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Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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The Newcastle Mine in 1921. Notice there are two stacks at the boiler room for generating power and for hoisting. During the early years of the settlement, the mine supplied power to nearby homes during a certain period of time in the evening. The town of Midland is in centre across the Red Deer River, and on the left side of this picture you can see the No. 1 Midland mine tipple No. 367.In 1911, when entrepreneurs G. N. Coyle and Jesse Gouge opened the first commercial mine in Newcastle, it marked the beginning of the industry that would dominate the Drumheller Valley for more than half a century. Prior to Newcastle Mine, most Valley residents were ranchers living in isolated communities. With one solid investment, much was changed.

On an earlier business trip to the Valley, Gouge had chanced upon a man carrying coal from the Newcastle banks. Knowing quality coal when he saw it, Gouge hurried to the land office in Calgary to lease the Newcastle Land.

Flood at Newcastle, Alberta. 1948 Unfortunately, Gouge did not have enough capital to venture alone. He enlisted Coyle and together they sold their previous interests, borrowed an additional $10,000 from Coyle’s mother and formed the Newcastle Coal Company Limited. From this small operation, the Drumheller Valley became one of the most important coal fields in Alberta. The Newcastle Mine itself was a great success, by 1922, the authorized capital of the mine was $250,000 and it was producing at a capacity of 255,000 tonnes of coal per year.

Miners were a large reason for the success, their jobs were difficult, dangerous, and often stressful. Outside of the mines, conditions could be even worse. The unofficial nickname of Newcastle was the Western Front, a reference to the more undesirable elements in town. Thieves were rampant in the area, and often struck their victims walking home at night, their cheques just cashed.

Tents at construction of railroad, Newcastle flat, Drumheller Valley, Alberta. 1911If a thief did not access it, the money still often never made it home. Newcastle had a reputation for bootlegging, illegal gambling, and prostitution. Many miners, it seemed, could not resist the temptations.

Today, despite its notorious past, Newcastle has quieted. Since the closure of the mines in the 1950s, many residents have moved on. There is a small population that still lives in the area, those who are older reminding younger generations of the coal mining history.

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