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Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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The Industry

The coal mining industry has an important history in Western Canada. While coal deposits are found throughout the western plains and British Columbia, a concentration is found in southern Alberta and southeastern BC. This region includes the Drumheller Valley of southern Alberta through the Crowsnest Pass to the Elk Valley in BC. Towns such as Newcastle, Drumheller, East Coulee, Lethbridge, Coalhurst, Canmore, Coleman, Bellevue, Lille, Fernie, Natal and Michel developed and grew around the activities of nearby mines.

Brilliant MineEntrepreneurs and mining companies alike prospered in Alberta and BC, and immigrants from Europe, Eastern Canada, the USA and Asia came west to find work in the mines and railways, and to raise families. The coal boom increased the importance of the West as a provider of raw materials required to build Canada. In 1897, Alberta’s coal production was 242,000 tons and increased to 3 million by 1910 and to 4 million by 1913. By 1911, coal mining employed 6% of the non-agricultural work force in the province and Western Canada became the largest-coal producing area of the country.

The unique geography of western Canada posed many challenges to removing coal from the earth. Mining methodology and preference depended on the geography and the type of coal. On the prairies, vertical shafts usually offered the most efficient means of bringing the coal to the surface. Mines in the mountains or the banks of rivers or coulees used theSparwood Tourism Information Centre display of mining equipment, Elk Valley, British Columbia. drift-mine method. In the 75-year period when "coal was king," the industry experienced technological change and improved efficiency. However, mining is a dangerous business and disasters occurred.

The section examines the coal industry from the perspective of its historical significance in the Canadian West, the natural history of the region, coal formation and composition, and the methodology of mining from the late 19th century to the 1950s when petroleum replaced coal as the principal fossil fuel. The new era of coal that uses technology to create more environmentally sensitive fuel forms has begun but environmental concerns about extraction are still to be addressed.

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