When the Geological Survey of Canada teams discovered coal in
the Banff area in 1883, companies jumped at the opportunity to
extract it. Demand for coal was substantial, towns along the
Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) line needed heat, and locomotives
pulling freight and passenger trains required fuel to travel the
difficult route through the Kicking Horse Pass. Despite the
discovery of coal in the area years earlier, it was not until
1886 that the British-owned Canadian Anthracite Coal Company
began mining operations in Anthracite.
Miners were recruited predominantly from the eastern United
States and Anthracite boomed to 300 residents by 1887. A
significant number of the men worked in the mines. The town seemed to grow
almost overnight, the growing population was wild and unruly. All
kinds of illicit activities became
commonplace. A liquor ban prohibited legal purchase of alcohol,
but this hardly stopped bootleggers from doing business. Soon
after the mine opened, prostitutes began to ply their trade in
Anthracite, the most popular brothel offering both illegal sex
Much to the chagrin of local Justice of the Peace
George A. Stewart, miners declared Blanche Maloneys brothel the
most popular place in town. Stewart endeavoured to protect the women and children in the
community. His solution was to bring Maloney in front of the
court and fine her the extraordinary amount of $200 for her liquor sale violations. The Canadian Anthracite Coal Company
was also interested in curbing the liquor problem, and responded
by requesting 20 Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) to be
stationed in the area.
When the RNWMP arrived, Anthracite was already in decline.
When the mine opened in 1887, a range of unexpected problems
beset the operation. Already deeply committed financially, the
company was forced to allocate
additional funds to finance the project. AT that point, the coal
market experience a downturn and costs rose due to coal seams too
steep and narrow to mine effectively. When the coal finally was
extracted, approximately half of it was discarded as inferior.
After years of financing a losing project, the Canadian
Anthracite Coal Company closed the mine in 1890.
American financer W. H. McNeill saved the town in 1891, when
he arranged to lease the troubled Canadian Anthracite Coal
Company. By the end of the year, operations resumed and miners
moved back to the area. Despite McNeill's efforts, the problems
that had forced a shut down in 1890 remained.
Adding to McNeill's difficulties was the 1894 Cascade River
flood. The flood destroyed bridges and several buildings, but
was a mere prelude to what followed three years later. On 16
June 1897, the Cascade River flooded again, this time causing
damage to an even larger area than before. The initial wave of
water rose to two metres high, entering the mine and killing the
entire horse and mule population left underground. As if that
were not enough, the flood destroyed homes near the river, and
many families moved from the area. By 1904, fewer than 100
people remained and, when McNeill moved his operation to
Canmore, Anthracite became a ghost town.