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Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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One of the early shaft mines in the Lethbridge district; the surface plant of Galt Mine No. 1, which  was located just north of the east end of the CP Rail High Level Bridge. Opened in 1888, it closed in 1897.This section explores some of the most significant mines in Western Canada. In many Alberta and British Columbia communities at the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, the mine was the epi-centre of activity. The mine was not just a place to work—every aspect of the life of the community was impacted by it. It provided fuel and also generated the dollars required to ensure the prosperity of the region.

Coal mining towns were "one resource" towns and, if the mine was exhausted, a railway branch line was moved or it became uneconomic to mine, the mining camp or town shut down. That is why there are many ghost towns in the region. Mining camps and even towns were disposable and all mine buildings including miners' shacks could be quickly taken down and transported to another site.

The mines were central to the life of the community as well defining it. Town shops not only depended on the mine to grow their business, but they also drew power and heated their shops with the black gold. When the mine was doing well and coal prices were good, the town prospered and often grew. When a major disaster occurred, everyone in the community was affected, no matter if a family member died or not. The politics of the mine including management/worker conflicts often impacted on the relationships within the community.

Diesel locomotive used in Galt Mine No. 8. Ventilation was such that diesel fumes did not pollute the air in the minePolitics, safety and the social makeup of the community differed depending on geographic location. In the mountain mines of the Crowsnest Pass and Elk Valley, the coal was extremely valuable, and as one wealthy businessman put it, the coal was "better than the coal of Pittsburgh and as good as the coal of Wales." But this advantage also had its drawbacks—mining in the mountains is more dangerous than mining in the plains. The worst mining accidents in Canadian history have occurred in the mountains, where potential dangers include rockslides and explosions.

The mines of southern Alberta and southeastern British Columbia determined the growth of their surrounding communities and gave each its character. Alberta coalmining communities and their mines have been documented through a series of local history books produced fin the 1970s and 1980s with the encouragement and financial support of the Government of Alberta through the Department of Alberta Culture (Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism and later Alberta Community Development). These are valuable resource books for researchers and scholars and are source books for the When Coal Was King website. Unfortunately, there are no such resources in British Columbia and, as a result, coverage of mine sites are few..

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