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When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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The State and Development after 1918

By William N.T. Wylie

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The different priorities of the federal and provincial governments were most clear in relation to their response to the economic problems of the industry after World War One. British Columbia and Alberta were both determined to promote the interests of coal-mining. Alberta, in particular, established royal commissions to study the problem of over-capacity and insufficient markets in 1919, 1925, and 1935. Two kinds of proposals resulted. Firstly, there were discussions about the desirability of limiting the number of mines and rationalizing production. The commission of 1925 emphasized the need for this, as did some operators. The suggestions, however, were never acted upon in a province dedicated to the ideal of unfettered private enterprise. 1

The second Alberta proposal was to expand coal sales in the largest potential market, that in eastern Canada. This remedy was largely outside the power of the province to implement. While, in the mid-1920s, Alberta sought to encourage sale of its coal in Ontario through advertising and promotion, further progress depended ultimately on freight rates and federal policy. The railways were unwilling to lower their rates to make coal competitive. The federal government was caught between the interests of producers and consumers. As historians have concluded, it proved unwilling to subsidize the industry by introducing sufficient freight subventions, or by raising the coal tariff, preferring instead to support the desire of fuel consumers in Ontario and Quebec for cheap American coal.

William N.T. Wylie, "Coal-Mining Landscapes: Commemorating Coal Mining in Alberta and Southeastern British Columbia," a report prepared for the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Parks Canada Agency, 2001.

See Also: The Coal Industry—Overview, Rapid Expansion, Domestic and Steam Coalfields, 1914-1947: The Struggling Industry, Collapse and Rebirth, Settlement of the West, Issues and Challenges—Overview, Entrepreneurship, Technology, Underground Techniques, Surface Technology, Surface Mining, Social Impacts, Unions, 1882-1913: Unionization and Early Gains, 1914-1920: Revolutionary Movement, 1921-1950s: Labour Unrest and Setbacks, Mining Companies, People of the Coal Mines, The Middle Class, Miners and Local Government, Politics and Economics , Environmental Impacts, Health and Safety—Overview, The State and Labour Relations, The State and Development after 1918

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