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Heritage Community Foundation Presents
Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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The "Gripper" attaching coal cars to endless rope under rope haulage by means of Smallman’s clips or gripsFrom 1883 to 1901, the Lethbridge Coal District was the most important coal mining area in Alberta, out producing the combined efforts of all other districts in the province. From 1883 to 1891 the Lethbridge mines produced more than 86 percent of all coal in Alberta, and for the next ten years they contributed no less than 51 percent or more of the province's coal. Much of the dominance of the Lethbridge Coal District had to do with the proximity of the CPR line and its need for coal.

After 1931, Lethbridge miners continued to supply Canada well into the twentieth century. Instead of supplying the CPR locomotives, Lethbridge became a supplier of domestic coal, and thus the area was notoriously sensitive to market forces. Domestic coal users consisted of thousands of households buying a large supply for winter heating and cooking and the occasional summer cooking as well. Since the buyers in the prairies tended to be farmers, coal demand fluctuated with agricultural prices and weather. A year of long, cold winters or completive prices for wheat meant good fortune for Lethbridge coal.

The ties of Lethbridge's mining industry to domestic users led to significant demand fluctuations from year to year. Months of full employment could suddenly shift to mass layoffs. During the early twentieth century, labour relations between company officials and miners strained with each fluctuation and layoff of seasonal workers. Miner unrest ensued leading to the commonality of strikes and lockouts between 1905 - 1931.



Watch Julius Peta as he reminisces about his career in the mines at Drumheller, including the tragedies and benefits, in this video produced by CFCN Television.

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