterdays: a couple of modern houses, a Quonset hut, what looks to be an old store building. Until 1997 the whole site was mostly the Rinkes Lumber operations dry sort yard where the skinny twigs that pass for trees on the Eastern Slopes were stacked according to species and size before being fed to the saws which screamed them into building materials. On the far side of the old yard, running right along the brow of the bench, is CPs Crows Nest Line (CNL), its Burmis siding not yet pulled as of 1999, perhaps in anticipation that it might be of use to the petroleum industry in Albertas never-ending search for oil and gas.
Running its CNL through here in the spring of 1898, the CPR laid down the siding which it named after the magnificent Livingstone Range, the most prominent geographical feature in the immediate neighbourhood. In 1896, however, the Post Office had granted Captain and Mrs. Wilson permission to open the Livingstone office in their home in the Livingstone Valley, several miles to the north. Concerned about the potential for confusion, they asked if the Railway would be so kind as to rename its siding. Though initially unreceptive to the notion that it should change, a mood uncharacteristically compliant seemed to have overcome the Company in 1906 and it came up with Burmis by combining syllables from the surnames of two local ranchers, Robt. H. Burns and Jack Kemmis.
In the early 1900s, needing a small marshalling yard in the east Pass, CP had laid in a few sidings at Livingstone, added a wye on the northern side of the CNL, and commenced to crash loaded coal gondolas into trains for movement to markets east. Possibly hopeful that the CPR would appreciate an on-site source of coal for this operation, the Spokane-based East Crows Nest Pass Coal Company, (ECNP)whose main backers were involved in the Maple Leaf Coal Company and its Mohawk Bituminous Mine at Bellevue father west, took an interest in the locale. In December of 1907, ECNP bought the mineral rights to a square mile of Crown land which included the exploratory diggings that Saml. W. Gebo, Henry Luplin Franks partner in the Canadian-American Coal and Coke Company at Frank, had abandoned back in 1900. Though Gebo had found nothing worth his while, investigations on the property convinced ECNPs principals to form the Davenport Coal Company in 1909, and with optimism and a half million American dollars in capitalization, begin developing a mine. Of the layer-cake of seams found, the fifth and the second were the most rewarding, though cross-measure raises and drifts eventually exploited some of the others. Initially with horse power and later by steam hoist, mine cars of coal were lifted to surface via a vertical shaft and emptied into the tipple which the company built over its dedicated CNL siding. From a beginning tonnage of less than 10,000 in 1910, by 1913, with the professional emplacement of new boilers and steam engine, an electrical generator and an advanced Marcus sorting screen and loader in the tipple, a record high 75,000 tons came out of Davenports mine.
Production was high, but prices were low, for in 1911, attempting to eliminate the threat of an energy crunch during the long Big Strike of that year, the federal government had cancelled the duty on American coal entering Canadian markets east of Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario. Though Pass production began again in November of 1911, the reduced import duty on coal was retained even after the defeat of the free trade Liberal government on September 21st of that year. Consequently, the market became glutted. Prices dropped and Davenport was among those companies in the Trough which could not stand profit margin shrinkage. The mild winter of 1913-14 and the general economic downturn prior to the onset of WWI further reduced demand and therefore prices. The Crises in the Balkans discouraged the out-flow of capital from Europe and money for refinancing debt dried up. Davenport, like neighbouring Leitch Collieries at Passburg farther west, and Lund and Breckenridge at Lundbreck to the east, was forced to suspend production, finally winding up its operations in 1915 and sending its equipment to a mine at Wayne in Albertas Red Deer River valley near Drumheller.
When it worked, Burmis bustled. Claude Clegg ran a general store, as did W.A. Brown, in whose building the Post Office had installed a local bureau in 1910. The RN-WM Police kept a member permanently posted in the settlement. Come 1912, relate Zola Bruneau and C.T. Low in Book II of their 1987 Alberta Highway History Series, Highway 3: Lethbridge to Cranbrook, B.C., Burmis, Queen of the Pass, was home to 75 families. It had a brand-new Railway depôt, and a Presbyterian church. A school district had been formed on August 30th of 1911 and Mr. Tonks began teaching classes in the following March in the church. On January 6, 1913, students transferred to their own one-room school building. The loss of Davenport in 1915 was a blow, but the community hung on by supplying workers to the Railways yards. By 1926 Burmis had collected enough Catholics that Father Donovan of Bellevue saw to the building of tiny St. Stanislas Kotskas Church which was dedicated that November 20th. The Depression dealt another hard blow to Burmis, but there remained sufficient population in the settlement that when the school house burned on February 3rd, 1932, it was replaced.
In 1936 Burmis was rejuvenated by Cornelius Van Wyk who had acquired the rights to the trees on the CPRs nearby Timber Berth 80, the only privately owned plot in the provincially-controlled Crowsnest Forest. Organizing the Burmis Lumber Company, Van Wyk set up a mill at Lost Creek on the Carbondale River not far south, hired some 80 hands and began chopping into mine props the few remaining stands of magnificent Douglas fir to have survived the infernos which savaged the Trough in 1896, 1910 and 1923. Come WWII, the sky-rocketing demand for lumber with which to build Prairie airfield hangars brought some measure of prosperity to Burmis. Into the 1950s the boom continued as the returning veterans sought to make up for lost time and bury their memories by building houses and filling them with families. Owned since 1939 by H.G. Allen of Calgary, by 1950 Burmis Lumber operated three mills on Lost Creekthough a couple of them were likely portablessending the rough-sawn lumber in to the planer mill at Burmis where it was finished. The workforce totalled around 90, with some 40 employed in the planer mill. Output for 1950 was seven million board feet. In 1956, however, the lease on the timber berth expired. The mills fell silent, and around 1964, bankrupt, Burmis Lumber offered its capital assets for auction.
In 1968 Mr. H. Rinke acquired the Burmis mill site by paying the back taxes on the property, and in May of 1973 formed Rinke and Sons Lumber Company. It was always a marginal operation, scrambling for enough wood to keep the saws working, trying to keep one jump ahead of the Mountain Pine beetle which began its gradual invasion of the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies in the spring of 1980. Come the 90s the situation was desperate for the Rinkes, and in attempt to secure rights to timber they violated the federal Competition Act for which they were eventually fined $5,000 in February of 1998. The verdict, evidently, was a fore-gone conclusion, for by 1997 Rinke and Sons had cleaned up their site and ceased operations.1 Come 2006, only a few scraps of lumber and possibly some junked hardware testify that there ever was a lumber milling operation on the site.
There was little left of the community of Burmis by the time the Rinkes had wrapped up their enterprise. In February of 1950, due to a shortage of teachers, the high school students began riding a bus to attend classes in Pincher Creek, dropping their young scholars at Lundbreck on the way. In June of 1951 the Burmis school building also went to Lundbreck, 10 kilometres east down the Line, where it was added onto the existing school.
Most people had moved on by the time the Post Office closed in 1968, but a few die-hards were around to see the Railway salvage its depôt in 1970 and pull up the rail yards. That year, too, St. Stanislas was demolished. In 1976-77 the Department of Highways crews re-aligned the No. 3, running it right through the heart of the old townsite, levelling the last store, an enterprise which had been in the Eddy family since Jas. Hardin and Martha Ellen Eddy bought it from Brown back in 1920. Todays travellers, most zipping along at 100 air-conditioned, sound-surrounded klix, run right over Burmis, unaware that there once flourished a community here.
Side Trip past Beaver Mines
An easy-pedalling mile or so eastward from Burmis, a road side sign reading Beaver Mines indicates secondary highway 507 and offers travellers an alternative route to Pincher Creek. Southward from the No. 3, 507 zips across the Crowsnest River on a newish concrete-decked bridge and proceeds to climb up out of the Rivers valley past the Hiawatha Campgrounds access road some two kilometres from the Highway. Climbing, the Highway tops the divide between the Crowsnest and Castle Rivers and, well into its descent into the valley of the latter, passes back-country road which leads off westward to eventually jounce its way into the Lynx Creek valley and through what the local First Nations people, the Piikani, call their Crow Eagle reserve, a place where they have long dug ochre to make into body paint, an integral part of their traditional celebrations. Disappointingly, the site was never made part their official reserve. Having crossed the Castle and ascended from its steep-sided valley, 507 skirts Lees Lake where William Samuel Lee established the headquarters of his operation a couple of years before he sold his ranch at the confluence of the Pincher Creek with the Oldman River to the LaGrandeurs on March 10, 1884.
Along with Kootenai Brown, Lee was one of the very first Caucasian residents in this part of the country, having been in the prospecting party which in 1868 lost their pliers in the stream that came to be called Pincher Creek. According to Barry Potyondi in his Where Rivers Meet: A History of the Upper Oldman River Basin to 1939 (Lethbridge, 1992), Lee then opened up a trading post on what is now Lee Creek, just above the Boundary near Cardston, which he supplied from Fort Benton in Montana, exchanging whatever the Natives wanted for bison hides and fine furs. The Hudsons Bay Company apparently recruited him in 1870 to set up a post for them at the confluence of the Oldman River and Pincher Creek, down near the present community of Brocket. While there he imported a small herd of cattle from Montana and thereby became southern Albertas first rancher. He married Gutosi ki akeRosa (Good) Striker, Rosiea Kainai woman in 1871. When coaches began travelling the trail between the settlements of Pincher Creek and Fort Macleod, they crossed the Oldman at Lees ranch, and he obligingly set up a rest station. In 1882 Lee sold his Pincher Creek holdings to Moise and Julia LaGrandeur and moved here. To augment his income, he developed a crude spa at the nearby sulphur springs. By 1885 Lee and Rosie were running some 1300 head of cattle on their ranch, but suffered some 800 dead in the brutal winter of 1886/87. Life for the Lees went along from day to day until Dominion surveyors worked their way through the neighbourhood in the 1890s, legally carving the land into precise plots. By the agreement of 1870 the Hudsons Bay Company surrendered Ruperts Land to the new Dominion of Canada, but retained one and three quarters sections in every township. The surveyors determined that the Lees ranchstead was on HBC land. Apparently the old man hadnt left the Companys employ on the best of terms, for rather than paying a dime to the Company, he removed himself, Rosie and his buildings to Rock Creek north of Burmis where he died in 1896. In 1901 the Company was selling its land for $4.00 per acre, and by 1903 the Lees Lake property belonged to J.L. Parker.
Lees Lake has long been a regional recreation venue. In the summer of 1925, writes Betty Meyers in her essay, C.G.I.T. in Coaldale - Gem of the West 19001983 (Coaldale Historical Society, Coaldale, AB, 1983), the Canadian Girls in Training held their first camp at the Lake. In April of 1935 the Crows Nest Pass Flying Club, which had been incorporated on the 3rd of December, previous, gathered at Lees Lake to enjoy an air show put on by Chas. H. Tweed of Lethbridge. Notes Bruce Gowans in Wings over Lethbridge (Occasional Paper No. 13, Whoop-Up Country Chapter of the Historical Society of Alberta, Lethbridge, 1986), the crowd was wowed by a parachutist leaping into thin air and floating down to earth. Most spectators had seen nothing like it before. Several club members went on to get their pilots licence, but the club itself expired after Tweed, who was evidently its driving force, left the neighbourhood.
Some 20 kilometres into the foothills from the No. 3, highway 507 meets a Tee intersection at the tiny settlement of Beaver Mines (1286m), a creation of the Western Coal and Coke Company which opened up two coal mines here in 1909. After the company completed the Kootenay and Alberta Railway connecting the mines to a point on the CNL near Pincher Station, Beaver Mines boomed, its population rising to a restless 1,000, requiring a detachment of the RN-WMP to be permanently stationed here. After the closure of the mines in March of 1915, the detachment was transferred to Hillcrest, a situation which pleased some of the locals when their provincial politicians inflicted Prohibition upon them in 1916. From that year until that unwise piece of legislation was scrapped in 1923, Beaver Mines was a moonshiners paradise where some of the finest sipping elixir in southern Alberta was distilled and despatched to appreciative consumers throughout the region.
South-westward from Beaver Mines, Secondary 774 wanders further into the hills to the plethora of provincial Recreation Areassome with camping sites (see Recreation, this Page)along the Castle River. Eastward, 507 rolls along the southern slopes of the Castle Rivers valley. The Sharp of eye can detect part of the old Kootenay and Alberta Railway line to the right, and on exuberant little Gladstone Creek, the grist mill building associated with Mountain Mill.
Past the entrance to Beauvais Lake Provincial Park and Campground, and a field of enormous wind-powered electrical generators off the north, 507 eventually makes its way into Pincher Creek.
Though the 507 is a lovely ride, forsaking the No. 3 for it would deprive the traveller of visiting one of the prettiest camping spots along the No. 3 Highway.
About 1980 the Municipality of Pincher Creek began calling the neighbourhood bordering the Burmis to Lundbreck stretch of the Crowsnest Highway the Burmis-Lundbreck Corridor and declared it an acreage region in which ... an appropriate balance between community growth and ... environmental sustainability would be sought. Doubtless the Municipality hoped that wealthy retirees would move into the region to ride their horses through some of the most picturesque landscape in Alberta, and expand the tax base. Some have taken up the challenge of the frontier life, and here and there estate-sized lots bear the Troughs version of the oversized single family dwelling currently popular in Canadas suburbia.
As the loss of the coal industry was replaced with logging, so was the forestry industry replaced by another. Petroleum is, of course, the life-blood of Albertas powerful economy, and this area has long attracted seismic crews and exploratory drillers. In 1996 Canadian 88 Energy met with notable success, bringing seven gas wells on-stream. Two years later it competed a pipeline 35 kilometres long from its field to tie into the network feeding gas to Shell Canadas refinery at Pecten south of Pincher Creek. The Pipeline crosses the Highway just east of the 3/507 intersection and the Department of Highways weigh-scale 100 metres beyond.
But for a few haggard pines and a handful of others dotting the benches here and there and sheltering in the draws, the widening valley is bereft of trees. Finding no sylvan impediment, bison ranged freely past here and all the way over to the Elks valley. The Ktunaxa, ever nervous about being accosted by the fearsome Piikani and Kainaa tribes jealously guarding their preserve, preferred not to venture much farther east than here on their bi-annual hunting forays.
Not five kilometres from Burmis, watched over by the most westerly of the many towering wind generators which have invaded in this region since the early 1990s, a disjointed four-way intersection terminates the Cowboy Trailhighway 22which has come down from Calgary, passing through Ian Tyson country around Black Diamond on its way south. Leaving the No. 3 to make its way across a 1966 open-decked concrete bridge over the Crowsnest and, dividing itself, on up to Lundbreck on the Rivers southern bench, the 3A wrenches itself away southward and follows the Crows Nest Line for a kilometre or so to its bridge (1165m) over the River at Lundbreck Falls. It was along here on June 26th, 1982, that the CPR faced an environmental disaster. In an adventure that began at Blairmore, a train of 49 cars escaped its crew and, pursued by the same in a locomotive, rapidly gathered speed as it rumbled down grade through the Frank Slide debris field, rattled along the River bank between Hillcrest and Bellevue and roared past the ghosts of Passburg and Burmis. CP workers and the police, who had hastened to block road crossings, were hoping that the train would slow sufficiently on the Lundbreck hump that the locomotive would be able to recapture it. However, moving too fast to negotiate the curve approaching the Bridge, 29 rail cars wrecked, some rupturing and flinging a toxic cocktail into the River and the air above it, one burning propane tank car keeping clean-up crews at a respectful distance until the flames died.
On the 3A just beyond the Bridge and the Falls is an Alberta Provincial campground nestled in a cat-tailed crook of the River. A little playground beckons kids, a few basic barbeques in and around a kitchen shelter are provided, and powered stalls for RVs. But no showers or power toilets. There is no store (though the nearest is just a couple of kilometres downstream at Lundbreck), so cyclists eat out of their pannier unless, of course, they are licensed, equipped and skilful enough to catch one of the Rainbow or Brown trouts which Alberta Fish and Wildlife has released into these waters. Upstream from the parking lot a few metres there are several walk in campsites secluded in the willows right down on the waters edge, the water roaring over the Falls, background accompaniment to the chatter of a family of Gray jays. A little mosquito-y in there amid the mint and the sedges, but the sprightly wind which usually plays in the Pass keeps the little vampires from manslaughter by discouraging most from flight. If it is mid-summer, wanderers have noticed head-high bushes dangling clusters of small, purple berries. These are chokecherries which, with saskatoonsa variety of blueberryand Missouri currants, have long added variety to the diet of Prairie dwellers. Washed free of dust and bird poop, they add a wild, tongue snappingly-tart dimension to a granola breakfast. A word of warning, though; chokecherries are mostly tooth-cracking pit: chew cautiously.
Following the River side trail farther upstream, one ducks under the 3As concrete bridge and comes to the Falls, a drop fault in the sandstone requiring the River to plunge some thirty feet. The Niitsitapi people called this place just that, áhk-takoyiwater fall. Over the æons the tumbling waters have been industriously undercutting the precipice and moving the Falls up-stream, leaving a little canyon full of froth and spray. A little above the Falls and back-dropped by mountains and cloud, the Railways blackened steel truss span provides great opportunities for some majestic train fotos.
Ignoring the 3A and the CNL, these Falls are a primitive place. By merely closing their eyes, visitors can join the circle of Humanity whose ears have heard the voice of this waterfall over the millennia. The first evidence of Man thus far discovered in the region are, according to Bruce Ramsay in 100 years of Coal Mining: The Elk River Valley (Ramsay Publications, Sparwood, 1997), a couple of crude choppers and other artefacts left in a cave high above Crowsnest Lake perhaps by Inuit-like Siberian migrants some 28,000 years Before Present. These discoveries are remarkable in that they pre-date the last deglaciation in the Trough by some 13,000 years. Closer, archæologists have found a few broken Clovis culture tools discarded some 11,000 years ago on a ridge in the Gold Creeks valley near Frank. The latter find is among hundreds in the Crowsnest Pass which was, long before the Ktunaxa and the Piikani skirmished back and forth through it, a major thoroughfare across the Rockies with the added attraction of considerable deposits of flint. According to J. Brian Dawson in his Crowsnest: An Illustrated History and Guide (Altitude Publishing Canada, Canmore, Alberta, 1995), locally succeeding the mammoth-hunting Clovis culture a millennium later was the Old Cordilleran culture with its distinctive obsidian tools, and after them came the Agate Basin people who trapped their big game with deadfalls, snares and pits which have been identified at a dozen or more sites in the Trough. The Agate Basin people are thought to have moved out onto the Prairies approximately 8,000 years Before Present, and their place taken by the Mummy Cave folks who fished in summer camps and employed atlatl-launched spears to bring down bison which they had skilfully corralled in natural impounds. The Plains dwelling McKean, or Pelican Lake, culture gradually supplanted the Mummy Cavers here in the Crowsnest and generally in the mountain valleys about the time the Greek island of Santorini exploded, about 1100BCE. Approximately 1,800 years ago, the Avonlea Culture introduced the technological innovation that completed the stone age tool kit; the bow and its arrow.
One of the problems with trying to relate prehistoric ethno-history is that the reader ends up with the impression that everything happened in neat sequences; first came Clovis, then Old Cordilleran followed by Agate Basin, et cetera. It wasnt like that. In some cases, of course, one band did displace another by warfare, extinguishing the culture of the vanquished. But the death of a culture was rare. More often than not the transition was seamless; a more efficient technology was either developed within the pre-existing culture, or pacifically imported with exotic spouses or Trade. What happened to the Pelican Lake People? Theyre likely still here. Any modern Piikani may well have Clovian blood flowing through her veins.
Rumbled awake by a locomotive as its engineer throws wide the throttle to boost his early-morning freight-train over the Lundbreck hump, the last challenge that the Rocky Mountains offer CPR trains heading eastward, and cheep-cheepd into a tranquil state of mind by a shore patrol of killdeers remonstrating with a lone American dipper, tenters treasure this camp the more. And you know what really tickles people pink? There is no warden, no ticket checker, no money taker; as with many other Alberta provincial campgrounds, Lundbreck Falls is run on the honour system. You fill out your particulars on a sturdy envelope at the registration kiosk, deposit therein the requisite amount according to the posted schedule and drop it into the strong-box. Should circumstances leave U without the requisite amount, or with inexact change, no worries, Mate; U can always make up the difference at the next camp ground: all the money goes into the same provincial pot.
East from the Falls, a kilometre or two past the Campgrounds, the 3A, having climbed up along the picturesque escarpment overlooking the River, presents some travellers with an option. Unseen, Lundbreck (1194m) is about 1200 metres away over the lip of the scarp from an intersection that sends a slender access road 1,000 feet back down into the valley to rejoin the Crowsnest Highway just as the latter divides and begins its climb up past Lundbreck. Continuing a similar distance on the 3A, progress is blocked by a checker-boarded dead-end sign. Beyond, the Railway crossing has been removed and a barricade of soil piled across the roadway on either side of the tracks so only travellers who are able to carry their vehicles get to enter Lundbreck the old way.
Beyond the barricades the old Highway is perfectly serviceable, quickly carrying the traveller past Lundbrecks sports grounds and up to the communitys only hostelry. Its ample dirt and gravel parking lot accented with a fading John Deere D and a Massey-Harris 44, the Lundbreck Hotel looks to have been built in the early 1960s, just before the Highway was re-aligned to whisk traffic past Lundbrecks northern skirts. A plain construction of cindercrete blocks two storeys high, it has been known as the Rangeland Motor Hotel, and the Falls Inn. Hidden from the new No. 3, it relies for income mainly on the patrons of its large tavern in which the starring attraction is the ornate, Belgian-built bar from the long-demolished hotel in Lille. Sharing its parking lot is the Alberta Rose2 Café, Lundbrecks only dining room.
A true prairie town, Lundbrecks street grid is laid out cardinally in blocks about 400 feet square. Two blocks east along 3A from the Hotel, Breckenridge Avenue, the main street, comes out to welcome travellers. But four blocks long, and wide, the smile of Breckenridges facades is made gap-toothed by vacant lots, its one block-long central business district dominated by a couple of elderly two-storeys on the west side of the Avenue. The green, double false front of Lundbreck Pizza and the Lundbreck Liquor Store, proudly proclaiming itself to be Oldest in the West, is closest to the Highway. South from it, stuccod and sheltering under a hipped gable roof with a pair of dormers on each side, Obies General Mercantile was raised in 1907 by Dr. A.C.C. Johnson as a drugstore and hospital. One can pick up the mail and buy stamps and dog chow, then sit down at one of the two tiny tables placed against the front windows and enjoy a cup of well simmered joe while watching nothing much happening on the street outside, a poorly-tuned radio killing the quiet with some Country crooner trying hard to coax tears by paining ears with a maudlin ditty mourning lost love and betrayal. After that, youve pretty much seen Lundbreck. Its peaceful. There is no local museum or anything, and the most interesting artefact from the old days doesnt even reside in the hamlet anymore. The curious, two-storey outhouse that was left in embarrassed solitude when the Windsor Hotel burned in February of 1963 has ended up hundreds of miles away behind the Wainwright Hotel in Calgarys Heritage Park.
Of the industry which established Lundbreck, there is little evidence.
Lundbreck got its start in 1903 when long-time business partners Peter Lund and John Breckenridge thought they would have a go at making a little money digging low grade coal out of the Lower Palæocene Period strata which erosion had exposed on the hillside near todays sports grounds. Rumours persist that they were led to this location by the efforts of a practical engineer by the name of E.W. Stone who, with the backing of a Fort Macleod syndicate including J.B. Smith, opened a mine down in the valley bottom in 1880 to supply regional ranchers with fuel. This was apparently the fabled Tomato Kid Mine and was 20 years abandoned by the time Lund and Breckenridge staked their claim.3
John Breckenridge was a Scotsman who had chopped and sawn his way across North America, gradually working his way up to run his own logging shows and doing a little construction for the CPR on the side. In 1896, according to Constance and Christopher Graf in Reflections on the Kootenay: Wardner, B.C., 1897 - 1997 (Christopher & Constance Graf, Wardner, 1997) in Nelson, he met Peter Lund, a Swede then living in Spokane, who had laboured laying the CPR Mainline across the Prairies before getting into the timber business in southern B.C. and northern Washington state. Apprised that CP was about to start construction of the CNL, the two formed a partnership and won several contracts to build various phases of the Line. After the last spike was driven in October of 1898, the partners maintained their employment with the CPR, improving sections of the CNL which had been hastily laid and were, after a few years use, in need of attention. When not fully occupied with the CPR, Breckenridge and Lund sold their services to J.J. Hill of the Great Northern, and any other company that wanted a railroad built. In fact, Breckenridge and Lund had a crew of sixty on its way to realign the lower two miles of the Frank and Grassy Mountain Railway at Frank when Turtle Mountain collapsed in April of 1903. With their crews already hired and equipment at the ready, the partners were Johnny-on-the-spot and were immediately engaged by CP to reconnect the CNL across the debris field. They hired any man who could lift a shovel and completed the task in 23 days, expending tons of blasting powder in the process.
Railroad construction, however, slowed considerably during the first decade of the Twentieth Century, and the partners sought other outlets for their talents. In 1902 they had formed the Crows Nest Pass Lumber Company which acquired a logging and milling operation at Wardner, B.C., and built it into a substantial enterprise. Lund settled at Wardner and managed the mill while Breckenridge continued on with the construction end of their activities, eventually basing himself in Calgary at the offices of the Breckenridge and Lund Lumber and Coal Company. Blessed with energy to spare, the partners continued to search the Crowsnest region for other business opportunities. Coal was the obvious choice. The market was expanding, and east Pass coal lands were begging development. Sometime in 1903 Breckenridge bought the coal rights to 320 acres of crown land and the partners formed the Lund and Breckenridge Coal Company (L&BCC), offering a half million dollars worth of shares to the capital markets.
It took Breckenridge and Lund three years to obtain significant production from their new enterprise. During that time, as a tiny community gradually developed to house their workers, Lund and Breckenridge expanded L&BCCs holdings to 1400 acres and set up its surface plantpowerhouse, tipple with screening facilityaround a steel pithead frame. Unusual in the Pass, the Frame had been built to mount equipment for hoisting a man-cage and coal skip in a vertical shaft for, unlike most of the mines further west, the attractive seams did not surface on company property and therefore could not be drifted into horizontally.
With its basic plant and a workforce of 100, the L&BCC was able to output nearly 20,000 tons in 1906. Some of the profits were used to entice Dr. James Donald to build and staff a small hospital at the mine site. After the mini-recession of 1908, the market promised a greater return on further investment, so in 1910 the company negotiated a $125,000 mortgage and erected a new tipple to load CPR gondolas and house an inclined screen which sorted the coal into lump, nut, pea and slack sizes. The next year L&BCC improved its coal handling capabilities by installing a rotary sorting screen and a new picking table where workers removed contaminants from the run-of-the-mine.
Breckenridge and Lund werent the only entrepreneurs with interests in the Lundbreck area. Leslie Hill, who would go on to establish the first orchards in the Osoyoos, BC, region, nosed around the east Pass before going to Nelson to work in 1903. About the same time, R. James Galbraith(e) formed the Galbraith Coal Company (GCC) and leased the old Tomato Kid works on federal land to the north-west of Breckenridge and Lunds property, at the base of the scarp of the Crowsnest River valley. He punched two adits horizontally into the base of the cliff to get at the desirable measures, and began extracting coal. By the end of 1904, Galbraith had 1500 feet of trackage inclined on the face of the scarp up which he hauled his mines produce to a 1,000 ton per day sorting and loading tipple that he had built over the CNL. In 1907, squeezed by cash-flow problems and over-extended in debt, Galbraith sold GCC to the Spokane-based Ontarian capitalist, Andrew Laidlaw, a big player in the Inland Empire and adjacent south-western Canada, owner of other interests in the Pass through his Alberta Coal and Coke Company and Coal Securities Limited, all directed by his Imperial Investment Company. By dint of his previous successes, Laidlaw raised a quarter million dollars of venture capital and, after a hesitation caused by the economic downturn of 1908, began improving the GCC mine. In 1909 the tipple was expanded and a revolving coal screen was installed; the next year saw a new boiler house.
Come 1910 Lundbreck was a sizeable community. Its name had been formalized by the Post Office when in April of 1906 that worthy institution had authorized H.H. Rogers to open a local bureau in the store that he and his brother, George, had just built. In 1906, too, Thos. Madden and his brother-in-law, Reuben Steeves, raised the Windsor Hotel. The next year Dr. Johnson built his pharmacy cum hospital and an old bunkhouse was cleared out and school classes convened there-in. St. Chads Anglican was built in 1908. In 1910 a purpose-built schoolhouse was completed and one Mr. Schofield engaged to instruct the small scholars. Schofield arrived to find the CPR raising a water tank and finally constructing a proper depôt. Keeping an eye on the settlement and surroundings was a little cadre of RN-WMP constables accommodated in their own barracks building.
1911 was a make-or-break year for coal mining companies in the east Pass region. Marginal operations didnt long survive the six-month-long Big Strike, and those that did saw their costs of production significantly increased by the higher wages and benefits they were forced to grant their Labour. Added to those woes was the federal defeat on September 21st of the free trade-promoting Liberal government of Wilfrid Laurier. The new Conservative administration of Robert Laird Borden believed that enough money had been expended enticing Business to invest in the West, and subsidies were quickly cut. In 1911 L&BCC used non-union labour to achieve its highest production, 44,000 tons.
Though L&BCC mined through the Strike and made good money with independent labour, other operations had used the downtime to improve their plants, and when Pass-wide production recommenced in November of 1911, Lund and Breckenridge found that they could not profitably compete with the refurbished mines. Tiring of the business, they closed their operation in 1912. Galbraith Coal closed as well that year. The loss of federal mining subsidies and the interruption in profits caused by the Big Strike convinced Laidlaw that his business acumen was better applied elsewhere. With that, commercial mining ceased in Lundbreck, and only coal extracted since then has been winters kitchen stove and furnace supplies dug up by locals before natural gas came into the region in the 60s. Today, the only evidence of the industry is three anomalous, obscure depressionsone at the sports grounds, one opposite the sports grounds on the southern side of the 3A, and one hidden under the sewage lagoons just east of the communitycaused by the gentle collapse of the underground works, and Galbraiths two adits, one of which apparently serves as a root cellar under a valley-bottom home.
It is to the credit of Lundbrecks founding pioneers that the settlement didnt just up and blow away when the miners left in 1912. Reuben Steeves continued making bricks in his plant for another two years, but ran out of customers in 1914. Thence forward, but for the Doukhobors who began settling on farming lands between Lundbreck and Cowley, local ranchers shouldered the communitys economy. Over the years they sent hundreds of cowboys to quaff beers in the parlour of the vanished Windsor of a Saturday night, and shipped thousands of head to market from the stock pens now weathered silver and collapsing by the rail tracks east of town. Modern highways and big trucks conspired to export the business to larger centres and today the only business that comes from the ranches are folks buying gas for their pick-ups and maybe a few staples from the Rangeview.
Besides holding the distinction of marking the eastern entrance to the Crowsnest Passan honour it inherited from the estate of PassburgLundbreck doesnt do much anymore besides educate the areas children in a brick-built school building completed in 1960 and extensively renovated in 1992. A visitor can get a meal, stay the night in relative comfort, find a quiet moment in the Doukhobor Prayer Hall and wander in the graveyard the Sect has left behind. Gone is the rail-side flour mill which the Sect raised in 1916 or 17. The Hamlets only industry is the small plant that South West Concrete operates by the Railway from which it delivers pre-mixed and various aggregates, and may cast the occasional run of interlocking concrete blocks.
For the traveller eastbound, there are two ways out of Lundbreck. The scenic route is the 3A which curves gracefully around the newer houses on the southern edge of the community and reconnects with the Crowsnest Highway a few miles east. Alternatively, one can bump over the tracks of the CNL at the north end of Breckenridge and turn right onto the Crowsnest Highway. If U are lucky enough to be riding a bicycle away from Lundbreck, find a safe place to pull off on the approach to the overpass that was completed in 1967 to eliminate a dangerous level crossing. Looking back in contemplation, one has to consider that those who argue that Lundbreck is a Prairie town are wrong. True, it enjoys a spacious setting along the Railway and Highway, and boasts a pattern of streets that must admit a nodding acquaintanceship with the rigid grids typically imposed upon Prairie towns, but, it never had a grain elevator towering over a train of waiting boxcars. Sprawled beside the Highway climbing away towards white scarred Turtle Mountain, Lundbreck surely belongs to the mountain kingdom. What it does have is a trackside cattle corral and loading chute spiked together out of weathered silvery-grey posts and poles, emblematic of the pursuits of a sizeable segment of the local populace. This is Cattle Country, and just north of here, sheltered in the trough of the Oldmans valley, is the site of the Waldron Ranche, one of Albertas original Big Four cattle companies.