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

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 the mines.

For all the difficulties a miner faced, the compensation for their labour brought in a honest day’s pay. In 1906, the typical Crow’s 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 labour unrest, strikes and protests.

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 companies 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 human perspective.

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