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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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The town of Coleman looking east. [n.d]In the spring of 1902, the members of the International Coal and Coke Company Limited (ICCC) met in Spokane, Washington, to discuss the growing problem of coke supply to the western United States. Coke, a highly valuable product of bitumous coal, was becoming increasingly more costly to ship from suppliers in the east and the ICCC was seeking access to their own supply. Knowing that the Crowsnest Pass coal was particularly rich in coke and that property in the area was available, the company moved to purchase quickly. Coleman - Bob OwenBy the next year the ICCC had obtained 5,300 acres, approximately seven kilometres east of Blairmore, and were selling lots to businesses on 22 October 1903.

The company envisioned the new town as the ideal mining camp for all workers and their families. According to Mrs. F. G. Graham in the essay Early History of Coleman from the book Crowsnest and its People,

The deeds carried a restriction controlling the sale of liquor for fifteen years. It was the object of the company to prevent their town from becoming the resort for all sorts of questionable people, in other words, to make a model mining camp, where women and children might live in safety and enjoy all the comforts of a well-organized community. Those who lived here in those days know that during the first years a more ideal town could not be wished for.

Coleman - Bob OwenThe town was an instant success, fulfilling the goals of the ICCC. As hoped, a thriving Coleman quickly drew miners and their families to the area. By the end of 1904, the population reached 500 people, and Coleman achieved village status under the regulations of the Northwest Territories Act. Mining families made the village their permanent residence and to address their needs, a citizens’ committee developed a water system. Advancements were made in a hurry and by May 1905, town planners had already installed electric light and a telephone system.

Coal Built Coleman

Adapted from the book Crowsnest and its People

Coleman - Bob OwenFew people today realize the significant role played by the Coleman coal companies in developing the West. During the past 50 years, the two Coleman mines have produced over 25,000,000 tonnes of coal and approximately 1,750,000 tonnes of metallurgical coke. They have paid to their employees over $75,000,000 in wages, while approximately $7,750,000 went to the shareholders in dividends.

Coleman - Bob OwenGovernments too, have benefited in the extraction of coal from the mines. Several millions of dollars were accrued through royalties, rental payments, and income taxes. The mines have also provided an important market for manufactured products, consuming over $20,000,000 in supplies, not including several millions expended for capital items such as mine machinery and equipment. More importantly, the mines have provided a means of livelihood for thousands of people who have come to this area from Eastern Canada, Great Britain and the rest of Europe. Not only had these people joined together in wresting from the depths of the earth its vast treasure of riches, Coleman - Bob Owenbut also provided Canada with a solid core of responsible and respected citizens who added daily to the greatness of our culture and nation.

When Coleman Collieries closed in 1983, the town began to shrink. The commercial sector was especially devastated as long time businesses—unable to sustain themselves with the diminished population—closed their doors. In recent years, the town has once again begun to grow, revitalizing the community.

Listen:  Angelo Toppano describes east Coleman, or "Bushtown," where he lived when he first arrived in 1913 (oral history excerpt).

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