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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Galt Mine No. 3. One of the big producers in the Lethbridge district. It was located at what is now 9th Avenue and 9th Street North. The Village of Stafford sprang up near the mine entrance. Opened in 1890, it closed in 1924.Nicholas Sheran opened the first commercial coal mine in the Lethbridge region in October 1874 and supplied coal to the North-West Mounted Police during their first winter in Fort Macleod. By November 1875, coal from Sheran's mine was sold as far away as Fort Benton, Montana. The Benton Record stated: "... the coal recently imported from British America by T.C. Power and Bros makes excellent fuel and even at the price of twenty-five dollars per ton is more economical than dry cottonwood at eight dollars a cord".

Nicholas Sheran's mine was a small and often dangerous one-man operation. By 1881, he quarried 15 to 20 feet into the valley wall with no timber supports to protect him. Coal was quarried by pick and shovel and hauled out in wood crates on skids.

The North-Western Coal and Navigation Company Limited started commercial drift mining on October 13, 1882. The Company's mines were more sophisticated, employing skilled miners, mostly from Nova Scotia, and using the most up-to-date machinery and techniques. Miners were equipped with protective hats and identification tags. Although basic techniques were used, mechanized drilling equipment helped to improve efficiency. Coal was hauled from the mine in ore cars drawn by mules or horses. The seam was quarried as far as 1,000 feet into the valley wall, the maximum distance possible with early ventilation techniques.

A 1888 picture of "The incline," an inclined railway built in 1885 to convey coal from the riverbottom drift mines at Lethbridge to the Bankhead, where it was then sorted and shipped on rail cars to Dunmore and elsewhere. The photograph shows a rake of five loaded cars starting the ascent. Miners coming offshift caught a ride up the coulee hill. Mine inspectors would not permit workmen to ride the coal cars. as it was thought to be dangerous, and expected—indeed insisted—that workmen walk uphill to their homes at the end of a shift. The edict was widely disobeyedThe first miners lived in the valley near the mine entrances. Eventually, this settlement became known as Coalbanks. The North Western Coal and Navigation Company quickly established all of the facilities needed for the mining operation. By the end of 1883, four drift mines had been opened and a dock had been built into the Oldman River for barges to ship coal to the CPR mainline. Other company facilities included an office, store and sawmill.

The Company also built homes for the miners and their families. A large home, called Coaldale, was built for Elliot Galt, the General Manager. A slightly smaller home was built for William Stafford; Stafford's wife and their nine children were among the first families to settle at Coalbanks. For the miners without families, the Company built boarding houses, bunk houses and shacks. By 1884, the population of Coalbanks peaked at about 250 and included a saloon and hop brewery, a post office and a slaughterhouse. The company town of Coalbanks flourished and faded in three short years, from October 1882 to October 1885.

In 1885, the Manitoba Free Press visited Coalbanks and reported:

"At present, the miners are at work as far in as 900 feet. Along this leading drift, there is a tramway laid, on which the loaded trucks are drawn out to the entrance by horses. Each horse generally draws five trucks at a load, that being five tons.

Two miners work together and ... average five and six tons of coal a day. They are paid $1.00 a ton for the mining of the coal and the filling of the trucks ... The output of the mine at present is about 300 tons a day, and the coal must be giving the public satisfaction as the coal company at present are not able to supply the demand ... The company at the present time have nearly 300 men employed ... most ... are from Nova Scotia, men who have been brought up to mining all their lives."

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