The Northwestern Coal and Navigation Company Limited started
commercial drift mining in 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 eequiped 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.
The first miners lived in the valley near the mine entrances.
Eventually, this settlement became known as Coalbanks. The
company town of Coalbanks flourished and faded in three short
years, from October 1882 to October 1885.
The Northwestern Coal and Navigation Company Limited 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 Galt Company moved the
community to the flats in 1885 and renamed the community
Lethbridge. In 1893, the Galt Company closed the riverbottom
drift mines in favour of large scale operations on the flats.