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

The Canadian Pacific Railway did initial survey work as early as 1892 but money prevented construction from starting until 1897 with the contract being awarded to Hugh Mann and James Kennedy.During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the momentum of the Industrial Revolution and its growing new economy had finally moved west of Central Canada. Confederation, in 1867, set the national agenda and was the catalyst for the building of a transcontinental railway, the opening of mines and settlement of the Great Plains. 

By 1883, the Canadian Pacific Railway had reached Calgary and opened up the resources of the region to Eastern Canada. At the same time, it opened the West for settlement and industrial development.  The railway represented a new wave of entrepreneurship, a chance to bring manufactured goods to forts and communities, and industries to the region.  Lethbridge, for example, was set up in the early 1880s as Alberta's first industrial city and its Mayor, town council and board of trade viewed it as the Canadian Pittsburgh.  The region did not envision its wealth coming from farming but rather from coal and industrial production. Communities from the Drumheller Valley in southern Alberta to the Elk Valley in southeastern British Columbia were linked by mines and railways.  The labour pool moved from one community to the next, always on the lookout for better paying work.

History told from the perspective of political and economic leaders is the norm.  Their contributions make up the public record and can readily be recounted. This section profiles individuals such as Sir Alexander Galt, a Father of Confederation and entrepreneur.  But, in order to tell the coal mining story of southern Alberta and southeastern British Columbia, it is important to tell of the contributions of ordinary people.  They are the labouring masses who built the railways, mined the coal to fuel them and developed the rich fabric of community life.  Thus the site includes an overview of the ethnocultural groups that made up the population of these communities and an in-depth look at the Italian community.

Initially, the men came looking for work intending to return to the homeland when they had enough money.  The mines provided good paying work for those who were not afraid of long hours and the dangers of digging for "black gold."  In the end, they realized that this was a good place to live and so they married and had children.  Each ethnic group brought its culture and traditions to enrich community life in the communities that were bounded by geography.

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