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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Crowsnest Pass

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Tipple at West Canadian Collieries mine, Bellevue, Alberta. [n.d.]The Crowsnest Pass is the lowest trans-Rocky Mountain pass between New Mexico and Jasper National Park. The Pass is almost 100 kilometres long, stretching from Lundbreck, Alberta to Elko, British Columbia. Coal put this picturesque mountain region on Canada's economic map.

The early peoples who mined chert high on the Livingstone Range had little use for coal, and neither did their descendants. Europeans, with an eye to the future, marked the location of Crowsnest Pass seams, and when the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) provided a means to transport coal, the region boomed. At one time, a dozen coal mines provided a heat source for prairie homes, a means to generate electricity, the necessary ingredient in making steel, and above all, fuel for the steam locomotives.

The Crow's Nest Pass Coal Company was founded by William Fernie and Colonel James Baker and began production in 1897. It became the single largest coal and coke producer in the region. The Canadian-American Coal and Coke Company was the first to begin operations on the Alberta side of the Crowsnest Pass at Frank in 1901.

Historic store frontages in Coleman, Alberta.Towns grew up beside the mines—vibrant communities made up of people from all over the world. Their rich cultures gave the Crowsnest Pass an unusual ethnic mix, but not without tension and prejudice. The main industry was coal mining, and most of the work was underground. This method of mining was dangerous, given the presence of methane gas and the highly explosive coal dust found in Pass mines. It was also labour intensive, and manpower costs accounted for two thirds of the market price of coal.

Heritage Trails No. 333—Coal Mining (Part Two) Crowsnest Pass

The arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway led not only to increased settlement of the west, but helped to establish coal mining towns throughout the province. Listen as historian Pat Myers explains the impact the railroad had on the Crows Nest Pass region of the province.

Click here to listen!

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