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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Banff and Canmore

View of coal mining community Rosedale, Alberta. [ca. 1912-1914] The coal mining industry had a significant social impact on two short-lived communities in the Banff and Canmore area—Anthracite and Bankhead. The labour force was small prior to the 1880s, but with mines opening in Anthracite in 1886 and Canmore in 1887, new opportunities arose for immigrants. When word spread of jobs in western Canada, a diverse group of immigrants from Britain and Continental Europe came to the Rocky Mountains and added to the growing workforce.

A high proportion of the new immigrants were men with dreams of making enough money to move on from mining. Many intended to bring their families from Europe and start a ranch in the Alberta plains. The first generation of miners was a highly mobile group that went from mine to mine in search of available jobs. If one mine closed, miners easily picked up and moved on to better opportunities. When the Anthracite Mine closed in 1904, many miners moved on to the Bankhead Mine, which opened that same year.

Coal mine, pit mouth and elevator, Anthracite, Alberta. [ca. 1887-1889]The 1920s saw attitude changes in the Canmore area. The next generation of miners was more likely to establish roots in the community and form a more unified mining culture. Although ethic affiliations still existed, there was a greater need for miners to group together to further common interests. Unions were a representation of the new solidarity and their strength drew from miners' wanting better working conditions. Battles between management and workers were commonplace and often intensified with each new fight. Some of those battles were so intense that the mutual mistrust could not be overcome. In 1922, Bankhead miners were on a prolonged eight-month strike that crippled the already weak mine. Company officials were desperate to get miners working, and threatened the union with mine closure. Mistrust was so ingrained in the miners that they failed to take the threat seriously. Unfortunately, the ultimatum was real and the mine closed.

Of all the mining communities in the area, only Canmore remains today. Many mining families moved to the town when mines shut down in Anthracite, Georgetown and Bankhead. The Canmore mine survived until July 13, 1979. There was a real threat that Canmore too would disappear without the coal industry; however, the growing importance of mountain tourism ensured its survival and it now has many second homes for Calgary business people as well as others from further abroad.

Wayne Hubman looks back at the feeling of comraderie between miners, the appreciation for sunshine, and the enjoyment he and previous generations of his family received from working in the mines, in this video produced by CFCN Television.

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