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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Drumheller Valley

Close view of coal mines at Drumheller, Alberta. Midland Collieries - name changed to Midland Mines in 1925. Railway track leading to colliery.The coal mines of the Drumheller Valley started much later than many others in southern Alberta and British Columbia. The first coal lease was taken out only in 1903 by a local rancher, James E. Trumble. He envisioned much commercial coal mining in the area in the near future and profited later from his foresight.

In the winter of 1907, an American entrepreneur named Jerome "Sam" Drumheller arrived in the Drumheller Valley. The ambitious resident of Walla Walla, Washington knew that a railway would soon be built through the district and he sought to establish a townsite around a seam of coal located on a local ranch owned by Thomas Greentree. Much of Greentree's large tract of land was sold to Drumheller, who set out a townsite on the land in 1910. The next year, the town was named Drumheller by the Canadian Northern Railway Company.

1921, a view of the Drumheller coal mine from the south east.The same year, work began at the first commercial coal mine in the valley, the Newcastle. In 1912, eight other mines opened. The coal mining era of east-central Alberta was underway. Production increased steadily until, by 1921, there were 27 operating mines at Drumheller, the most up-to-date being the No. 2 Mine of Midland Coal Company. The two Midland mines alone were producing 1.5 million tons of coal annually, employing approximately 2,000 men.

Heritage Trails No. 292—Towns, Drumheller

Today, when we think about Drumheller, dinosaurs and fossils come to mind. However, this southern-Alberta town began as a service centre for the coal mining industry. Through the 1920s and 30s, the area was promoted as a prime place to see hoodoos and fossils, which marked the town's beginnings as a tourist attraction.

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The Atlas Coal Co. Ltd opened its first mine March 7, 1917. Owners of the company were James McCulloch and James O.E. Holden, who served as the first president of the company, and Dr. Omer H. Patrick, who later assumed control of the company and was president until his death in December 1947. Dr. Patrick opened another mine, also bearing the name Atlas Coal Mine on May 5, 1928. The founding of the Atlas and the Murray mines resulted in the establishment of the community of East Coulee. The Atlas Mine closed in 1979. Today the site is preserved as one of the best examples of coal mining structures in western Canada and became a National Historic Site in 2002.

The Depression of the 1930s saw drastic cutbacks in production of Drumheller coal and inMap of coal mines, Drumheller area, Alberta. [n.d.] 1940 the No. 1 Midland Mine closed. The war years, though, brought a sharp increase in production as the sub-bituminous coal was used to fuel factories across Canada. The Drumheller coal mines produced two million tons of coal in their peak year, 1947. However the discovery of oil and gas deposits heralded the end of the coal based prosperity for Drumheller. Gradually the mines shut down. Between 1911 and 1966 a total of 124 mines had operated near Drumheller, 34 of which had a long and productive history. Today, there are no operating coal mines in the Drumheller Valley, though a coal mine and thermal power plant operate today at Shawnessy, 80 kilometers to the east of Drumheller.

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