The life of a coal miner has never been
easy. Labouring in the mines was back-breaking work in often
adverse conditions. Potential dangers continually faced by the
miners included methane gas, silicosis, breathing in fine dust
particulates, potential roof collapse and equipment accidents.
Management faced pressures to meet quotas and in turn often
demanded their miners to produce minimal coal requirements
regardless of the problems they faced. Although miners worked as
hard as any labourer at the time, their production levels slowed
when they mined against hard coal or stood ankle deep in water.
Miners shifts were often in the dark gloom of caverns, and only
the mentally and physically fit could endure the hardships of
For all the difficulties a miner faced, the
compensation for their labour brought in a honest days pay.
In 1906, the typical
Crows Nest Pass mine worker made a
minimum $5.00 a day, with more if they exceeded their coal
quota. When times were good, miners spent beyond the means of
their income, and wives complained their husbands spent too much
time in the local saloon. Their lifestyles were highly dependant
on coal price fluctuations, and when prices were high, life was
good and mining communities prospered. But when pressures of
high labour costs, increased competition and lowered coal priced
forced companies to curb production and lay-off workers, mining
families suffered. Western Canada mining history is marked with
Money was not the only issue miners made
demands. Their safety was of paramount concern, and as word of
major mining disasters in Coal Creek and Crowsnest Pass spread,
workers rightly demanded greater steps to ensure their safety.
Tragedies like the Hillcrest Disaster of 1914, where 189 men
lost their lives, brought mining communities all over the West
to reflect dangers of mining life.
The issues and challenges facing coal miners
are numerous. Death could occur at any moment or prolonged with
black lung disease. Towns could boom in days with strong
economic conditions and then bust a few years later as the mine
depleted. The struggles of one mine reverberated to its
surrounding communities, and often flash points between
and its workers escalated during the tough times. Mining was a
constant struggle in the mines and the outside world.
This section explores the historical and
contemporary issues surrounding the coal miner, including the
The State and Development After 1918