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

The 1921 fire at Bellevue destroyed many area businesses, including Johnson & Cousens, theatre, bakery Oddfellow's Hall and Methodist Church.Coal mining camps and communities were unique. To begin with camps were viewed as disposable and miners lived in tents or lean-tos. Mines would be worked until they were exhausted or uneconomic and the men would then move on to the next workings. With the coming of the railways, many mining camps became actual communities with all of the residences, retail outlets and public buildings required to service them.

These communities were dwarfed by mine buildings and the coal refuse that was a part of any mining operation. Frequently, even amid the splendour of the Rocky Mountains, they were grim and unattractive places. Houses were huts or shacks and had an air of impermanence about them.

In some cases, enlightened mine owners wished to create "ideal communities" with attractive "cottages" designed to lure competent men and their families. Martin Nordegg is one example. Since the mines generated their own electricity, they often supplied the power to nearby towns. The communities surrounding a mine were the first to use electric light, and soon the towns grew.

Even though established in a particular community, when work ceased, there was no option but to move on and miners did this frequently. When the mine closed for whatever reason, the town shut down as well unless there was another economic activity to sustain it. Places such as Bankhead and Lille ceased to exist. Later on, with the end of the historic era of coal mining in the 1950s, Coal Branch communities also ceased to exist and mining equipment and houses.

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